In Real Life
, autism is a complex neurological disorder that can impair the autistic individual's social skills among other areas, as detailed in our Useful Notes
for Asperger's Syndrome
and High Functioning Autism
. While there are more males than females diagnosed with autism, there are plenty of autistic women and girls out there, with some research showing that autism rates in both sexes are about the same. Also, autism affects adults as well as children and many autistic adults are verbal, work, go to college, or live on their own. Furthermore, autistic people in Real Life
are well, portrayed by autistic people
In contrast, the pop cultural representation of autism, called Hollywood Autism
, which is most likely to be portrayed as male
and by a non-autistic person, especially in Live-Action TV
It is most common for an autistic character to be a child and if he is an adult, he's most likely to be The Rain Man
or the Idiot Savant
or otherwise totally unable to live what most people would call a normal life.
, their lives are rarely depicted as being as fulfilling or as much of a life as that of someone who is not autistic, although there have been more examples of autistic adults in media whose lives are depicted as non-tragic and even find romance and have children, but they are still rare compared to examples of children and adults whose autism is shown as tragic. Finally, due to the overwhelming attitude that autism is automatically a tragedy in all cases rather than a different way of being or a disability that can be lived with and managed, it is common for an autistic character to miraculously be cured of his autism, usually through Applied Phlebotinum
. Not likely Truth in Television
, and please leave it at that
Characters with Hollywood Autism
are commonly Literal-Minded
and may be Insufferable Geniuses
. This character may also be a Cloudcuckoolander. Expect him to be Inspirationally Disadvantaged
or for his Hollywood Autism to be a Disability Superpower
. If the exact disorder the character has is not explicitly spelled out, see Ambiguous Disorder
Anime and Manga
- With The Light focuses on a mother raising her autistic son, Hikaru, in modern-day Japan. He develops different talents such as cooking, mixing colors, and memorizing train schedules, and goes to a regular school. However, he is still clearly disabled by his autism, such as that he is unable to cope with loud noises and is in the special education program at school. The author's ultimate goal for the story was for Hikaru to realize his parents' hopes for him to be "a cheerful working adult"; sadly, Author Existence Failure meant that it ended as he was adjusting to junior high.
- Aldnoah.Zero features an autistic high school student, Inaho Kaizuka, in an alternate-day Japan. Inaho shows an exceptionally calculating and perceptive mind, excelling in his studies and eventually becoming a prodigy in mecha based combat. This comes with a cost, however, as he appears almost totally devoid of emotion to the outward observer and completely misses out on all the strange that is thrown his way.
- Black Manta of the Aquaman series is stated in #8 to have been an autistic orphan who was placed in Arkham Asylum. Because the attendants didn't know how to deal with autism, they restrained him to his bed, to which he would struggle and scream because he felt comfortable in freezing cold water, but found cotton sheets to be excruciatingly painful. Later on, Aquaman rewired Black Manta's autistic brain, but it didn't make him any less violent or sociopathic.
- Johnny Do in Psi-Force is stated to be autistic in-story. He is nonverbal, can barely communicate, and is cared for by Thomas Boyd. However, his difficulties and Woobie status are attributed more to his history of abuse in Soviet mental institutions and the research center he was transferred to upon gaining his pyrokinetic powers due to The White Event. In fact, the way he entered Thomas Boyd's care was that Thomas Boyd learned of Johnny's presence and scheduled lobotomy and rescued him.
- NYX: Bobby Soul's brother, Lil' Bro, is severely autistic, and virtually non-responsive to anyone around him. He's also an incredibly powerful telepath, whom it is revealed in the ending of the first series that he has been communicating with Kiden Nixon's dead father and helping coordinate the ghost's efforts to send her on her Fetch Quest to collect her Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, if not projecting the spirit himself.
- Averted with Nepeta Leijon from Brainbent, who is clearly stated as autistic and having sensory processing disorder. While she definitely has her quirks, like despising purple and pretending to be a Cat Girl, she's one of the more popular and well-liked characters for being the Only Sane Woman and just for being adorable, and is capable of forming strong friendships with people, provided they understand her and aren't mean to her.
