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Hollywood Autism

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"Each example of a stereotype has its own nuance and exceptions, but stereotypes about disabilities and mental disorders tend to dehumanize, demonize, villainize, and/or infantilize a character. Autistic stereotypes aren’t written for a character who happens to be autistic, they are written as someone with autism, whose life is either so terrible because of their autism, or they’re a bad person because of their autism. Either way, the narrative is that autism is bad, and this usually caters to the eugenics mindset of treating it as a disease that needs a cure."

In Real Life, autism (now officially referred to in the DSM as Autism Spectrum Condition, or ASC) is a complex spectrum of forms of neurodiversity that can affect an autistic individual's social interactions, among other areas as detailed in our Useful Notes for Asperger Syndrome and Autism.

Many autistic people are quite knowledgeable about certain subjects about which they are passionate, termed special interests. In spite of most Hollywood portrayals displaying autistic people as being gifted in math or science or music, the interests and talents of real-life autistic people vary. Not all autistic people have one specific area of talent or interest — some are quite the Renaissance people. Additionally, in most cases, any talents an autistic person has is the result of constant passion and practice — same as any neurotypical person — rather than being inherited excellence (Autistic savants do exist, but as of 2009, only take up 10% of the autistic population at most).

While there are more males than females diagnosed with autism, there are plenty of autistic females out there. Research shows that autism presents in all sexes at a relatively even rate, merely being more apparent in males due to the "only men can have autism" attitude. Autism lasts forever, and there are countless autistic adults who work, go to college, live on their own, and have healthy relationships. Furthermore, autistic people in Real Life are, well, actually real autistic people.

In contrast, the stereotypical representation of autism, called Hollywood Autism, which is most likely to be portrayed as a white, cisgender, heterosexual male note , possessing a beanpole build; and by a neurotypical - or non-autistic - actor, especially in Live-Action TV and Film and characters on the higher-support end of the spectrum (for logistical reasons). 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 Idiot Savant, a creep, or simply a manchild.

He is portrayed as almost completely lacking emotions, empathy, and compassion. He either doesn't talk a lot or talks too much. Folks in his life think he's boring, annoying, nerdy, weird, or even creepy. Additionally, he is totally unable to live what most people would call a normal life and is ultimately a burden on those around him. They are also portrayed by actors, ones who probably weren't picked for being autistic, or, considering the accuracy of their portrayal, knowing an autistic person.

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, they are still far rarer than 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.note  While commonalities between most individuals do exist, real-life autism is much more complex than how this trope portrays it, branching out in a wide variety of ways from person to person, making this trope's Truth in Television status too questionable for real-life examples.

Characters with Hollywood Autism are commonly Literal-Minded and may be Insufferable Geniuses. Not only do they get really into their interests, but these interests tend to be something no neurotypical person would ever be interested in, like naming every piece of a train engine or every station on a given line. In contrast, they will often show zero interest in sex, relationships, sports, and other "normal" mainstream interests. This character may also be a Cloudcuckoolander or have Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!.

If this type of character has Animal Motifs, they're often associated with cats. This is a point of comparison that many autistic people and autism rights advocates actually endorse, owing to the bevy of behavioral similarities between cats and what is common among autistic individuals (including stimming or "self-stimulation", repeated motions for self-soothingnote , special interests, adherence to routines, sensory sensitivity, and highly subtle and easily misunderstood/ overpathologized body language) to the point where the cat has become an unofficial mascot of sorts for the autism rights movement. A study by researchers at the University of Missouri even showed that cats can be the best pets for autistic children.

Expect a Hollywood Autistic to be Inspirationally Disadvantaged or for his Hollywood Autism to be a Disability Superpower. He might also be part of a Five-Token Band, if he's being portrayed as the brains of the group or the token disabled character, and may even vacillate between one and the other. The difficulties inherent in depicting autism and other neurodiverse conditions is one reason for the popularity of not specifying the condition, which gives creators more leeway in interpretation.

