How Media Affects the Public Perception of Autism
January 25, 2023
By: Amy Jung
It has always been my biggest concern – where I should bring up my kid. Currently, my son benefits from the IEP, which most U.S. public schools provide under the IDEA Act. The IEP system was enormously impressive to me, not only as a parent but as a law student. It was surprising that IEP classes are naturally blended in each public school. With this, I have wondered what my life would be like in Korea because I was born and grew up there. Adjusting to the foreign education system as a parent was not always easy. So, I am still following Korean news to learn about the Korean inclusion policy and special education system.
This summer was very special to me. I finally visited my family in Korea after a long time since the Covid-19 situation. There, my son had so many fun times with my family, parents, neighbors, and my friends’ kids. He grew up and got more confident. Having seen his enormous improvement, I realized that genuine attention and care is the most important thing to him. In that point, Korea would be a great environment for him. However, to be honest, I was unsure whether Korea’s education system can provide an inclusive learning experience, or how the public thinks about such an inclusion policy, as I personally believe that civil or public awareness must precede any policy or the legal system.
In March 2022, one news headline drew my attention. There was controversy over the protests held by one of South Korea’s disability rights advocacy groups, Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination. In Seoul, there have been rallies advocating for greater accessibility to public transit for disabled persons. Because the demonstrations happened in the Seoul subway stations during rush-hour, commuters experienced subway delays. One comment said the rallies should be intervened because they were “holding the people of Seoul hostage”. As the commenter was a well-known politician, the comment sparked public attention. Considering his influence, I thought there could have been a more constructive and considerate way to address this issue. I was concerned that this provocative message would negatively affect public acceptance of disabled persons’ rights.
However, one recent Korean Netflix series, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” let go of my worries; through this show, I saw how Korea put considerable effort into raising ASD awareness for a more inclusive society. This TV series is about an autistic lawyer “Ms. Woo,” who graduated valedictorian of her class in the top law school and now works at a big law firm. As each episode is intertwined with a legal dispute and her professional life, the drama soon became very popular. With this popularity, I could feel increased attention to ASD in Korea. In fact, a series of episodes show us that autism is a “spectrum.” At the same time, it reveals the public’s realistic perception of ASD in Korea. It does not merely glamorize her capability; rather, it shows how Attorney Woo is getting through hardship in the legal profession without hiding uncomfortable bias or stigma attached to her.
Another amazing thing about this show is that it made ASD visible in Korea. Sometimes, I encounter comments such as “she is too smart to be autistic” or “She is just socially awkward, not autistic.” Also, some critics point out that this show is too fictional as it depicts “savant syndrome.” But isn’t it a good thing that people start looking at autistic people and searching about ASD?
Raising my kid in the U.S., I have always been interested in how an inclusive environment or special education system for autism has been developed. I learned by heart that a successful education system is not just a matter of law or policy; inclusion without public awareness or consensus can never be successful. Thus, I am so grateful for this show. In one episode, the partner lawyer assigned an autistic defendant case to attorney Woo just because he thought autistic attorney Woo would understand the case better than others. I still remember what she said responding to the case assignment: “The official diagnosis for autism is autism spectrum disorder. As you can tell from the word “spectrum”, there’s a wide variety of autistic people. Like… whales.” Right, each person with ASD is so diverse and unique. I hope I can see many media outlets raising autism awareness and ultimately leading to a healthy discussion of inclusive education and environments for autistic people.
Amy Jung is a mother and a law student at George Mason University. She is passionate about special education advocacy for children with autism and learning disabilities, hoping to promote healthier public awareness. She is also interested in learning and exploring diverse legal and public policy issues surrounding autistic people and their families.