Autism Representation in the Media
January 06, 2020
Set to release this month on Disney+, Pixar’s newest animated short film, “Loop,” has sparked excitement throughout the autism community. According to Pixar, the film’s plot is set to follow a non-verbal girl with autism and a bubbly young boy during a canoeing trip.
This news comes after the release of another Pixar short film, “Float,” also on Disney+. The short was created and written by Bobby Alcid Rubio based on his experience with his son, who is on the autism spectrum. The challenges Rubio faced in raising a child with autism inspired the animated film, which tells the story of a father’s discovery of his son’s ability to defy gravity.
According to an article in The Mighty, there has been generally high praise and anticipation within the autism community for both films. The protagonist in “Loop” is a girl of color who is nonverbal, whereas most characters with autism portrayed in the media are white, male, and verbal. In fact, as noted in The Mighty article, self-advocates took to Twitter to express their delight at seeing a person of color with autism as one of the main characters in “Loop.”
Within the past year, a variety of other networks have begun introducing more diverse characters with autism. Set to release on Freeform in 2020, the new show, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” follows a group of siblings, one with autism, in the wake of their father’s death. This show is highly anticipated as Kayla Cromer, an actress on the spectrum herself, plays the character with autism. Also making waves in disability representation is ABC Australia’s “Love on the Spectrum.” This reality show follows a group of singles with autism as they navigate romance, dating, and love.
According to GLAAD, a media advocacy organization, the number of regular characters on broadcast programming with a disability has increased more than 1 percent in the past year.
Even with these steps forward, Hollywood is still criticized for not representing all ends of the spectrum. Although many portrayals in popular media are meant to spread awareness, some have perpetuated unrealistic stereotypes. The “autistic savant,” a person with autism who has exceptional skill or brilliance in some limited field, is the most common. The 1988 MGM film, “Rain Man,” is most well known. More recently, TV shows such as NBC’s “The Good Doctor” and CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” have followed a similar theme. Although portraying a character with savant abilities and ASD is not inaccurate, it only represents about 10 percent of individuals on the autism spectrum.
With the release of these new Pixar shorts and similar productions, mainstream media appears to be moving toward a more holistic portrayal of the autism community. Diverse characters with autism can help spread awareness of the array of journeys and identities that people with autism have.