- Averted in Tammy Billingham's series of Emergency! fics. John Gage is portrayed as mildly Asperger's, but though he has some classic symptoms (even in show canon, really), he still functions fine as a paramedic. His problem is that a traumatic childhood does cause him to withdraw when he experiences severe trauma as he often does here. Roy uses rage reduction and touch therapy to help him at times.
- Simon is a computer geek who is outright stated to be autistic in Mercury Rising
- Adam Raki, the eponymous character of Adam, is clearly stated to be autistic and a major part of the plot is his adjusting to living on his own after his parents have died.
- In Mozart and the Whale, both Donald and Isabelle are stated to be autistic and have a romantic relationship. Donald is slightly more neurotypical, with Isabelle as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
- Linda in Snow Cake. She has done well enough that she ended up having a daughter and living on her own, but due to her mania for cleanliness, she needs someone else to take out her garbage.
- Eric in The Boy Who Could Fly, who is stated to be autistic in-story. He has been nonverbal for his whole life, doesn't like to be around people, and has bizarre flying-related behaviors. Milly, the main character, works with Eric, and the progress he makes with her as well as his ability to fly makes him a type A Magical Differently Abled Person.
- In the 1993 film House of Cards, a child becomes autistic (complete with savant-like abilities) after being traumatized by the death of her father. The recently acquired autism vanishes just as easily.
- Raymond in Rain Man is autistic, stated to be in the movie, and the knowledge that he is autistic is well-known if you haven't been living in a cave for the past 20 years. Raymond is the Trope Namer for The Rain Man. Though he has savant-like abilities, he is unable to care for himself to the point where he is in an institution and Charlie acts as The Caretaker for Raymond. The whole focus of the story is on how Raymond teaches Charlie to care about other people and to not be such a jerk through The Power of Love. It should be noted though that Hoffman's performance has been praised by many as being very close to how many people with low-functioning autism act. High-functioning types (who can usually take care of themselves, for starters) often find the character and movie to be a bit of an albatross around their necks, though.
- The short documentary Autism Every Day, produced by Autism Speaks, has footage of misbehaving autistic children and their parents talking about how terrible their lives are with their autistic children. There is so much said about autistic children making life difficult for the parents that it is hard to come up with a standout quote to put here. One thing especially notable about this piece, though, is the mother who says that she was sitting in a car for 15 minutes and had contemplated driving off a bridge, killing herself and her autistic daughter, but didn't because she had a non-autistic child, and said it with barely any significant emotion in such a way that makes it seem like she had said it enough times before that it no longer quite registered as shocking in her mind. *shudder*
- The Autism Speaks video I Am Autism, which was posted on YouTube in September 2009 after having been screened at the World Focus on Autism event. The autism rights activists who found out about it (and who even saw it) did not take it well, and there were even some people that previously supported them who called them out online. Autism Speaks took the video down after a while, so all one can know about the video is that it said everything in this transcript and the dark and gloomy part used the dark, scary voice of "AUTISM!!" gloating about the terrors he would wreak on children and their families as footage of autistic people played. The video made up of footage of autistic people over which the Evil Gloating voice of "AUTISM!!" evilly gloats over for I Am Autism can be seen here as part of the parody video I Am Autism Speaks.
- For obvious reasons, autistic people almost universally despise Autism Speaks for their portrayal of autistic people, and the attitude displayed in their donation campaigns, and that's before mentioning the fact nobody on their board of directors is autistic, meaning autistic patient concerns go unrepresented entirely. Make of that what you will.
- According to Thierry Zéno, the human from Vase de Noces was highly autistic, which bears eyebrow-raising implications, considering his actions throughout the film.
- Molly as played by Elisabeth Shue.
- Seth Garin in The Regulators is stated to be autistic in-story, nonverbal, has magical powers, and is obsessed with a particular show. This obsession starts the major conflict of the book.
- Rory in Wicked Good by Joanne Lewis. From what has been written about the book, this character definitely seems to be Inspirationally Disadvantaged.
- Ian in Ian's Walk is clearly stated to be autistic. He is nonverbal, prefers to sniff bricks rather than flowers, and loves lying down on the ground to look at rocks, staring at overhead fans, and ringing the bell in the park. Additionally, he would rather eat cereal that he has brought with him than try the pizza that his two sisters have bought for him.