If those characters were to be diagnosed according to DSM-5 criteria, most of them would probably get an ASD Level 2 ("Requiring substantial support") diagnosisnote , with ASD Level 1 ("Requiring support") possibly matching some more downplayed examples. However, one can perfectly be a Level 2 or even Level 3 without being a stereotype of autism, nor, by definition, being an inaccurate portrayal.


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    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, but it didn't make him any less violent or sociopathic.
  • Played for Laughs in Deadpool Bi-Annual 1 when Deadpool is hired to fight the lesser-known Super Team known as Brute Force (Marvel Comics), and after switching sides describes the Tailor Made Prisons he crafted for each of them. For The Smart Guy Heroic Dolphin Dr. Echo, he simply filled a pool with macaroni & cheese.
    Dr. Echo: Why would you do that? Macaroni doesn't go in pools. Why?
    Deadpool: Because all geniuses like you are mildly autistic and easily stressed when things aren't in their proper place or order.
    Dr. Echo: I don't understand... macaroni is for eating, not swimming.
    Deadpool: See?
  • In The New Universe series Psi-Force, Johnny Do 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 high-support 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.
  • The book Something Different About Dad: How to Live With Your Asperger's Parent has the eponymous father Mark have Asperger's Syndrome. He's highly introverted, has No Sense of Humor, very anal-retentive to the point of sometimes being Lawful Stupid, knows a ton about buses (which is what his job is about), and, unlike most of the other examples on this page, can have a rather Hair-Trigger Temper and an even further Lack of Empathy that's borderline-emotional (and, fortunately rarely, physical) abuse if he's too stressed. What also sets him apart from the other characters in the story is that while they have Black Bead Eyes, he has blank white eyes instead.
  • Marvel Comics writers seem to understand better than most that a lot of autism symptoms are about stress regulation, and as such would look very different in for instance a telepath or an invulnerable person.
    • Legion's problems come from the personalities of the dead rattling around in his brain; supposedly he's autistic, but he doesn't have any stims, and his telepathy obviously gets around many of the "understanding neurotypicals" problems that most autistics face. He still doesn't connect too well with others, and they consequently perceive him as more dangerous than he deserves.
    • Before him, Monet St. Croix was similarly labeled autistic. She would, at seemingly random points, freeze like a statue (a shut-down) and her Super-Strength would make her immovable. She rarely reacts to anything around her except to use her strange and vaguely defined powers. Basically, she's paying more attention to multiversal stuff than anything around her.
      • Of course, it's later explained that it's not Monet who's autistic; rather, due to a very long, very involved backstory, her sisters Nicole and Claudette managed to psychically merge to take Monet's place when Monet had vanished due to her brother Emplate's machinations. The shut-downs were the moments when the nonverbal autistic Claudette was in the driver's seat.

