Home google Mitchell Rosen: Is the depiction of Autism evolving on TV? - Press-Enterprise

Mitchell Rosen: Is the depiction of Autism evolving on TV? - Press-Enterprise

Apparently, there are several TV shows with characters that have high functioning autism formerly called Asperger Syndrome. I wanted to write about TV representations because they can do a great deal to either educate or perpetuate stereotypes.

Personally, I have only seen three: Christian Clemenson who portrays lawyer Jerry Espenson on “Boston Legal”; Keir Gilchrist as high school student Sam Gardner on “Atypical” and, most recently, Freddie Highmore as surgical resident Shaun Murphy on “The Good Doctor.”

It is difficult to watch TV shows that depict individuals with an autism diagnosis and write definitively that the portrayals are accurate, inaccurate or abysmal. What I can say is I am glad to see TV characters with autism and other disabilities because they increase a dialogue that needs to happen. The three characters I mentioned are very different in depiction and abilities. There are some symptoms of autism that are pervasive and yet we know so little and each person is so unique, broad generalities are unfair.

Having TV characters with Down syndrome as we saw in “Life Goes On,” with Chris Burke playing Corky Thatcher, adds to the conversation of individuals with disabilities most of us don’t understand or do not want to understand.  Movies, books and TV shows with ADHD, Tourette’s, or bipolar characters are beginning to emerge and these, also, are good and bad.

I believe it helps us as a culture to have the arts depict what happens in life. These diagnoses are actually human beings that may be in your family or mine. Some scripts exploit these persons for a cheap laugh.

Comedian Bill Maher is one of the worst offenders when he uses Tourette Syndrome for a cheap laugh. It’s not humorous or accurate when Maher tries to be funny stating people who say things with no thought are having Tourette’s of the mouth. In truth, those with Tourette’s who impulsively curse are a very small minority of Tourette Syndrome patients. By going for the quick laugh, Maher, who tries to represent he believes in human dignity and equality has become yet another voice for those who perpetuate prejudice and ignorance.

I like Maher and think he’s funny, however when any comedian or TV personality espouses stereotypes of prejudice, it is the responsibility of all of us to speak up. So, Bill, you’re a funny guy but please tone down the prejudice and ignorance.

As far as shows like “Good Doctor,” “Atypical” and “Boston Legal,” I believe the writers were doing their best to represent people whose disabilities they know exist in the real world.

Clinicians can take any of these characters and point out where artistic license was taken in the depiction of autism. I doubt any of these characters are consistently accurate portrayals, and yet since individuals with autism have symptoms that are so varied, it might be important to watch the shows, sit down afterwards and have a conversation.

Mitchell Rosen is a licensed therapist with practices in Corona and Temecula.

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