- The unpleasant Osden in Ursula K. Le Guin's "Vaster Than Empires and More Slow" is identified as "the only cured case of Render's Syndrome" (a Shout-Out to Roger Zelazny's He Who Shapes), which is supposed to be a form of autism. This leads to the exchange "Cured?" "Yes, he is certainly not autistic".
- Jacob in House Rules is really good at crime scene know-how, but will have a meltdown if his routine is interrupted in any way. He is clearly stated to be autistic by multiple characters in the story, including himself and it is mentioned repeatedly that Jacob's mother has tried many treatments for Jacob such as a GFCF diet and vitamin B12 supplements. Jacob's brother Theo complains about the effect Jacob has on his life including a transparently metaphorical example of them both being under an upside-down boat and Jacob breathing in all the oxygen. In fact, the title House Rules refers to the list of house rules that Theo and Jacob's mother has set for the family to follow, most of them having something to do with Jacob's special needs. Despite Jacob's intelligence and fascination with forensic analysis, he is portrayed as being a burden on his family. Rather than being Inspirationally Disadvantaged, the book focuses on whether or not Jacob murdered his social-skills tutor, which is left ambiguous but is pushed more of the side of "yes" by the family's push for an Insanity Defense and Theo's narrating quote: "My mother will tell you Jacob's not violent, but I am living proof that she's kidding herself."
- To make matters worse, Jacob isn't portrayed consistently, but instead switches from low-functioning to aspie-ish symptoms. For someone who knows anything about the real Autism Spectrum, the obvious artistic license reads as offensive misinformation.
- Darryl McAllister in A Wizard Alone, who is stated to be autistic in-story. He is shown to be nonverbal, inclined to bang his head, and go to a special-needs school. Additionally, anyone who hears that Darryl is autistic automatically says something along the lines of, "That's terrible" and it's portrayed as nothing but a tragedy that Darryl is autistic. Diane Duane also takes a lot of artistic license with autism. Within the story, Kit acquires some of Darryl's autistic traits through overexposure to Darryl's mind and Darryl gets rid of his autism by using it to create a trap for The Lone Power.
- Good news: in 2012, new editions of the books got published, this included. The authoress actually fixed the problems with Darryl's autism and drastically improved the book entirely, which much better reception.
- Caitlin Smith in Mockingbird seems to be somewhat aware of the fact that she has Asperger's and displays many traits such as having above average intelligence, being Literal-Minded and Sarcasm-Blind, and has a bit of a tendency to say and do things that get taken the wrong way by others despite her best intentions (and other times not best intentions. She tends to be a little narrow-minded and even selfish, claiming she's good at something when it's clear she doesn't know the first thing of what she's trying to do, not that she can be blamed for this because none of the authority figures in the book really "teach" her what she needs to do). However, she doesn't understand that Autism and Asperger's Syndrome are the same thing and adamantly claims she's not autistic, as another classmate of hers has Autism, but her definition of autism is, according to the behaviors she's seen her classmate display, being non-verbal, eating dirt, and screaming when he's mad.
- The Baby Sitters Club book Kristy and the Secret of Susan is rather infamous among snark communities for this. First of all, Kristy's baby-sitting charge Susan displays every single autistic symptom known to medicine, which is actually unheard-of in real life. On top of that, she has all kinds of impossible super-abilities, such as being able replay any piece of music she hears on the piano, regardless of what instruments were used in the original; she can also sing the lyrics, regardless of the language, after hearing them only once (despite the fact that she is otherwise non-verbal); and can tell you what day of the week any given date falls on.
- And if that wasn't bad enough, we get into the Unfortunate Implications of a severely autistic child being forced to make friends with the neighborhood children, who actually treat her like a freak, and not to mention Kristy - a 13-year-old girl - trying to shame Susan's parents into letting her attend the special education classes at the local public school rather than the boarding school where her disabilities can be professionally addressed. And after Susan's sent back to her special school, her mother happily announces she's having another baby and has high hopes for her being "normal"-as if she's looking to replace her "broken" child.
- What about the Unfortunate Implications of leaving a severely special-needs child in the charge of a 13-year-old babysitter?
