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Hollywood Autism

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Sliding scale of autism as it is portrayed in movies, television, and other media

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
ThreeferFAQMinorityChick on Aug 17th 2011 at 2:35:21 PM
Last Edited By:
ThreeferFAQMinorityChick on Feb 25th 2012 at 3:39:09 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

In real life, autism is a complex neurological disability that can impair the autistic individual's social skills among other areas, as detailed in our Useful Notes for Aspergers 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. Additionally, there are plenty of autistic people who identify as homo/bi/pan/omnisexual, queer, or transgender. 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 and Film. It is most common for an autistic character to be a child and if they are adults, they are 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. Also, they are portrayed as nothing other than cisgender and straight Most controversially, 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 leave it at that!.

Given that this is Flame Bait, No Real Life Examples Please.


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.

Comic Books

  • 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.
  • 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.



  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.

Live Action TV

  • 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.

Feedback: 82 replies

Aug 17th 2011 at 2:50:13 PM

How about a description first? Or expanded examples? (Right now, they're all pretty much X Just X.)

What ties all these examples together? Why do they have so many symptoms? What are the symptoms?

Aug 17th 2011 at 4:32:09 PM

Here's the descripton the OP placed on the cut and now locked page (but didn't give any examples):

Many times in works, the writer(s) will make their character Ambiguously Autistic: s/he is never stated to be autistic, but has enough autism symptoms to make fans wonder about them. This trope is the inverse of Ambiguously Autistic. The Symptom Overloaded Autistic is stated to be autistic and has been written to have as many autism symptoms as can be shoehorned into the story, sometimes to the point of conflicting with each other or impairing Character Development. In many cases, it is an example of Shown Their Work and the author is so eager to show it off that the character turns into a Symptom Overloaded Autistic. Alternatively, the author Did Not Do The Research, but really wants to write their character as autistic, so they write in what they know from pop culture.

Aug 17th 2011 at 6:10:41 PM

How many symptoms is too many?

Aug 18th 2011 at 1:57:10 AM

A list of such symptoms would be handy, too...

Aug 18th 2011 at 3:33:14 AM

I forget which episode but I think there was a patient on House who was said to be autistic and was the non-high functioning type who needed help just to use the toilet. [[Spoiler: The problem with the child was he had worms in the back of his eye.]]

Aug 18th 2011 at 11:22:00 AM

Here is a list of autism criteria from the DSM-IV: (I) A total of six (or more) items from (A), (B), and (C), with at least two from (A), and one each from (B) and (C)

(A) qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

1. marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction 2. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level 3. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people, (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people) 4. lack of social or emotional reciprocity ( note: in the description, it gives the following as examples: not actively participating in simple social play or games, preferring solitary activities, or involving others in activities only as tools or "mechanical" aids )

(B) qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following: 1. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime) 2. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others 3. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language 4. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

(C) restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least two of the following: 1. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus 2. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals 3. stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements) 4. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

(II) Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (A) social interaction (B) language as used in social communication (C) symbolic or imaginative play

(III) The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett's Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

I hope this helps. As is stated above, in order to be diagnosed with autism, the individual must meet at least six of the above criteria, with at least two from A) and at least one each from B) and C). In terms of too many symptoms, I feel that many autistic characters fit more criteria than necessary and there should be some discussion as to what the benchmark should be set as, if it should be set at all. I also feel that a large part of this trope is that examples may seem to be more like collections of autistic traits or examples of autism itself rather than autistic characters. That is, it seems that the author decided to write an autistic character, gave him or her the symptoms that s/he knew, and didn't go very much further than that in terms of characterization/Character Development.

Aug 18th 2011 at 12:13:33 PM

I think that rather than focusing on the tpye and number of symptoms of autism in a given character, we should focus more on the representation as a whole. Something more along the lines of Hollywood Autism?

Aug 18th 2011 at 3:06:42 PM

Hollywood Autism sounds good. Here are some starting criteria for Hollywood Autism:

In real life, autism is a complex neurological disability that can impair the autistic individual's social skills among other areas and, while there are more males than females diagnosed with autism, there are plenty of autistic women and girls out there. As a character with Hollywood Autism is most likely to be portrayed as male, male pronouns are used from here on out.