    Fan Works 
  • Either subverted or averted in Luna Lovegood and the Chamber of Innocence. In the story, Luna, Hermione, Neville, and Arthur are all stated and/or heavily implied to be autistic, whether by themselves or by another character.
    • Luna is shown to be stimming in-story a few times, such as in chapter 5 where she repeats the phrase "you two!" several times consecutively, and tends to take some things literally (such as in the first chapter when Ginny says they just need to keep their heads on straight, she replies with, "I don't think you can take off your head." There's also a section later on in the chapter that has her thinking over and analyzing certain expressions she's heard), but unlike a lot of Hollywood portrayals, she displays a lot of compassion and empathy for others and is very capable of seeing the gray areas of some situations. On top of it, she is also very perceptive and capable of reading certain people very well.
    • Hermione mentions that she's autistic after Luna brings up the disorder.
    • Ginny tells Luna that her father, Arthur Weasley, is also autistic as well as mostly non-verbal.
    • The author, JadyneFarrow, has also stated on her profile on FanFiction.Net that she, herself, is autistic.
  • Averted with Nepeta Leijon from the Homestuck fic Brainbent, who is clearly stated as autistic and having a 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.
  • The Triptych Continuum has something similar to this in the form of falling into the mark, a mental disorder endemic among ponies in which the cutie mark talent consumes the pony's life. While most sufferers simply never really develop any skills or interests outside the scope of their talent, those who fall the furthest become completely incapable of normal social interaction, unable to comprehend anything that is not creating art, forging metal, compiling knowledge, or whatever that particular pony's talent happens to be.
  • Voltron: Duality averts this, as the author themself is autistic.
  • Generally averted in Pokémon: A Marvelous Journey, both with the author, who is autistic herself, and the main character of her fanfic, Julia Parisa. In-story, Julia is a sweet, shy, generally nice kid who absolutely loves Pokemon, and has a very strong sense of justice. She's sensitive to loud noises such as crying babies and yelling, hates wearing dresses and skirts because of sensory issues, is often anxious when faced with something unfamiliar, and still has a slightly black and white view of the world. But she manages to form strong friendships while on her journey, is very smart, can hold her own in a bad situation when needed, and is deeply caring and empathetic, often impulsively so, and her compassion for her loved ones is considered one of her greatest strengths.
  • Quiververse: Played with in the fifteenth story, Scars of the Quill, which explains that Quiver Quill's late younger brother Regal Grace was a low-functioning autistic, but while the disorder is elaborated upon, there's very little shown of his symptoms beyond his lack of ability to really communicate (his communication ability was mostly limited to wailing) and his being rough with pretty much anything he touches.
  • A Certain Droll Hivemind: Between Yui's No Social Skills, Literal-Minded nature, and strange speech patterns, her flatmates assume she's somewhere on the spectrum. The truth, of course, is that she's a clone purpose-made for an experiment that was meant to end in her death; there was no need to program her with anything beyond the absolute basics. It doesn't help that she's part of a ten-thousand person Hive Mind of identical clones; whenever someone complains that she's not acting normal, she notes that nearly everyone she knows agrees with how she acts, so there's no need to change.
  • The Soulmate Timeline has Homura avert the worst of this trope. Homura's character from the anime is elaborated on to being interpreted as autistic, being easily fixated on a few things and having very poor social skills and often missing social cues. Her interests have shifted over time, having once been particularly interested in ballet but the timeloop stress having shifted her focuses onto keeping Madoka alive with specific patterns that she became very distressed when she was unable to execute due to the poor condition she started the story in. She also mentions that as a child she really didn't like certain noises. She's undiagnosed due to her orphanage being understaffed and Japan's typical trends, and a common trend in story is to contrast how her Soulmates see her (who can feel her emotional responses even if she doesn't clearly show them), and how others see her (who tend to be thrown off by her lacking social skills).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Raymond in Rain Man is autistic, as stated in the movie. Though he has savant-like abilities, he is unable to care for himself, which led to his parents placing him in an institution. 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 Dustin Hoffman's performance has been praised by many as being very close to how many people with high-support autism act, though the movie taking an outsider's perspective toward him (not to mention the fact that the movie came out in 1988, at a time when professional understanding of autism was far more limited) means that there isn't much of an in-depth look at how he thinks, only demonstrating how he acts. Low-support types (who can usually take care of themselves, for starters) often find the character and movie to be an albatross around their necks, though.
