This page is designed to answer the following questions:
- 6.2. Give examples of how autism can be misrepresented in the media. (Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Autism, Introduction to Autism)
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The media can play a significant role in shaping societal perceptions and attitudes towards autism. However, sometimes, due to a lack of awareness or for dramatisation purposes, autism can be misrepresented in various ways.
Media often portray people with autism as savants (individuals with prodigious skills in a specific area, such as mathematics or music). Examples include movies such as Rain Man and TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and The Good Doctor. While some individuals with autism do possess exceptional skills, this is not the case for the majority. This stereotype can lead to unrealistic expectations and a lack of understanding about the diversity of experiences within the autism spectrum.
People with autism are often portrayed by neurotypical actors, which can lead to inaccurate and stereotyped portrayals. Moreover, there’s often a lack of representation of the diversity within the autism community in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and age. For example, much media representation focuses on white, male children, when in reality autism affects people of all backgrounds and ages, and includes many girls and women. A 2021 study found that there is a higher prevalence of autism in black children.
Media representations often focus on the challenges or deficits associated with autism, such as difficulties with social interaction or repetitive behaviors, and overlook the strengths and abilities of individuals with autism. This narrow portrayal can contribute to stigma and misunderstanding.
Some media portrayals may also depict autism as a tragedy or burden for families. While it’s true that there can be challenges associated with autism, many individuals with autism and their families also emphasize the positive aspects of autism and the joy and fulfillment their family member brings. This unbalanced portrayal can contribute to negative perceptions and stigma.
Sometimes, more unscrupulous media coverage, including social media, can spread misinformation about the causes of autism (such as the debunked claim linking vaccines to autism) or promote so-called “cures” or treatments that are not backed by scientific evidence. This can be harmful and misleading for parents and individuals with autism who are seeking accurate information and guidance.
For a more accurate and inclusive representation of autism, it is crucial for media outlets to consult with individuals with autism and autism experts, and to include diverse and realistic portrayals of individuals with autism.