In May, the television channel Freeform announced that their show, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” had been renewed for a second season. In the show, which was released in January 2020, the main character, Nicholas, finds that he has custody over his two teenage sisters after the death of their father. One of his sisters, Matilda, has autism. Kayla Cromer, who has autism herself, plays Matilda, making the show one of the first to feature a character on the spectrum played by actor with autism.
Cromer, who revealed her autism diagnosis at the Freeform summit in March 2019, feels that she is able to bring authenticity to Matilda because of her own experiences. She told Bustle that having an actress with autism play a character on the spectrum “just makes the performance more accurate and more honest and more respectful.” Cromer hopes that she will be able to play characters both on and off the spectrum in the future and pave the way for future actors with autism and other disabilities.
Another new television show, “Douglas,” stars Hannah Gadsby, a comedian with autism who became popular in the United States for her 2018 show, “Nanette.” In her new Netflix comedy special, she discusses having autism. Like Cromer, Gadsby feels that her work is deeply influenced by her experience with autism. In an interview with Vogue, she explained, “the show’s not just that I have autism, it’s that the whole show is constructed to express an autistic way of thinking.” Her experiences with autism are reflected both in her comedy style and in the way she structures the show, and many viewers with autism have responded positively to seeing their way of thinking reflected in “Douglas.”
Douglas and Everything’s Gonna Be Okay both also address LGBT issues. Hannah Gadsby has spoken openly about her experience as a lesbian, and the character Matilda in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay has relationships with both a boy and a girl in the first season. Most previous portrayals of autism in the media have focused on men, but these new shows are important for highlighting the experiences of LGBT women with autism.
In her Vogue interview, Gadsby observed that she has been able to “provide a voice that hasn’t been there before” for people with autism. Similarly, Josh Thomas, producer of “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” said that in casting Matilda, it was important “to get the authentic person doing the authentic thing.” Cromer and Gadsby have both been able to portray their experiences authentically to a wide audience of neurotypical and neurodivergent people, and have found success while doing so: More than 90 percent of critics gave the shows a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Their successes could potentially encourage more studios to take on projects led by and featuring people with autism, leading to more diverse and accurate representations of autism in the future.