This post is in the Autistic Spectrum Disorders category

Alien Monk from Zen Zen Zo Subcon Warrior 2.0 @ M. Roberts 2009

"Alien Monk" from Zen Zen Zo Subcon Warrior 2.0 @ M. Roberts 2009

Dear Reader

Everywhere I look there is some bloody Aspie – it is totally flavour of the month / year / decade, especially in movies and television, although I would suggest that there is a lot of misconceptions being touted as movie reality.  I suppose this post is really about the media attention on the syndrome, but there is the side issue about labelling and how we as a society like to put people in boxes. The term Aspie itself began as a way of gaining ownership and identity, but I think some of the feeding frenzy undermines it.  As far as I can tell it was first used in the popular media by Liane Holliday Willey in Pretending to be Normal (Willey, 1999). I think that Aspies are a bit of an elitist lot.  As one of the current criteria is “not intellectually impaired” and intellectually impaired people are included in the general community, Aspies are by definition of above average intelligence, and unlike those with High Functioning Autism diagnosis, showed no speech delay.  This gives cause for elitism.   Aspies are currently rising up in the face of extinction over suggestions that the syndrome be merged into a single category of Autism Disorder in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-V to be published in 2013.  There is a place for professional discussion of the proposed change and rationale at the DSM-V website – but there is also a lot of chatter on the forums.  Many Aspies and supporters feel that the change will lead to people being simply labeled autistic and therefore subject to the unfortunate prejudices associated with lower functioning, or that it will be harder to get a diagnosis because high-functioning individuals may be missed by clinicians with a poorly maintained understanding of the range of autism.

For the entertainment of the masses there seems something more acceptable about a socially eccentric character with a high IQ or some kind of savant giftedness than one with an ordinary mind.

This thread of thought is so much fun I made another one, dealing with well known real people.  The reason I have separated the fiction from the reality (sometimes alleged reality) is that the fictions tend to either over-celebrate or ridicule the condition or the traits, as is the nature of drama.  The real ones are a very different story, most of them keeping pretty quiet about it.  Maybe it’s something about not wanting to expose the private struggle or to have people recognise their achievements in spite of their disability.

So here is a list I have been collecting of films, TV shows and characters in popular culture that either claim “aspieness” or have it claimed for them.  The list is by no means definitive, neither does it have a lot of evidence. It is compiled with the aid of direct observation, reviews, official movie websites, fan sites, ASD chat rooms and forums and our good friend Google.  Where I have used the term “has AS”, it is defined or acknowledged by the writers and producers.  Other are more (or mere) conjecture.

Movies with central autistic or aspie characters

Temple Grandin (Jackson, 2010)  Biopic about the autistic scientist Temple Grandin, who was diagnosed severely autistic as a child but now has a revised diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.  Played by Claire Danes

My Name is Khan (Johar, 2010) central character (Khan) has AS. Played by Shahrukh Khan

Adam (Adam, 2009) central character (Adam) has AS. Played by Hugh Dancy

Snowcake (Evans, 2006) central character (Linda) has AS played by Sigourney Weaver

Mozart and the Whale (Naess, 2005) both central characters (Donald and Isabelle) have AS.  Played by Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell

Mary and Max (Elliott, 2009)  Max has AS. Voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Just under 50 minutes into the movie, Max appears wearing a T-shirt emblazened “Aspies for Freedom”.  An organisation that advocates the rights of Aspies and condemns the moves in scientific and other areas to “cure” the condition.

The Black Balloon (Down, 2008) central character (Charlie) has ASD. Played by Luke Ford

Contact (Sagan, 1997) – written by Carl Sagan astrophysicist who was widely speculated to be Asperger.  The character Ellie, played by Jodie Foster has very very “Aspie” traits.

All About Steve (Traill, 2009) – (widely speculated) Mary played by Sandra Bullock has very strong ASD traits

TV Characters

Most of these names are speculated from observation by “aspie watchers” on the internet.  On occasion one will find references to them in the literature as examples of particular behaviours. TV seems a little more shy of naming the name …

Greg House – House – in episode 304 it is suggested that a diagnosis of Aspergers would exempt House from the rules and allow him to date seventeen year olds.  Later Wilson declares that he is not an Aspie, just a jerk …

Sheldon – Big Bang Theory – pretty extreme at times but I and a lot of Aspies I know relate to almost every aspect of his behaviour to “a slightly lesser degree”. The writer claims Sheldon is not Aspie but Sheldony

Spock – Star Trek – it’s just that cold hard exterior struggling to recognise his own emotions

Kramer – Seinfeld.  Well he’s certainly more than eccentric.  Jerry Seinfeld publicly supports an organisation called “Autism Speaks”.  Not all autistics think this is a good idea, as the organisation is committed to eradicating autism, and many people with the condition (including me) believe that it is the differences that make us valuable.

3rd Rock from the Sun – all of them really

Mork from Ork.  The original “wrong planet syndrome.”  Robin Williams himself is on lots of “is he or isn’t he” discussions

Lisa  – The Simpsons.  Lisa is more subtle, but women generally are.  Her unbridled search for justice and calm rationality are clues.

Mr Bean – yes, well … Lorna Wing apparently said he is the archetypal aspie

Chloe – 24 – Female Aspies are different to male, see Lisa Simpson.  I’m not very familiar with this character.  I saw it once and wondered, but some of the forums make a big deal of “claiming” her.

Reg Hollis – The Bill – pedantic, altruistic, logical, eccentric. There have been several episodes with Aspie or Aspie-like criminal or victim characters, who are unfortunately not portrayed in a very positive light …

Basil Fawlty – Fawlty Towers.  One of my favourite eccentrics, but he’s painfully inept and literal sometimes.

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