Type I: The character is quite clearly high functioning and lives a normal life. He is, however, autistic and clearly so. He has some kind of quirk that almost always proves essential to the plot. If he is disabled in any way, he is socially awkward at best, and quite possibly has no friends, or focuses obsessively on one or more areas of interest. The character with Type I Hollywood Autism will be Inspirationally Disadvantaged. He is always Type A Inspirationally Disadvantaged, due to the overall expectation that autistic people will never do the ordinary things that everyone is expected to be able to do. However, when the plot calls for it, the character with Type I Hollywood Autism is a Type B Magical Differently Abled Person.

Type II: The person with Type II Hollywood Autism is like the character with Type I Hollywood Autism in that he has a quirk that makes him special in some way, but he is more obviously disabled. Unlike the person with Type I Hollywood Autism, No Social Skills does not cover the areas in which he is disabled. He probably goes to a special needs school if he is a child or does not have a driver's license if he is an older teenager or adult. In either case, he is a Type A Magically Differently Abled Person for being able to live a relatively normal life. In the rare case that the plot calls for it, he moves into a Type B Magically Differently Abled Person.

Type III: Unlike the character with Type I or II Hollywood Autism, the person with Type III Hollywood Autism is clearly the low-functioning autistic person commonly portrayed in autism awareness advertisement. He is disabled in just about every way possible. The character with Type III Hollywood Autism is nonverbal, can't do things that most ordinary people their age are able to do, and, in some cases, is not even toilet-trained. In most of these portrayals, he is clearly meant to be pitied. In the rare case that he does something ordinary, like going to a regular school or competing in a sporting event or talent show, he is Type A Inspirationally Disadvantaged.

These are just starting criteria for this trope. Feel free to make any changes to the wording, criteria, or types, but I think this is a good starting point

Aug 18th 2011 at 5:09:15 PM

I think that's a pretty good place to start. The Rain Man definitely needs to be referenced somewhere, since it's more or less a subtrope of this.

Aug 18th 2011 at 5:12:16 PM

Probably worth noticing that all types of Hollywood Autistics are way more likely than real autistic people to display Savant Syndrome.

Aug 18th 2011 at 5:21:30 PM

Very much props for citing the DSM-4.

I agree that Hollywood Autism is the right name for this trope.

Should the final page have the DSM excerpt, or a link to a page where it can be found?

I think you have something here, I wish I had examples. I went to look up Jodi Picoult novels expecting to find an example you missed, and made an "aargh" noise when I saw you already listed House Rules.

Aug 18th 2011 at 6:02:12 PM

I did a sandbox page for useful info on autism (it was for a TRS thread on fixing Ambiguous Disorder, back when it was specifically about autism). Might be worth looking at. I considered just copying the DSM info but I think it's just jargony to be somewhat confusing to people who haven't studied much psychology.

Aug 18th 2011 at 6:05:10 PM

^ Plus the trope pages don't lend themselves well to "wall of text." I think a link might be the correct answer, allowing tropers who speak the language to open it up in a new tab and compare.

Aug 18th 2011 at 7:03:37 PM

Did minor edits to Threefer's post to clean up some typos and the like and to put it into a consistent verb tense.

Aug 18th 2011 at 7:18:06 PM

Thanks, Nocturna, that was helpful. I think that we should link to both a webpage of the official autism criteria for a "reliable" source and the sandbox page for those who are more interested in a laconic version. As for Savant Syndrome and The Rain Man, those are most relevantly linked in my proposed Type II. Loners Are Freaks and Bunny Ears Lawyer I feel are most relevant to my proposed Type I. So far I think the three subcategories are good, but does anyone feel that that's not enough?

Aug 18th 2011 at 7:21:45 PM

^ I think there's room for an Implied Autistic type. The character is mentioned as autistic, but exhibits between zero and one common autism trait. The emphasis of the disability on the story ranges from none to Wangst material. The most blatant example of Did Not Do The Research

Aug 18th 2011 at 7:35:28 PM

As the guardian of a low-functioning autistic, I would like to make note of the fact that there are people in Real Life who fall into your Type III. I happen to find this trope a bit offensive, to be perfectly honest.