  • In Mozart and the Whale, both Donald and Isabelle are stated to be autistic and have a romantic relationship. Donald can pass for neurotypical more effectively, with Isabelle as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
  • 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 House of Cards (1993), 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. As autism is a genetic disorder, meaning those who are autistic were born autistic, this is an inaccurate depiction in that sense.
  • According to Thierry Zéno, the human from Vase de Noces was highly autistic, which bears eyebrow-raising implications, considering his actions throughout the film.
  • Cube: Kazan exhibits many aspects of this trope. He frequently fidgets and taps the side of his head, makes strange noises when he's agitated, and most of his intelligible dialogue consists of babbling about gumdrops. He's also capable of performing complex mathematic equations in his head, and his numerical skills prove to be a valuable asset to the other characters and ultimately lead to him being the only character to survive to the end.
  • Molly (1999): The title character demonstrates many stereotypical behaviors associated with autism. She doesn't talk a lot and when she does it's in broken sentences. She's also obsessed with keeping her shoes in a row, insists on watching The Wizard of Oz at least once a day, and strips naked whenever she gets hot. After going through surgery to get experimental brain implants, she is cured of her condition, only to regress into being autistic again when her immune system rejects the implants.
  • In Alien Abduction (2014), 11-year-old Riley is stated to be autistic by both the opening title cards and his own family, and exhibits a number of quirks such as reciting his observations in a monotone and vastly preferring to view the world through his camcorder. At one point he gets very upset when another character tries to take his camera away, after a terrifying encounter with the aliens.
  • The entire movie Ben X is built around this trope, showing how patients with Asperger's supposedly can't function without a minute-to-minute schedule, have extremely vivid hallucinations, are incapable of something as simple as taking a train, and can't interact with other human beings at all. The film was still somehow praised for its "accuracy".
  • Averted with Billy in Power Rangers (2017), who's a more realistic portrayal of an autistic teen. He shows some of the usual traits like OCD tendencies, sarcasm blindness and freaking out at things that don't bother the other characters, but none of his symptoms are exaggerated or come up very often, except maybe not knowing when to stop talking.
  • Rory McKenna in The Predator is stated to be autistic. The boy is capable of deciphering the Predator's language near-instantly, and can seamlessly interface with their tech, but he is mercilessly bullied by school kids and even some adults. But instead of showing how autism can be a varying disorder, the film claims that autism is humanity's next step in evolution. This is a topic which can't be summed up in a single TV Tropes article.
  • The Imitation Game: While it is a biopic of Alan Turing, who possibly did have Asperger Syndrome, the film amps up the stereotypical qualities that he didn't have in real life — showing a scene where child Alan freaks out at school because his peas and carrots aren't separated, and depicting him being unable to understand a joke (he was quite the Deadpan Snarker in real life). Additionally, Alan is shown being unable to work in a team and has to learn how to respect other people, when again, in reality, he had no problems working with other people, in fact, his friends and acquaintances described him as both witty and charming.
  • Silent Fall has a boy whose autism makes him capable of doing things that aren't just improbable but physically impossible - he's a Voice Changeling who acts as a human tape recorder and can access hysterical strength beyond even what a terrified neurotypical child can achieve. Jake explains that Tim mimics others' voices because he's scared to be himself, as if that would allow him to reshape his vocal cords at will.
  • Change of Habit has the 1960s version, where autism is a mental illness caused by hiding behind a "wall of rage" to cope with a "refrigerator" mother and can be cured within hours by abusive quack therapies like rage reduction, which involves tormenting a child in order to "release the anger."
  • Sia’s Music (2021) is a particularly bad example of this trope. While the titular Music is a teenage girl, every single other aspect of the trope is played straight to the point of attracting accusations of it resembling an offensive caricature of a mentally-handicapped person, with some even comparing it to an unironic, real-life version of Simple Jack. Music is portrayed like a Living Prop who only exists to drive development of other characters (which Sia herself essentially admitted to in an interview), rather than a person with her own thoughts and emotions. Sia’s response to criticism (which included her swearing at and insulting several autistic actors who took issue with the film), the casting of Maddie Ziegler (who is neurotypical, and reportedly broke down in tears on the first day of filming out of fear that viewers would think she was intentionally mocking them), and scenes that portrayed prone restraints (which are potentially lethal and only make the situation worse) positively only intensified criticism directed at the film. Ironically, Sia would be diagnosed with autism herself some time after the movie was released.
  • The Great Fight: One of Anthony's "savant skills" is an "innate understanding" of Spanish, a language he's barely been exposed to and yet understands better than English.