- Christian author Karen Kingsbury's novel Unlocked is a straight-up example of this trope — high school senior Holden's autism is portrayed as a complete tragedy that robbed his family of a wonderful, loving boy when it manifested itself when he was three, as he is now completely non-communicative despite a great deal of therapy. The only thing he reacts much to is music, and when he re-encounters once-best friend Ella when she's cast as the lead in the School Play of Beauty and the Beast — he's drawn to the music from the rehearsal room — it sets everyone on a path towards getting him out of his "prison" (and teaching everyone at his school about the evils of bullying on the side) and making his and her families whole again, with music and their faith in God accomplishing what treatment could not. Autism Speaks is namedropped in a positive light, and though it was written in 2010, it suggests that vaccines may have been the reason he was afflicted in the first place — a thoroughly debunked theory.
- Karla on Waterloo Road is a genius, but clearly needs a support teacher and medication to get by in everyday life.
- There is a visiting heart surgeon who is stated to have Asperger's syndrome in an episode of Grey's Anatomy.
- In an episode of House, the patient of the week is a child named Adam who is stated to be autistic. In fact, his autism becomes a major conversational topic. He is nonverbal, screams because of pain in his eye and seeing squiggly things that turn out to be worms that he got from eating sand in the sandbox he plays in at home. It is mentioned in the episode that both his parents quit their jobs to enable them to stay at home and care for their son.
- Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory is commonly diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome by fans. However, he was never officially diagnosed in the show. It was stated by the writers that they didn't even use Asperger's as a basis for Cooper. Still, the fact that he displays so many signs of Asperger's would make one think that it was intentional. Jim Parsons has said that he's employed traits of autism in his portrayal of the character, so there is a valid argument that he's autistic.
- Of course Sheldon could also have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder - that fits incredibly well.
- Considering that Aspergers Syndrome and OCPD have high co-morbidy rates, he could possibly have both.
- Gary Bell, one of the eponymous characters of Alphas, is a Cloudcuckoolander who is Literal-Minded and Hates Being Touched. His autism makes him immune to Nina's Compelling Voice and renders another Alpha's ability to detect lies through facial expressions useless. It should be noted that, while Gary's idiosyncrasies are close to Hollywood Autism stereotype, he is a much more nuanced and three-dimensional character than is usual and has been praised by autistic fans as a realistic and thoughtful depiction of a fairly socially-functional autistic person.
- In one episode of Cold Case, an autistic boy helps to piece together his parents' murder with his photographic memory and inability to lie.
- Sugar on Glee claims to have Asperger's Syndrome and exhibits practically every negative characteristic of the condition. Supposedly, since she mentions she's self-diagnosed, so she's less a negative portrayal of Asperger's and more of a Take That to real people that self diagnose themselves with the disorder because they think it'll let them get away with bad behavior
- Kevin on Eureka was autistic. After Allison, Jack Carter, Henry, Jo, and Fargo go back in time and disrupt the time stream, Kevin is ‘cured’ of his autism.
- The eponymous AMY has elements of real autism and this trope. She's mute and has superpowers, but she also needs the protagonist Lana as a Living Emotional Crutch and frequently gets bored if you leave her in the same place for a long time.
- Largely averted in F*** Kayfabe: Wrestling With Labels whose subject is a wrestler with Asperger Syndrome. He has gone on to live a relatively normal life and formed strong friendships with people. The film barely even focuses on his condition and it's only talked about in the first three minutes, apart from him mentioning he was terrified of what his friends would say when they found out. They were fine with it.
- Daisy Archanis in Last Res0rt is an autistic adult who also happens to be one of the smarter members of the cast, having both managed to figure out that Jigsaw was a vampire (and managed to inform Jigsaw of that fact before Jigsaw could accidentally out herself). It's not a true portrayal of autism, however. In-universe, mental diagnoses like autism and schizophrenia are considered symptoms of being "Light Children" — people who have similar abilities to the Celeste, but lacking the same access to training and education (and thus causing their powers to manifest differently).
- Jiro Sasaki from Ruby Nation is a deliberate deconstruction. His physical and cognitive abilities have been greatly advanced by nanomachines, but his social skills remain arrested. He doesn't relate well to people, and the world he lives in gives him no reasons to like them. He finds love with Ruby and companionship with her other friends, but he still has difficulty with more subtle, emotional interactions. It's clear he cares about people (especially Ruby), defying many of the stereotypes of autistic people, but he's not good at expressing it, and is prone to unexpected emotional outbursts.