Aug 18th 2011 at 8:27:20 PM

@Commander Panda: I think that would be more aptly named as Informed Autistic. Can you think of examples of that? I don't think I know of any. @indendiarist: I am aware of the existence of low-functioning autistics in Real Life. I have a cousin and a sibling in this category. I did not mean to imply that they only existed in Hollywood Autism, I was thinking mainly about they way they are set up to be pitied or Inspirationally Disadvantaged if they managed to do something. I was also thinking about how Darryl Mc Allister in A Wizard Alone is meant to be a low-functioning autistic and everyone is supposed to feel pity for him because of his autism. I found the pity to be offensive and additionally, it enraged me that Diane Duane, the author, had it in the story that Darryl's autism was caused by the Lone Power and Darryl got rid of it by using it to trap the Lone Power. I also think it would be worth mentioning the works in which the autism is thrown off, as in A Wizard Alone. I heard of this happening in a TV show as well, but I don't know the name of it.

Aug 18th 2011 at 8:45:40 PM

@Danger Waffle: There already are useful notes page for high functioning autism and asperger syndrome that are sub indexed under an unwiki worded autism. Maybe you can do the page for autism in general.

Aug 18th 2011 at 9:23:33 PM

Implied Autistic might be problematic. We used to have an article called Ambiguously Autistic, but it got changed to Ambiguous Disorder because it was attracting way too many entries that were trying to shoehorn in any character who was even mildly shy and nerdy.

(That's the problem my useful notes sandbox thing was trying to solve - I was trying to provide a "character must show this many traits to qualify" kind of guideline. Don't know that it would have worked anyway.)

Aug 18th 2011 at 9:27:49 PM

Ah, I can see the potential for slippery slope now that you mention it.

Aug 18th 2011 at 9:36:35 PM

@dangerwaffle: I think that by Implied Autistic, Commander Panda meant a character that was stated to be autistic, but didn't seem so. For that reason, I said that it would be more aptly named Informed Autistic sort of like Informed Flaw or Informed Deformity.

Aug 18th 2011 at 9:38:04 PM

^ Hehe, naming convention fail on my part

Aug 18th 2011 at 9:44:03 PM

Yeah, I just realized that - sorry, brain malfunction, hadn't processed the rest of the description. I agree Informed Autism would be useful if it exists as a trope, but I don't know if it does; I can't think of any examples.

Aug 18th 2011 at 9:49:09 PM

Generally a keystroke of bad writing, but not worth discussing here as it's relatively off topic.

On a more relative note, anyone have any ideas on making Type III more palatable/less potentially offensive?

Aug 19th 2011 at 4:55:52 AM

^ Emphasize how that type occurs in real life and how they're human too.

Aug 19th 2011 at 7:33:50 AM

Also, put more emphasis on how Type III has no compensating quirks like Type I and II and is more often set up to be pitied or be Inspirationally Disadvantaged if they're doing something positive. In fact, there are probably some verbal autistics in the media that fit this type better than II. As for Informed Autistic, I don't think it's off topic if there are actually examples.

Aug 22nd 2011 at 3:13:08 PM

Something to the effect of "exaggeratedly autistic" might make type III read less gratingly to friends and family of autistics persons. Of course, I am not of that demographic, so for all I know it could potentially read as more insulting.

Aug 22nd 2011 at 5:25:05 PM

@{=Commander Panda=]: You suggest using "exaggeratedly autistic" for Type III but not for Type I or II. What exactly do you mean? Do you mean that attribute being mentioned often like in Have I Mentioned I Am Gay or like the author looked at the DSM-IV criteria for autism and wrote the autistic character to have as many autism symptoms/traits as possible? I'm asking because I'm confused as to what you mean by that and would like some clarification.

Aug 22nd 2011 at 6:01:06 PM

Pardon, blonde moment on my part. Disregard the entire comment.

Aug 22nd 2011 at 6:55:53 PM

Okay. I did make some changes to Type III to make it less offensive and so it focuses better on how characters in that proposed type are represented. What do you think of the changes and do you think there's any need to add more types as the ones I proposed don't cover all media? And if you can think of examples other than the ones I added, please, please add them if you can.

