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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 Rainman or the Idiot Savant or otherwise totally unable to live what most people would call a normal life.
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 please leave it at that!.
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.
- 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.
- Simon is a computer geek who is outright stated to be autistic in Mercury Rising
- Adam Raki, the eponymous character of Adam, is clearly stated to be autistic and a major part of the plot is his adjusting to living on his own after his parents have died.
- In Mozart and the Whale, both Donald and Isabelle are stated to be autistic and have a romantic relationship. Donald is slightly more normal, with Isabelle as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
- Linda in Snow Cake. She has done well enough that she ended up having a daughter and living on her own, but due to her mania for cleanliness, she needs someone else to take out her garbage.
- Eric in The Boy Who Could Fly, who is stated to be autistic in-story. He has been nonverbal for his whole life, doesn't like to be around people, and has bizarre flying-related behaviors. Milly, the main character, works with Eric, and because of the progress he makes with her as well as his ability to fly makes him a type A Magical Differently Abled Person.
- Raymond in Rain Man is autistic, stated to be in the movie, and the knowledge that he is autistic is well-known if you haven't been living in a cave for the past 20 years. Raymond is the Trope Namer for The Rainman. Though he has savant-like abilities, he is unable to care for himself to the point where he is in an institution and Charlie acts as The Caretaker for Raymond. The whole focus of the story is on how Raymond teaches Charlie to care about other people and to not be such a jerk through The Power of Love.
- It should be noted though that Hoffman's performance has been praised by many as being very close to how many people with Autism act.
- The short documentary Autism Every Day, produced by Autism Speaks, has footage of misbehaving autistic children and their parents talking about how terrible their lives are with their autistic children. There is so much said about autistic children making life difficult for the parents that it is hard to come up with a standout quote to put here. One thing especially notable about this piece, though, is the mother who says that she was sitting in a car for 15 minutes and had contemplated driving off a bridge, killing herself and her autistic daughter, but didn't because she had a non-autistic child, and said it with barely any significant emotion in such a way that makes it seem like she had said it enough times before that it no longer quite registered as shocking in her mind. *shudder*
- The parents were supposedly instructed to stop all therapies before filming, to make sure that their children were behaving "autistic enough" to show how terrible their lives were.
- The worst part about the murder-suicide mom? She said this with her autistic child in the room.
- The Autism Speaks video I Am Autism, which was posted on YouTube in September 2009 after having been screened at the World Focus on Autism event. The autism rights activists who found out about it (and who even saw it) did not take it well, and there were even some people that previously supported them who called them out online. Autism Speaks took the video down after a while, so all one can know about the video is that it said everything in this transcript and the dark and gloomy part used the dark, scary voice of "AUTISM!!" gloating about the terrors he would wreak on children and their families as footage of autistic people played. The video made up of footage of autistic people over which the Evil Gloating voice of "AUTISM!!" evilly gloats over for I Am Autism can be seen here as part of the parody video I Am Autism Speaks.
- Temple Grandin, which is about an autistic scientist who studies cattle behavior.
- 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.
- Babysitting charge Susan Felder in book #32 of The Babysitter's Club is severely autistic to the point where she doesn't speak, can't seem to do the most basic things like dressing herself, at one point wets herself in public because she can't verbally tell Kristy she has to use the bathroom, and spends the majority of her time either stimming (hand-flapping and tongue clicking) or playing the piano. Her mother tells Kristy that Susan doesn't have much of a chance for a good future besides a part-time job or living in a supervised group home unless she sticks with the piano for the rest of her life. Naturally, many fans loathe this book, especially those who are autistic themselves.
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.
- Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory is commonly diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome by fans. This is a coincidence however since he was never officially diagnosed in the show. It was stated by the writers that they didn't even use Asperger's as a basis for Cooper. Still, the fact that he displays so many signs of Asperger's would make one think that it was intentional.
- Jim Parsons has said that he's employed traits of autism in his portrayal of the character, so there is a valid argument that he's autistic.
- Gary Bell, one of the eponymous characters of Series/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.
- Sugar on Glee claims to have Asperger's Syndrome and exhibits practically every negative characteristic of the condition. However she mentions she's self diagnosed so she's clearly a Take That to real people that self diagnose themselves with the disorder.