  • Interestingly, Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files is noted to be an In-Universe example by one of his best friends and future girlfriend in one of 'Aftermath' side-story. That is to say, he ticks most of the stereotypical boxes which leads people to assume he's autistic, but he actually isn't (so far as we know) - he hunches up somewhat, he instinctively lowers and softens his voice, he refuses to meet anyone's gaze for more than a second with very few exceptions, and he's obsessively interested in very weird things. Of course, this is simply because he's an exceptionally tall man who's also an exceptionally powerful wizard who's acutely aware of how powerful he is - he hunches up and softens his voice to diminish his size and intimidation factor, he doesn't look people in the eye because it risks starting a Soul Gaze, and his interests are pretty normal for a wizard.
    • That being said, other aspects, such as his persistent fondness for routine - noted in terms of his unchanging dress sense, keeping the same apartment throughout the series until it gets burnt down, and even then, a few books later he ends up returning to the new building on the site, always driving the same car no matter how battered it gets (to the point where it's a matter of philosophy as to whether it's still the same car), always going to the same pub, and even always going to the same restaurant (Burger King). It makes him somewhat predictable. When this routine gets ripped out from under him, he's left psychologically unmoored and clinging to whatever familiarity he can - though given the traumatic circumstances, that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with autism.
  • 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 Hainish novella "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.note  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 or just different, 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. In 2012, new editions of the books got published, this included. The author actually fixed the problems with Darryl's autism and drastically improved the book entirely, with 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 thingnote  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 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 to 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.
  • Christian author Karen Kingsbury's novel Unlocked is a straight 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.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time has a main character (Christopher) who is autistic, but the writer did no research on autism and jammed together a bunch of cliches and stereotypes such as vocal stimming, difficulty reading facial expressions, a dislike for certain colors built around its own internal logic, and aversion to touch. The book ends with Christopher contemplating that although he wants to become an astronaut and go to the moon, he knows he never will because of his autism-related separation anxiety. This is meant to be a happy ending.
  • C.L. Friedman's massive novel This Alien Shore describes descendants of Earth colonies who were mutated in various ways by their alien environments. They restructure their societies around their new characteristics. On the most powerful colony world, the mutations were all "mental illnesses", which they call kaja and designate with symbolic face paint. A prominent character is iru, autistic, and makes a strong case for not "curing" his or others' conditions.
  • In Die Last by Tony Parsons, the protagonist DC Max Wolfe visits a residential hospital upon learning that the local retired crime lord has a son there. When he asks a nurse if the son is autistic, she corrects him and says that he has Asperger's Syndrome, describing it as difficulty communicating with others. However, his difficulties come across as far more severe, and more befitting of this trope - the son, who is now in his fifties, is non-verbal, has no concept of personal space, swallows things he shouldn't, and is generally incapable of independence. Other characters, including the aforementioned crime lord, who dotes on his son and has a very positive relationship with him, call him a retard several times, with his only reaction being to jerk his head in recognition of someone saying his name, and even DC Wolfe describes him as a man-boy in his internal monologue. His parents institutionalized him at birth, so it's possible that he could have had a more independent, fulfilling life had he been raised outside the hospital environment, but instead he's gone native.
  • In the role-reversal children's book Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: NT is OK!, written with an autistic reading audience in mind, it's the autistic boy who finds his neurotypical friend to be different. True to neurotypical fashion, Johnny has poor punctuality, doesn't stim, doesn't have meltdowns, doesn't have restricted interests, and never avoids eye contact.
  • In The Amy Virus, Cyan's parents believe in this trope. They think she can't be autistic because she displays musical talent, a sense of humor, and eats a gross fad diet that includes turkey gizzards, cow eyeballs, and absolutely no starches. Cyan herself averts this trope hard, though, as does her friend Eroica Witt.
  • Averted with Zane in the children's book All My Stripes. He has trouble with metaphors and is sensitive to loud noises and the touch of paint, but the book is all about how autism is only one of many things that make up who he is. He's also fully verbal; talking just doesn't come as naturally to him.
  • Averted in Jackie Boy, with Morgan, Jackie's friend and lover who has autism. They are well-liked by their peers and very much cared about by their lovers but is occasionally fussed over and unintentionally treated like they are much younger than 21.
  • There's More Than One Way Home contains an in-universe example. After Jack, a ten-year-old autistic boy, is accused of killing another child, his classmates' parents start telling horror stories about violent, animalistic autistics who need to be locked up for everyone else's safety.
  • In Julie Buxbaum's YA novel What to Say Next David is an example of this because of his very academic speech patterns, his special interests in math and science, the fact that his peers think he is generally weird, and there is even a chapter where he recites thousands of digits of pi.
  • Distress: For the documentary Junk DNA, Worth interviews James Roarke, a member of a group called the Voluntary Autists. Autism is portrayed as the result of lesions in a region of the brain called Lamont's Area, which allows a person to understand other people and have relationships. Roarke has suffered damage to Lamont's Area and now wants the whole thing removed in order to be cured of the desire for a relationship, as he believes intimacy is only self-deception. Despite the stereotypical and inaccurate portrayal of autism, Roarke makes some excellent points about how the concepts of "health" and "humanity" are weaponized against anyone who's different from the norm.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Good Doctor: Averted slightly. There are some things that it gets right and some things that aren't presented quite as well but, according to articles about the show, autistic children have related to Shaun and his struggles.
  • Karla on Waterloo Road is a genius, but clearly needs a support teacher and medication to get by in everyday life.
  • 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 sees 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.
