Alex Lowery speaks about autism

We are not all Sheldon Cooper

Written on 9th Jan 2017 by Alex Lowery

Today I’m blogging about the portrayal of autism in film and TV. I’ll be looking at an autism stereotype that the media often likes to portray. I hope you enjoy!

23618134543It does seem like we’re still in the age of film and TV that, when there is a character who is confirmed as being autistic, he or she fits into what are known as ‘autism stereotypes’. For example, the film from 1988, Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman focussed on an autistic Savant who had amazing abilities. For years… Wait, no… Not just years… Decades, people would hear the word autism, think of Rain Man immediately, and expect every autistic person to be able to count a ton of toothpicks that had fallen on the floor. However, with regards to the younger generations, when ‘autism’ is brought up, they seem more likely to think of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, who is basically a nerd with autistic traits, who (like Rain Man) is a maths genius. Except, the show never confirms that Sheldon is autistic, but it is highly implied that he is. He shows most of the stereotypical traits of Asperger’s Syndrome.

When I see autism films even to this day, it does seem like an awful lot of writers still fall into the trap of featuring characters who are, eccentric, literal, logical and anti-social, yet also intellectually gifted at the same time. Even more recent autism films like ‘The Odd Way Home’ and ‘X+Y’ still seem to feature characters following this stereotype. Now, I don’t think featuring autistic characters like this is necessary bad. However, it’s become almost a cliché for writers to focus on that particular angle of autism. In my opinion, it’s about time to move on to a more original take on it. Not every autistic person fits into that stereotype. We’re not all like Rain Man or Sheldon Cooper after all. More of the “gifted autistic genius” characters is likely to help reinforce the stereotype that states ‘you have to have a Special talent to be on the spectrum’. Autism is so diverse and different that I feel like there are more aspects of it that they should cover.

There is a documentary series on the BBC (has only had one series so far, but I hear series 2 is on the way) called ‘The Employable Me’, which is a documentary series which shows how having conditions like autism and Tourette’s don’t make a person unemployable, and how autistics can be of benefit in the workplace, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong: a documentary raising awareness of this is fantastic! It really is, and I think it’s great that the series shows how employers shouldn’t turn a person down from a job just because of a disability. I do also like the series, and what its ambition is. There is just one problem I have with the series. The problem is that the only autistic people it seems to focus on, are those with really high IQ’s. This can reinforce the stereotype that everyone with autism is intellectually gifted. I feel the series should be more diverse. Because there are autistic who may not be maths geniuses, but would still be of benefit in the workplace. For example; I don’t exactly have a super high IQ (despite the fact that a lot of people seem to assume I must do), but I do have talents (I’m not being big-headed; I just want to get the point across) and people tell me my ability to speak in front of people is something a lot of people don’t have. I just feel like the series should focus on people on other sides of the spectrum. Now: don’t misunderstand me: I think it’s great that they’ve been showing the super intelligent autists on the Employable Me. The talents of these people and benefits to work should not be minimised at all. I just think the creators should focus on other angles as well. So I’d like to say to the creator of ‘The Employable Me’, ‘If by some slim chance you’re reading this, I’d recommend including other forms of autism in future episodes, because I feel with many parts of the spectrum there will be talents, even if the individuals don’t have IQ’s competing with Einstein’s.’ Now, I’m not saying that every person on the autistic spectrum is able to hold down a job (there are those who will never be capable, and I’m not minimising this) but I have no doubt that many more can work than do. Despite what difficulties a person may face, you never know what a person might be capable of.

Thank you all for reading. Please leave me your comments below. This is all my own personal opinion and everyone is entitled to disagree with me. Please let me know.

 

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4 thoughts on “We are not all Sheldon Cooper

  1. Jane says:

    I do agree, well said. As mum to a boy with autism and a co-occurring severe learning disability, I get fed up not just that the only autism that is portrayed is that associated with a high (or even genius) IQ, but that this is only archetype that seems to be valued. My boy may never work but his pure joy in life and lovely personality should be valued too.

  2. Lynn McCann says:

    Excellent blog, as usual Alex. You make a very important point and it is annoying that film makers don’t show more variety of autism. They rarely show autistic females either.

  3. Liesel says:

    Well said dude. I also have autism and I can see where you are coming from. I feel like the two films made by It’s my shout (part of the BBC and I worked on two other films made by them) haven’t made a good impression of autism to viewers. The film which way is Ireland focused on stereotypes which I don’t match with and the one they made this year was similar.

  4. Karen says:

    The many differing perspectives of every day life and understanding “Autism” and its complexities will never be understood unless you actually live it. A perceived Generalistic portrayal of a person with Autism is portrayed from the viewers point rather than looking through the sensory overload of our everyday life through the perspective of a person living with Autism.Their invisinble strength comes from within , finding coping strategies ,true focus and understanding what is important to them.Highly developed senses may bring issues but can also bring true understanding of art and nature and a true love for life it doesnt necessarily need to be all maths &numbers.Alex your strength is in recognising ALL the other variations of Autism &true passion and empathy for others on the A pathway. Through your words you are helping everyone to gain a better understanding of living with Autism in todays world Your post was extremely well put .In my eyes you deserve a new years honour for services to people with Autism as well as their parents ,you actually are making a real difference to peoples lives.x

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Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
  • St John's Ambulance
  • Welsh Government

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