Aug 23rd 2011 at 9:36:30 AM

What I want to know is why Sheldon and Abed aren't on the list yet. Quite possibly the autists every autist strives to be? Probably the only reason why they're not flat out called auti is to avoid complaints. (In Sheldon's case the writers may have sort of denied it but he's still one of the best examples out there)

Aug 23rd 2011 at 9:56:50 AM

According to the writers, Sheldon isn't meant to be autistic.

Aug 23rd 2011 at 12:23:25 PM

@Frank75: I added Forrest Gump to the list because I heard that in the original novel, he is stated to be autistic. I saw the movie and he is never stated to be so in the movie. I've been trying to find a copy of the book, but haven't managed to find one. If you have read the book and I am wrong about it stating that Forrest Gump is autistic, I'll change that.

Aug 23rd 2011 at 3:35:48 PM

@Toost Inc, if we include characters who aren't explicitly stated to be autistic, people will inevitably start trying to shoehorn in any character who is even vaguely dorky or introverted or intellectual. We've tried it before. That's why Ambiguously Autistic was changed to a completely different trope that has nothing to do with autism.

Aug 23rd 2011 at 4:49:50 PM

^ Hence, why I've been trying to look for media where they straight out say that a character is autistic. It's been kind of difficult to separate out things on the Internet about characters who are autistic and stated to be from things where people are saying, hey, so-and-so from TV Show X seems like he might be autistic, which fits more under Ambiguous Disorder. For this reason, it would be extremely helpful if any of you guys could think through your experiences of reading, movie and television watching, etc. for any memory of characters who were explicitly stated to be autistic. Thanks if you can, and more thanks if you can post about them or directly add them to the draft.

Aug 24th 2011 at 4:30:34 AM

I'm pretty sure Forrest isn't autistic in the novel either. Suggestion, since I don't have the book: Google for "Forrest Gump" + autism.

Aug 24th 2011 at 9:12:20 AM

Forrest Gump is not autistic in the novel. He has a low IQ. He's not so much an Innocent as in the film, but it's the same princple generally.

Aug 24th 2011 at 10:45:54 AM

This could be an interesting read, if it had more proper examples. Overwhelming majority are X Just X. I want to know the quirks and social/other disabilities of the characters listed, and other relevant stuff, not just their names. Other than for the lack of elaborated examples, this is looking pretty good to me.

What about the hyper introversion associated with more severe forms of autism?

Aug 24th 2011 at 2:18:38 PM

@peccantis: I agree with you on the X Just X part. I've been kind of overwhelmed trying to look on the Internet and remember what I've read and seen for examples of autistic characters, filtering out the official ones (Word Of God or in-story) from those where people are speculating about them and it isn't confirmed, and trying to determine their type. Since no one is posting any examples, either in the discussion or in the draft itself, I've been trying to find and post as many examples as possible myself. For this reason, it would be very helpful if people could post some examples, including a description of them, what type they feel they fit best into, or whether the officiality of their autism is in-story or Word Of God. The information for an example does not have to be complete, but posted examples, especially those that aren't X Just X, would be extremely helpful.

Aug 24th 2011 at 2:46:37 PM

The kid from The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime is actually sort of a weird example -- the author has actually said he wasn't specifically intended to be interpreted as autistic. However, the back cover summary on every edition of the book describes him that way (and the author has expressed some irritation with this). Does that count as some sort of Word Of God?

Aug 24th 2011 at 3:12:09 PM

@dangerwaffle: I assume that the back cover blurb was written by Mark Haddon, as I've seen a lot of guides for writing back cover blurbs for *your* (that is the author's) book. I did some research on that, and Mark Haddon said that he said that the story was not specifically about autism and that his main source of irritation is with the fact that because it is stated that Christopher is autistic on the back cover blurb, that he is often asked to talk about autism even though he does not consider himself to be an autism expert. So I think it counts as a Word Of God confirmation.

Also, I made some changes to the draft. Any cleanup suggestions as well as more examples would be greatly appreciated.

