Let’s face it: Atypical, The Good Doctor, and Sesame Street have peaked in terms of autistic representation. Most of these have become face-value stereotypes and draw a lot of controversy from the autistic community for making autism the butt of a joke in addition to failing to cast autistic actors to play autistic characters. While some of them did make some effort to reach out to autistic people for consultation (Sesame Street did contact the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, an autistic-approved, autistic-run organization) these shows portrayals of autistic individuals are informed mostly by groups like Autism Speaks—whose message about autism is toxic on every level—and groups like Talk About Curing Autism, the National Autism Association, the Autism Research Institute, and the Autism Society of America—whose views are similarly problematic. Besides that, these shows reached out to parents, siblings and family members of autistic people (whose views can be extremely myopic)—not autistic people themselves. If these shows were to do that with any other minority, they would certainly draw criticism from the public.
So, instead of shows that are vaguely and inconsistently informed by non-autistics, what about shows derived from sources that are shaped by autistics at every level? I’m talking about comic books, autobiographies, books and other media by autistic people, about autistic people. They could have moments that make us laugh and cry, as well as shed light on autistic relationships (including LGBTQIA people). Some would be fiction, semi-fiction, and some could be real-life as well, similar to FX making The Assassination of Gianni Versaci and Trust: a Getty’s Family Saga. Assuming said owners of this sources would be willing to have a show adaptation (or movie) I had these few ideas in mind:
The Life of an Aspie
Not to be confused with The Life of an Aspie blog by activist Alyssa Marie Huber (which is fantastic, and Alyssa has a novel Vael that would make a fantastic TV show as well), this is an on-line comic done by autistic Twitter personality Aspi3Gam3r about a sixteen-year old orphaned autistic teenage girl who sent to a Japanese boarding school run by her grandmother. The comic includes the grandmother trying to be a good guardian to the girl (named Susan Graham) while stopping her granddaughter’s behavior from damaging her career. It also includes Susan taking lessons in Manga comic drawing, her relationship with her sixteen year-old roommate, and learning to resolve her issues with the school’s counselor. Unlike Aspi3Gam3r’s Twitter page (which often shows heated political opinions), The Life of an Aspie is very non-political and is something many autistics could relate to. Here’s one show that could have a female character, and possibly challenge the stereotype in the media that autistic individuals are always plain-looking or unattractive.
Born on a Blue Day
Based on the autobiography Born on a Blue Day by British autistic savant Daniel Tammot, this show could show the existence of autistic savants without making the same mistakes that Rain Man did. As a main character, Tammot could also give a voice to living with epilepsy. Falling more under the category of drama, the show could depict the feelings of Daniel’s family as he goes off to Lithuania, since all parents, regardless of their nationality worry about their children going off to foreign countries. Daniel’s character would also be a break from the portrayal of autism in the media, which seems to mostly show heterosexual characters too.
Conspiracy of Birds
Written by autistic Trevor McKee, Conspiracy of Birds is a comic series about the adventures of a character very much like the author that demonstrate the bizarreness of social rules and expectations. This could be an opportunity for a show with light-hearted hi-jinx that also forces neurotypical audience members to be more open-minded and respectful of autistic traits.
Look Me in the Eye, by John Elder Robison
While Robison is the center of controversy among some autistics for a few of his viewpoints (most recently his support of TMS Therapy for autism), this show could give light to older autistics who are severely ignored by the media (Robison did not get diagnosed until he was thirty-nine years old, twenty-one years ago), and could have anecdotes about living with autism relatable to most autistics. This TV series could also include stories from one of Robison’s other memoirs Raising Cubby about fathering his son with an autistic woman, and serve to dispel the myth that autistics can’t be good parents. A compelling episode that might be a possibility for this series could focus on Robison’s resignation from Autism Speaks in 2013 to protest their continued backwards ways, which attracted a lot of publicity, and delivered a serious blow to AS’s reputation.
Growing Up Aspie-A Comic by Nathan McConnell
A widely popular published hit in the autistic community, Growing Up Aspie is a series of comic strips the author dealing with his childhood and young adulthood as an autistic. In addition to sometimes making you laugh, these strips have an amazing ability to make you feel the pain the McConnell feels due to being discriminated for being autistic. Whoever makes this idea into a show might also consider portraying the NTs in McConnell’s life the way he draws them: as phantom-like creatures in reference to how they force on him a social standard that he can never life up to, however hard he tries. This series could also show the love story between McConnell and his wife, Candace, and their first child born as the book was being published. Some story lines about interactions with in-laws could be good too.
The Rosie Project
Though this source (a novel) is written by a non-autistic—Australian author Graeme Simsion—its portrayals of autism bare some merit. The novel follows Don Tillman, an autistic professor (something I can relate to, since I work at a university) and his experience in love with a bipolar woman, Rosie. There is a sequel to this book that the movie could cover—not to give too much about the story away, although it has been out for several years. Originally, it was set to be a movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Jennifer Lawrence, though Lawrence, angered that she was being discriminated against in pay due to her gender, quit the project and wrote an article about it to Lena Dunham’s “Lenny Letter.” Due to her experiences, JLaw may not wish to have a role in a television adaptation of the novel, but that does not mean this sort of series couldn’t be made.
Michael McCreary-Aspie Comic comedy-based sitcom
Michael McCreary is a twenty year-old autistic comedian with a huge social media following who has long been disproving the stereotype that autistics don’t have a sense of humor. In the same way Seinfeld made a show based off his comedy antics, it might be funny to see McCreary be the center of a show based around his own comedy routine.
Plus+…an Extended Universe TV Series about Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger
While Hermione has never been verified to be an autistic character, I have heard from several autistics who say that she demonstrates many characteristics of Asperger syndrome herself. A series could follow Hermione before Hogwarts, where she is a doubly-marked girl in a British muggle school both for her autism and the fact that, like all young witches and wizards, she makes things happen that she can’t explain, particularly when she is angry or scared. Fast-forward to her time at Hogwarts showing the events of the books from Hermione’s perspective, the wizarding view of neurodiverse people (surely there are autistic and non-neurotypical witches and wizards in the Harry Potter universe—no jokes about Ron, please), and her shifting back-and-forth between wizard and muggle cultures as a muggle-born witch. Fast-forward to her adult years. Can you get a diagnosis from wizarding professionals? Imagine how hard it could be for Hermione to get a diagnosis from a muggle doctor without letting slip that she is a witch and exposing the wizarding world, on top of trying to get a diagnosis as a woman and an adult (and possibly a black British woman, as seen in the fan-made show Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis). The show could also deal with Hermione’s revelations of how she is (why she kissed Harry in public, was stubborn about rules despite frequently breaking them, and why she was always willing to do Harry’s and Ron’s homework) and her regrets from her life during the Wizarding War, her life as a politician, wife, and mother, and her struggle to say the right thing to survivors of the Wizarding War as Minister of Magic, in comforting her husband Ron and other in-laws over the death of his brother Fred, and in trying to explain to her children the tragedies of the Wizarding War. In addition, the show could provide story lines about quack wizards who hawk fake magical cures for autism, in the same way doctors peddle fake cures for autism in the “muggle” world, leading to attempts to capture them and subsequent wizard duels with aurors Harry and Ron. And being autistic, a woman, and muggle-born, Hermione is a triple+-minority, and that could add a good angle to Hermione’s post-war story as she campaigns for the rights of house elves. Also, does Hogwarts provide accommodations for learning-disabled students? This could be another subplot in the story of fulfilling the post-Wizarding War promise of accepting all wizards.