The importance of autistic characters in children’s books and TV
If you have an autistic child, you may worry that they can’t relate to any of the children’s characters that they see on the television or the cinema, or even read about in books. They want to see someone who looks like them, who acts like them, who thinks and feels like them. After all, representation is integral for everyone – neurotypical and atypical. It can have a huge effect on a person’s mental wellbeing.
It’s also important to teach any other children you may have about living with their autistic siblings – to make it normal and fun. It’s often a brother or a sister who picks up on little things that even the most vigilant parent misses.
While there is still a long way to go until we get full diversity, there are a lot of positive role models out there for children, so they can grow up feeling that the media they consume, from comics to TV, reflect them.
One of the best ones is the muppet Julia on Sesame Street. She joined the cast in Autism Month back in 2017 and has become one of the most interesting characters – the show gently teaches the audience how to interact with an autistic child. Even though the vast majority of children with developmental problems are male, the makers of Sesame Street consulted educators, psychologists and experts and came to the conclusion that it was best to depict autism through a female lens – as autism in young girls often gets misdiagnosed. She was introduced as part of an awareness initiative: “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children”. She’s a four-year-old girl with a red bob and blue eyes. You can even follow her adventures here – http://autism.sesamestreet.org.
If your children love reading, beloved author Michael Morpurgo, who shot to fame with his novel War Horse (since a play and a film), has written a story all about an autistic boy that’s out now (https://www.michaelmorpurgo.com/book/flamingo-boy/). Flamingo Boy is the tale of a boy in war-torn France in the 1940s, who lives on his parent’s farm when the Germans come and everything is disrupted. Luckily, there is a kind sergeant who understands him and together they attempt to save the town.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a classic that both children and adults can enjoy. The protagonist, Christopher John Francis Boone, can name the countries of the world and their capital cities, as well as every prime number up to 7507, but his favourite thing to do is solve mysteries. When his neighbour’s dog is killed, Christopher goes on an exciting adventure to find out who did it.
There’s plenty of great stories about autistic children out there, showing that people with autism can have an interesting and full life. So get reading!