ASD on TV...and in Books, Comics, Movies, etc. (Kate Altman, M.S.)



In working with children, adolescents, and young adults on the spectrum, I have often integrated representations of ASD in the media throughout the course of therapy.  I quickly found that young clients with ASD often enjoyed and appreciated the exercises.  We used pop culture and the media therapeutically in the following ways:

1.) Education.  When a person who is not a very young child is first diagnosed with an ASD, they may feel confused and overwhelmed by the diagnosis.  What does it mean to have an ASD?  How do people with ASD act?  What might my life be like?  I often direct clients who were recently diagnosed to explore ASD by reading books and poking around on the internet.  I especially like to point them to biographies about individuals on the spectrum, such as Stephen ShoreTemple Grandin, and John Elder Robison, and suggest they look for videos on YouTube made by "real life" people on the spectrum to get a feel for what ASDs are like and generally get the sense that they are not alone.

2.) Self-Esteem. I have asked groups of adolescents to look for books, comics, movies, and TV shows that feature characters who have (or may have) ASD who they think are cool.  They are often excited to discover characters with features like super powersdry, witty humor, and, courage to whom they can relate and to make the realization that talented writers, directors and illustrators have interest in people on the spectrum.

3.) Self-Advocacy.  Reading about ASD self-advocates like Stephen Shore and Temple Grandin often inspires individuals on the spectrum to think about their own self-advocacy.  The reverse works as well: some of my clients take issue with portrayal of ASD in the media, such as the poorly-written, overly-stereotyped character of Dr. Dixon on NBC's Grey's Anatomy or the Braverman family who have a son with ASD on the NBC show Parenthood.  These portrayals anger some of my clients and help to inspire them to want to correct misrepresentations of ASD in the "neurotypical" community through self-advocacy.

4.) Humor.  Typically, young people on the spectrum spend a lot of time in therapy.  So I think it is important that some of that time actually be fun and enjoyable.  And humor helps build rapport between therapist and client as well as between group members in ASD therapy groups.  Characters like Abed on Community and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory are clever and hilarious, and it is fun for individuals on the spectrum to see ASD characteristics portrayed in a positive and lighthearted manner.

What are your thoughts about ASD in the media and pop culture?  Do you find it inspiring? Entertaining? Offensive? A combination of all three?