Aug 24th 2011 at 3:20:37 PM

Are you sure those guides to writing back cover blurbs weren't intended for writers who are self-publishing? I haven't published any fiction, but from what I know of the industry, I'd be very surprised if authors working through real publishing companies got to write their own blurbs -- the blurb is supposed to be a marketing tool and I'd imagine it would be written by a marketing person.

Anyway, probably a tangent, sorry.

(EDITED TO ADD: Ah, found a Metafilter discussion on this very question. The consensus from people who've worked in the industry seems to be that it's almost always done by a copywriter, editor, or marketing assistant within the publishing company, although the author may get a chance to request changes. In any case I don't think we should assume Haddon wrote the blurb for this one.)

Aug 24th 2011 at 3:52:37 PM

@dangerwaffle: I did some more looking around and I found that it is said that "Haddon is anxious to be clear that Christopher should not carry 'an unfair representational weight' in the novel. For this reason he does not use '''the words''' Asperger's syndrome or High Functioning Autism." That's a direct quote from the article, emphasis mine. In that same article, he says that he doesn't want to give Christopher an unfair representational weight. He does say that he regrets that the word Asperger's was added to the back cover blurb, but it doesn't seem to be that he doesn't think of the character as autistic, more that he doesn't like the attention it got him.

Aug 24th 2011 at 4:03:37 PM

Oh, I wasn't trying to argue whether Christopher's specifically autistic or not. (I think Haddon is sort of weirdly coy about the whole thing and it's somewhat ambiguous, but I'm not sure it matters all that much in this case -- the book is pretty well known as "the book about the autistic kid," so including it isn't going to lead to rampant shoehorning like people trying to claim My Little Pony characters as aspies.) I'm just saying we probably shouldn't assert that he wrote the back cover blurb.

By the way, Wikipedia has a page that might be useful, on fictional characters explicitly stated in the work or by the author to be on the autistic spectrum.

Aug 24th 2011 at 5:33:39 PM

@dangerwaffle: I'm aware of the page. In fact, I was actually using that to try and get examples. It's still not completely helpful as people are posting speculative examples anyway and the list of confirmed examples is far from complete. It's still been helpful, though. By the way, what do you think of my cleanup of the draft?

Aug 26th 2011 at 7:42:22 PM

this is a bad idea. All it is going to be is a lot of shoehorning, and even if the speculative examples are dumped before launching, they'll be added back in within a week.

Aug 27th 2011 at 10:38:01 AM

@Cryptic Mirror: What do you mean, "all it is going to be is a lot of shoehorning"? I set the guidelines in the page very clearly to avoid the pitfalls of Ambiguously Autistic before it was renamed Ambiguous Disorder, and there are enough works where characters are confirmed as autistic that tropers can post about those. If tropers add in the shoehorning examples, they'll be deleted as natter.

Oct 3rd 2011 at 8:51:53 PM

Problems with this as it stands:

  • Wall Of Text
  • Title is too narrow. Why would I call the portrayal of autism in, for example a British book, Hollywood Autism?
  • Too much ranting. It reads like bitching about the supposed inequalities and inaccuracies of the portrayal of autism characters.
  • To limited in listing ways autism can be dealt with in the media. Supposed I have an autistic character that doesn't meet on of the three defined types. What do I do, make up another trope?
  • Kevetching about supposed lack of females and such unnecessary. What if I have an autistic character that is female, transexual, or homosexual. What do I do, make up the Minority Autistic Person Trope?

Oct 6th 2011 at 9:00:41 PM

This is a non-starter. We've already got Ambiguous Disorder, The Rainman and Idiot Savant and we're discussing the existing problems with the last two here. We used to have Ambiguously Autistic before it got binned. Like the proposed article it was a wall of text and mostly material-with-an-agenda regarding Real Life stuff that's off-mission for the wiki.

Feb 21st 2012 at 9:21:57 AM

This item's description needs a huge de-Wall Of Text-ing.

Feb 21st 2012 at 9:44:46 AM

Ambiguous Disorder does not cover autistim.

Most of the Wall Of Text could be moved to an anaylsis page once this is launced.

I do think this is in serious need of de-ranting though.