  • CSI had an episode where an autistic man was the only witness to the death of the episode's victim. His autism was mostly shown by having him stutter while talking, having difficulty explaining things in words that most people would use (he said the victim had 'water running into her eyes', meaning that she was sweating), and having actions that seem coupled with OCD, like keeping his mail in specific order of what needs to be paid next and saying that some of the books in the library he worked in 'felt wrong'. He was suspected as the killer, due to being the only witness. He wasn't, the woman had been poisoning the salt in the shaker of her boss and some of the poison landed on her pen, which she had a habit of chewing on while thinking. And his saying the books felt wrong gave reveal to the fact that the woman and her boss had a forging business going on with the old books.
  • 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 the 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. However, she does mention 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.
  • A similar character is Bryce introduced in season 3 of Younger who is a parody of young tech entrepreneurs. He constantly interjects that he's "on the spectrum" but it seems to be an excuse for rude behavior. There is never any confirmation that he's actually autistic beyond him saying it. He is portrayed as analytical and practical with an indifference to other people's feelings, which he claims to be unable to interpret. However, he also has a fragile ego and seems aware of when he has offended someone because he usually responds by saying he's "on the spectrum."
  • 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.
  • Fiona from Elementary is stated to be unable to lie due to being on the autism spectrum.note 
  • Though Sherlock himself insists that he's a high-functioning sociopath, John (a medical doctor) at one point states that Sherlock has Asperger's (although he may have been joking). His major character traits, of course, are being completely inappropriate when in social situations (including not even bothering to wear clothes when taken to Buckingham Palace) and being an Insufferable Genius. Since autism is genetic, it could also apply to other members of the Holmes family who display even more pronounced traits of disconnect from "normal people".
  • Sesame Street:
    • Julia, an Anything Muppet, is designed to subvert this trope, starting with the fact that she's female. In the episode "Meet Julia", her friends Elmo and Abby Cadabby introduce her to Big Bird and help him understand that although she interacts with others in different ways than most and has sensitivities that need to be acknowledged — she hates loud noises and panics upon hearing a fire engine siren, and Big Bird touching her shoulder in an attempt to help makes matters worse, whereupon Alan takes her aside to calm down — she is a happy person and a great friend. She's also performed by a Muppeteer who has an autistic son.
    • One autistic kid, hearing about the advent of Julia, told his mom that there was already an autistic Muppet: Fozzie Bear. He perseverates (repeats words or phrases), has such an esoteric sense of humor that to laypeople he appears to have little actual sense for it (or for timing!), and tends to take everything overly literally and seriously.
  • Fringe subverts the trope with Walternate Astrid. Jasika Nicole's real-life sister is autistic and the actress wanted a realistic version of Asperger's. It's best seen in her euphoric reaction to the smell of coffee, non-existent in her world.
  • Bones: Word of God was that Dr. Brennan was supposed to have Asperger’s/high functioning autism, but it was never stated onscreen. She’s socially impaired, very literal-minded, and highly intelligent.
  • Wholly averted in Everything's Gonna Be Okay; Matilda has High-Functioning Autism. Unlike some media portrayals, the series accurately depicts many aspects of this. It helps that both the actress portraying her, Kayla Cromer, and the series creator, Josh Thomas, are also autistic. Matilda cannot read social cues at all. It is nearly impossible for her to pick up on when people are being sarcastic or lying. She has a very blunt way of speaking in general, with no filter for her inner thoughts (up to and including sex topics.) When she embarrasses herself, she can fall into child-like panic attacks, pacing back and forth nervously and then retreating out of the room like a frightened toddler. She is often uncomfortable making casual physical contact with people, particularly people she doesn't know. She was outright non-verbal when she was three years old, and her doctors thought she might never learn to talk. Refusing to accept this, her father devoted a lot of time to giving her therapy. She's actually very intelligent, so she managed to learn enough social development that she didn't have to be institutionalized, but goes to a normal high school with her sister, although she's seen going to Special Needs classes, with some other autistic children. While Matilda might not fully comprehend social cues, she comprehends when she's done something wrong and is haunted by feelings of inadequacy. Moreover, she's repeatedly lamented that she knows she's a burden on her loved ones and is ashamed about everything she puts them through. She desperately wants to be "high functioning" and tries to hide her breakdowns from them.
  • A variation of this was in the so-called "advocacy-serye" Budoy, as the title character is billed by Filipino television network ABS-CBN to have Angelman syndrome, but his portrayal leaned more towards a stereotypical special needs person than an actual Angelman syndrome patient, as pointed out by special education expert Yolanda Bautista and pediatrician Dr. Tippy Tanchanco. Bautista and Tanchanco expressed concern about the show's brand of "advocacy", which while done with good intentions (especially with its use of Christian values and tropes such as miracles, used to describe Budoy's unlikely transformation into a savant capable of coherent speech, something that is unfortunately impossible with Angelman patients), was wrong for so many reasons, especially as parents of special needs children flocked to them asking as to whether their sons or daughters with similar conditions could somehow be cured. Not to mention that the show's title became something of a pejorative by-word used by bullies to pick on those in the autism spectrum or with similar conditions, as what one blogger pointed out in a rant back when the show first came out. It also didn't help that Gerald Anderson parodied his character in a celebrity basketball game alongside comedian and Eat Bulaga! regular Jose Manalo who also previously parodied the Budoy character around the time the show was airing.
  • Reconstructed by Astrid. Title character Astrid Nielsen checks several of the boxes (mainly that she's an Inspirationally Disadvantaged genius criminologist) but avoids others: she has significant difficulty with social cues (in particular she often asks Commander Coste to avoid idiomatic speech since she has trouble with it) and is prone to going into burnout in noisy environments or if her routine is disrupted. One of the show's writers is autistic and the writing room has about a dozen other autistic people on tap as beta-readers, and actress Sara Mortensen, while not autistic herself, sat in on autism support groups to get help with getting it right. Astrid's own support group plays a role in several episodes and includes a wide variety of autistic people.

