Saturday 8 April 2017

30 Days of Autism Acceptance: Day 8


This isn't my best of posts - I'm quite tired so if I don't make much sense please bear with me. I'm also not entirely sure I've understood the questions/prompts correctly.

Day 8:     

Talk about traditional media.  Have you been influenced by autism themes in the media? Have you had to correct misinformation about autistic people that others got from the media?

Autism in the media... This is a fun one...

The short answer is: It's slowly getting better, but there's still a long way to go.

I've noticed that sterotypical portrayals of autism are still very much the norm. Fictional characters are still fairly flat and adhering to narrower, older ideas. Think Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory. No, they've never specifically said he's Aspie, and maybe he wasn't originally written that way, but he clearly is, and he's by far the most well-known possibly-Aspie/-autistic fictional character. He's so well-known that a teacher in the UK was recently told to watch BBT for Asperger's training:

That's not acceptable. It's nowhere near even vaguely good enough. I'll do a post detailing training for educators on another occasion but it's relevant here so I've brought it up.

Yes, I see some of myself in him. Yes, I am perfectly aware that it's a sitcom so the traits are going to be exaggerated for comedic effect. But I don't like the character; he's a dick. And people take him as the norm - I've had conversations about this. I'm pretty sure Amy in BBT is also Aspie, and I see even more of myself in her than in Sheldon, and she's a much more 3D character, much more complex than he is. I used to enjoy BBT a lot more than I do now, I think partly because I've read a few articles about it by autistics who aren't taken by Sheldon at all, and also I think the programme itself has got tired and has gone on too long.

There are other characters on TV that aren't explicitly Aspie, but clearly are, that I find much more appealing. Once April is over I'll do a detailed post discussing specific characters that I've come across, and another one specifically about Mozart and the Whale, which is a film I came across a few years ago for uni work and is absolutely, utterly fantastic (romance between two Aspies). I'm sure there are quite a few possibly-autistic characters on TV that I've not come across, so if I've not mentioned them in this post, please tell me about it and I'll look into it because I'm genuinely interested and curious! The characters I'm thinking of are actually both female: Temperance Brennan (Bones) and Abby Sciuto (NCIS).

I'm sure at some point I'll talk in detail about the current big one: Julia and Sesame Street. That's got a lot of media attention at the moment and I ventured into the articles on Facebook. Naturally, the Autism Warrior Parents and anti-vaxxers were out in full force; I didn't engage with them, partly because other people had, partly because I didn't have the energy or time and partly because it's pretty much impossible to reason with them. I still got yelled at for using identity-first language (IFL), still got AWPs trying to silence an actual autistic voice. I left comments on various publications' pages when they exclusively used person-first language (PFL), explaining that actually, we generally prefer IFL so if they could respect that and at the very least use both PFL and IFL, we'd feel that our voices were being heard. One AW Mom instantly jumped on me and started with "Don't agree at all" and then went on to say "I'm not saying you're wrong" - to which I calmly and politely pointed out that her first four words meant that she was saying I was wrong. An AW Dad went off on one about how "only high-functioning" people  care about that, so I pointed him in the direction of Amy Sequenzia. I haven't had responses. One woman's comment on one article made me laugh because it was so ridicuous - she took it as a personal affront that the character was called Julia, which is the same name as her "daughter with autism" and it was basically a how-dare-they rant. I was tempted to say something but a number of other people had called her out on her ridiculousness by saying that they had to give the character a name so unless they made up a completely new name, there was bound to be someone who was autistic and shared a name with the character.

We're working to improve understanding of autism in the wider world and with the Internet, that's really enabled us to be more vocal - something which I am clearly taking advantage of with this blog!

But the vast majority of material out there still portrays us in a negative way: burdens, not quite human, a drain, a tragedy, we make other people's lives so much harder. Or as a source of inspiration porn (something I'll explore at a later date, something which really drives me up the figurative wall). There's so much focus on finding a "cure" (not discussing that today as that's Day 10's topic), about identifying the genes etc so that they can be eliminated (ie. eugenics). Mainstream sources do not want to discuss the positives - or, I suspect, in some cases at least, are even aware that a lot of us don't want a cure, that there are positives to autism, that we're not broken, that we're not tragedies, etc. They base things on the old, tired stereotypes, almost exclusively male and white, high-support people.

I've corrected people, both in person and online, when they've said/written inaccurate things about autism. Inaccuracy makes me so annoyed! I try to correct kindly and people I know generally take it pretty well - they know I'm autistic and informed so they tend to trust my judgement. I've found some strangers open and receptive, too; the problem comes with the AWPs, who generally don't want to listen and just want to silence autistic voices. And there's really no point trying to engage with the fanatical anti-vaxxers or conspiracy-theorists, because they dismiss things that conflict with their view by crying "Big Pharma", etc.

I'm aware that I'm rambling and I can't think so well today, so I'm just going to call it here for the day. There will be better and more coherent posts on these sorts of subjects in future.

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