Feb 21st 2012 at 10:21:38 AM

^Agreed. The description is unusually long. Conciseness is a virtue.

Also, dividing into Type I, Type II, etc. is discouraged because then you get examples that say something like "In Series X, Alice is borderline Type I / Type II", and then then someone ends up changing the scale, and it's unclear to a reader not intimitely familiar with Series X what you're talking about. Better to use names like "Clearly Disabled" for categories than type numbers.

Feb 21st 2012 at 11:12:04 AM

Yes, this needs enforced Type Labels Are Not Examples and de-soapboxing.

Feb 21st 2012 at 11:21:33 AM

I still favour dumping this, nothing good can come of it.

Feb 21st 2012 at 5:43:02 PM

I absolutely agree with sticking to In-Universe Examples only. Characters like Sheldon, or Rorschach from Watchmen, who are only speculated by fans to be individuals with autism or Aspergers, should not be listed as examples. I would also suggest that a DSM excerpt would be more appropriate on the usefulnotes/autism page than on the main trope article, unless there's a way to work it into the description without being obtrusive.

Feb 21st 2012 at 6:15:38 PM

Fixed up the description and removed the types. I haven't seen Mozart and the Whale, so could someone please offer a description?

Feb 21st 2012 at 7:03:45 PM

The description is a bit better, but I'm still trying to figure out if the trope is flexible enough to incorporate autistic characters that don't fit all or even most the characteristics listed. Does just being autistic qualify, or is there a very specific set of features that the character must have? And what about characters that aren't produced by Hollywood?

For example

You say it is mostly male. I know of an Ambiguous Gender example. You say it is always potrayed as a tragedy and will likely be miraculasly cured. I know of examples that try to portray it a a "blessing, not a curse" and show characters trying to learn to live with it but never being cured. You say it is almost always a children. The examples I have in mind are kids, but only because it is a kids' book and the author so far as written nothing but kids' books with child protaganists. You say the lives are always depicted as tragic. The examples I have in mind, I would not call tragic, or I would say that what tragedy they have is for reasons unrelated to their autism (such as parents dying)

Feb 22nd 2012 at 7:56:46 AM

@fulltimeD--- Fair enough, but what about when the actor himself says he's playing the character with a certain condition? Parsons has said this is the way he plays Cooper. It's also been speculated on in universe what might be "wrong" with him. Just saying-- even with that criteria there's some case for the character since it's how the actor is intentionally portraying him, regardless of the creators not making it explicit.

Feb 22nd 2012 at 10:18:22 AM

@madcapunlimited I would limit it to characters who have been stated to be aui/aspie by the (head)writers or executive producers.

Feb 22nd 2012 at 10:29:27 AM

IMO, the term "Hollywood Autism" covers depiction of Autism in all modern works, just like the term "TV tropes" covers all works, not just works that appear on television.

  • Speed Of Dark is a sci-fi novel is set in a world where autism is "cured" through gene therapy. There is a group of individuals who were too old to get the therapy. The book is focused on one of those people who lives independently as a high functioning autistic, and has to make a decision whether he should take a risky and highly experimental process that is designed to cure adults of autism.

Feb 22nd 2012 at 10:43:25 AM

Damn my borderline suggestions~! lol

@queenbri-- as I said, fair enough. I think I'll be proven right by the end of the show's run though. :-)

Feb 22nd 2012 at 3:07:14 PM

On a final note, the trope description looks more like an order how to pick an example rather than like a trope. We might want to change that.

Feb 22nd 2012 at 5:21:51 PM

@Septimus Heap: How would you suggest changing it?[Edited to fix typo - @/Septimus Heap]

@Madcapunlimited: I found something about how Ramin Karimloo, who played the Phantom of the Opera in the original Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and in its sequel, Love Never Dies, decided to perform with the conception that the phantom had Asperger's syndrome.

Feb 23rd 2012 at 6:43:53 AM

First, by moving the 3th paragraph to comment markup, since it's for the editors rather than the readers.

Second, remove the media depictions from the top paragraph and put it into the second and cutting back on the analysis on that one - that can go to Analysis.Hollywood Autism.