  • The 2019 British play All In A Row set off the scandal known as "Puppetgate." According to the show's producers, they wanted to capture the experience of life with a severely autistic child (child as burden to caretakers - check) in a way where the child's rocking and headbanging would come off as severe but they didn't want to deal with possible harm to child actors. So, the autistic child is literally dehumanized and represented by a puppet. The play ostensibly tries to go for a nuanced view of love and ableism, but has quite a few missteps (such as an otherwise supportive care worker suggesting people with severe mental disorders are the reincarnated souls of animals, even if this is mainly there so the child's parents can immediately upbraid him) and mainly focuses on the effects the child's condition has on his parents' relationship. Needless to say, many weren't pleased.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • This is generally averted with all four Alices (yes, all four of them are stated to have autism) from Les Quatre Alices, as the creator of the game herself is autistic.
  • Warframe gives us Rell, the Tenno that the Red Veil worship. Throughout the Chains of Harrow quest, there's many hints to Rell's autism; from flashbacks to Rell learning emotions to the Donda that Rell used to use to stimulate himself. When Word of God confirmed his autism, no one was surprised.
  • Dead by Daylight has Claudette, whose background mentions how she's "wired differently" multiple times, with her mother bemoaning how Claudette needs to be normal. A later entry shows that this is because her mother is also "wired differently", and suffered during her childhood for it.
  • David Archer of Mass Effect 2's "Project Overlord" DLC campaign is an autistic savant, incredibly good with numbers — he's often heard quoting square roots to himself — and his brother Gavin notes that he seems to have an innate rapport with the geth. This includes somehow being able to mimic their clicking "speech" patterns to give them orders and the like. Gavin uses this information to cruelly submit David into becoming the titular "Overlord", wired directly into their neural network with incredibly unnecessary torture such as his eyes being pinned open and huge tubes shoved down his throat. If the player chooses the Paragon when dealing with him, he'll show up in the third game as a student at Grissom Academy, where he helps out when Cerberus attacks the school.
  • In RimWorld, one of the childhood backstories, Aspergers Rebel[[note]]In this case, a literal one causes a pawn to be unable to do doctor work, due to their Aspergers syndrome. (Which includes surgery, despite the innate +5 intellectual skill) and gives them a -3 to their Social skill.full backstory text 

