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Autism representation in the media

6 mins read

This week has been incredibly difficult for those of us in the autistic community. Many of you will be aware of the new movie trailer “Music”, written and produced by multimillionaire singer Sia.

Unfortunately, while the intentions of Sia seemed to be good, the reactions and the resulting social media fight have been harmful to say the least. Many in the community are now calling for people to speak up for them.

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Due to the neurological make up of our brains, it just isn’t possible to 100% imitate or act as an autistic person, especially because all of us are different and to act ‘autistic’ is to stereotype, which leads to harm and toxicity.

So when Sia cast a neurotypical actress to play an autistic character, the negative reaction from our community was, and is, valid. The trailer that was released was less than appealing to us.

This is an issue that goes far beyond this week’s ordeal. Autistic representation in the media has been lacking immensely.

Projects that are pitched by autistic people receive no funding, while projects that are pitched by neurotypicals and portray autism do receive such funding.

This isn’t the first time a film director has refused to cast a disabled person for a role, either. The attitude that it is too cruel to cast somebody in such a role is not only ableist, but dehumanising.

What neurotypicals need to be able to understand is that when it comes to autistic representation in any sector, we, the autistic people are the authority. Not them. We are capable of making our own decisions, choices and having responsibilities.

In fact, when neurotypicals demand authority over autistic people, what they’re really doing is denying them of accessibility in the area they wish to represent. And that’s why I see autism as a disability. We are disabled by the rest of society in exactly the way that Sia demonstrated this week.

We do not need others to speak up for us. Every single autistic person is different, but we are all in the same community.

Some of us can’t even speak, or have problems with speech. Guess what, they still know and remember exactly what you may be saying or what actions you may be taking.

There are countless blogs online written by autistic people, just as there are countless resources from charities like Scottish Autism and the National Autistic Society. This material is accessible, but is not utilised.

The result from Sia’s choices this week have led many of us in the community to feel less than human and self-conscious. The very nature of having our autonomy taken away from us is like having everything we represent being snatched. It’s dehumanising.

It’s time for more autistic representation. Not just in the media, but also in other areas too. We must speak up, and we need people to speak up for us. It’s not okay to treat us less than human.

Neurotypicals do not get to decide our present and our future. We, the autistic people, do.

We have the same human rights as you do. We are entitled to basic autonomy and control over our lives. We’re not all perfect, but that doesn’t mean the community is bad.

Accessibility is absolutely essential here. Campaigning for autistic representation will always focus on accessible measures. And that means changing the attitudes that society has towards us.

We need to stop thinking of autism as something that is able to be acted out. Instead, we should consider it a unique opportunity to learn and to be included within different sectors.

We need to stop thinking of representation of autistic people in the media as cruel, and start thinking of it as amplification of our voices. It simply isn’t cruel in the slightest to cast an autistic person a role as an autistic character.

Autistic people come from all different backgrounds and settings. That doesn’t mean there is one way of acting autistic, nor does it mean that others have a right to take away our autonomy.

Until we change the attitudes that have led us to the harm inflicted by Sia and her community of fans, we will never have good representation of autism in any sector, let alone the media.

So to the autistic people in the world, let’s keep going. You got this.

Feature image credit: Pexels

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