Third, shortening the No Real Life Examples Please disclaimer - in fact, I am doing that right now.

Feb 23rd 2012 at 6:46:39 AM

Putting the older draft here as a reference, since I am changing it completely.

In real life, autism is a complex neurological disability that can impair the autistic individual's social skills among other areas, as detailed in our Useful Notes for Aspergers 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. Additionally, there are plenty of autistic people who identify as homo/bi/pan/omnisexual, queer, or transgender, in spite of tendencies in media to portray autistic individuals as nothing other than cisgender and straight. 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.

And then there are characters with a pop cultural version of autism that we like to call Hollywood Autism. Due to the fact that a character with Hollywood Autism is most likely to be portrayed as male, male pronouns are used from here on out. In media involving actors such as Live Action TV and Film, an autistic character will invariably be portrayed by a non-autistic person, though this is averted on rare occasions. It is most common for an autistic character to be a child and if they are adults, they are 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. Also, their lives are rarely depicted as being as fulfilling or as much of a life as that of someone who is not autistic. Though, as time has gone by, 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. Also, 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. If this does occur in a plotline, include it in the example and leave it at that. Due to the major difference of opinion on that subject, avoid discussion on this trope page to avoid flamewars.

For examples to fit this trope, they must be confirmed as autistic either in-story or by Word Of God. Speculations as to whether or not a character is autistic or an aspie can go to Ambiguous Disorder. To confirm that you're not shoehorning any character in who you think might be autistic, please, please accompany any examples you add with a description that includes the source of confirmation. Determination of type is based on how the character is represented in-story, so please add some details as to that. Rule of thumb, avoid adding examples that look like they're X Just X. Due to the purpose of the trope being to track media representation of fictional autistic characters, there should be No Real Life Examples Please.

Feb 23rd 2012 at 6:56:07 AM

OK, so I've rewritten the definition and moved the third paragraph to comment markup. Is it better now?

Feb 23rd 2012 at 7:53:43 AM

One good reason to leave out ambiguous or uninformed examples is that, while characters are often portrayed with the social deficits and finicky behavior characteristic of autism, social deficits and finicky behavior are not enough to diagnose autism.

Feb 23rd 2012 at 11:14:54 AM

Speculation on whether a character has Autism should not go to Ambiguous Disorder. The whole reason Ambiguous Disorder was retooled was to stop that sort of thing. Ambiguous Disorder is not about autism, please do not put that there.

Feb 23rd 2012 at 11:54:27 AM

Removed the offending bit. Is that clean then?

Feb 23rd 2012 at 2:03:06 PM

Speculation about whether or not a character has autism should not go on this trope either. Otherwise you'll get massive decay. This should be Canon and Word Of God autism only.

Feb 23rd 2012 at 3:53:56 PM

@Madcapunlimited: Good point. I suggest that where conflict exists between the Words of the Gods, then the conflict should be noted in the context of the example, rather than Zero Context Examples. Would that be reasonable?

Feb 23rd 2012 at 4:20:59 PM

I'd dispute adding Word Of God examples unless this is going to be Trivia, lets keep it purely as stated in-universe. Apart from anything else Authors and Showrunners tend to respond to "is so-and-so X(where X is fan hot button of the day)" with a hearty Sure Lets Go With That.

Feb 23rd 2012 at 4:34:24 PM

^Yeah now that I think about it... if an actor says he or she is playing their character as gay, but the character is explicitly shown in canon to be in heterosexual relationships, then the actor's statement is overridden by canon. If there is fan speculation about the character's sexuality, due to the performance or to the words of the actor, that speculation would belong in Wild Mass Guessing. So why should Autism be any different?

Feb 23rd 2012 at 6:45:57 PM

I notice this got some edits and hats while I was gone. You guys got sick of waiting around for me?

Feb 24th 2012 at 1:41:08 AM

For reference, the part I moved to comment markup: %% %%For examples to fit this trope, they must be confirmed as %%autistic either in-story or by Word Of God, and it must be spelled out in the entry. %% %%Determination of type is based on how the character is %%represented in-story, so please add some details as to that. %% %%Rule of thumb, avoid adding examples that look like they're\ %%Zero Context Examples. %%