How autism can be misrepresented in the media
Have you come across autism on TV? There is a feeling that the media, and some fictional TV series, are portraying the condition somewhat unrealistically, and that this is leading to misconceptions.
High Functioning Autism in the Media
High functioning autism is the form of autism spectrum disorder which is characterised by social awkwardness, eccentricity and emotional sensitivity. In some cases, a connection is also made between high functioning autism and high intelligence, or even genius. But when watching your TV or scrolling the internet, it can sometimes seem as if this part of the autism spectrum is being used to represent autism as a whole – which is entirely inaccurate.
Perhaps where fictional storylines are concerned, this is more understandable. Take the popular drama on American network television – ‘The Good Doctor’. It follows the fortunes of Dr Shaun Murphy, a talented medical professional with high functioning autism, who happens to be a genius. Of course, this angle can make for great TV, but does it also risk misleading the public?
Of even more concern is the media’s portrayal of high functioning autism. From Albert Einstein to Sir Anthony Hopkins and Susan Boyle – because the celebrities and legends who are regularly associated with the condition are high achievers in their individual spheres, the myth is unwittingly pedalled that high functioning autistic = genius or rare talent.
There is even speculation about certain public figures being autistic, based on their eccentricities. Maybe the most high profile of these people is Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, who has received attention due to his habit of ‘rocking’ and speech patterns. Despite the view of ‘armchair physicians’, many experts say that the chances of him being autistic are low. This kind of speculation only adds to the chances of the condition being misrepresented in the media.
It would help enormously if the writers and reporters possessed a greater knowledge of high functioning autism and autism treatment. This wouldn’t require an enormous volume of research, but rather, the digestion of some key facts.
Among the most important facts for the media to consider, is that people with high functioning autism may or may not possess remarkable high intelligence. They are faced with large obstacles to living a comfortable life and achieving success in life; let alone reaching the level of accomplishment associated with Einstein or Gates.
The expectations placed upon people at the higher end of the autism spectrum can also be difficult. While those with severe autism are expected to exhibit odd behaviours, those with high functioning autism may shock or let down others who are not accustomed to their odd behaviours, as in the most part, they can ‘pass for normal’.
Children can consume as much media as adults, and so it is absolutely vital that misrepresentations of autism are not ingrained at an early age. This could impact on the way in which children view other children with autism. The solution? To keep being vocal with the facts!