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
  • These comics by Rebecca Burgress set out to defy this trope, such as by getting rid of the linear autism spectrum image and replacing it with a round spectrum full of several traits or ways the brain processes information.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • One Family Guy episode has Stewie build some robot kids for companionship, but they eventually outgrow their programming and turn against their creator. Seeing these robots perform complex math equations while casually invading one another's personal space, Stewie deduces that the robot kids must have Aspergers - "the smartest mental impairment there is." Stewie becomes visibly distraught and dejected when they exclude him, only for one of the robots to say he can't tell how Stewie feels.
  • In the South Park two-parter "You're Getting Old" and "Ass Burgers," Stan gets diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome after becoming increasingly bitter and cynical for complicated reasons. He later meets a group of Asperger's patients — only to learn that the disorder doesn't exist; these people are actually a bunch of unsociable, cynical weirdos who think they live in The Matrix. This is an oddly far cry from the show's surprisingly nuanced portrayal of another neurological condition, Tourette's Syndrome, four years prior in "Le Petit Tourette".
  • While Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go is heavily reviled by the larger fanbase, the series introduced a new main character in the second season, Bruno the Brake Car, who is the first character in the franchise officially acknowledged as autistic. Unlike other examples of autistic characters in animated media, the show's creators did extensive research with autism consultants and advisors to ensure Bruno's autistic mannerisms were both authentic and tastefully portrayed, with his voice actors and the writer for most of his scenes also being autistic. This combined with the fact that the other characters don't treat him any differently for his mental state makes him an Ensemble Dark Horse for the series.


Video Example(s):


Autistic Reporter- The Onion

Michael Falk, autistic reporter for The Onion, gets excited hearing about the rigid routine of prison life.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / HollywoodAutism

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