When it comes to books, movies, and TV series about autism, I’m kind of a picky-ass bitch. There’s not much out there that I like and find accurate or insightful.
So I figured I should write a list of the few resources I actually do find useful. You might not agree with everything here, but at least maybe it’ll steer you away from fucking Rain Man.
Not Even Wrong
Autism isn’t just a disability- it’s also a culture, a community, and a way of experiencing the world. This book is the only one I’ve seen which explores the history of autism from a cultural perspective. It portrays the treatment of our people over the course of modern history, and how perceptions of classical autism and Asperger’s have changed over time. After reading it I felt a real sense of connection to my kin.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
This is a novel about an autistic teenager who tries to solve a mystery and discovers a lot of things he’d rather not know. It’s kind of an odd representation of Asperger’s, because while I’ve never met anyone remotely like the protagonist, the portrayal of his disability comes across as true. I’m reminded of a quote from Werner Herzog about the difference between truth and truth: “There are deeper strata of truth… and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” The autism in The Curious Incident is fabricated, imagined, stylized, and- as a result- it is profoundly true.
An Anthropologist On Mars
This is a collection of essays about people with interesting disabilities. Only the title essay is about Asperger’s Syndrome; it’s a profile of well-known disability activist Temple Grandin. But the whole book is worth reading due to Sacks’ unique perspective. His point of view is simultaneously enthusiastic and clinical, and he expresses boundless fascination with humanity’s extreme diversity. He is deeply, unapologetically geeky. Frankly, I’m pretty sure that he has Asperger’s.
Especially the episode Introduction to Film, which contains the best representation I’ve seen of the occasionally devastating effect that Aspies have on their Maintainers. One of the main characters in Community is Abed Nadir, and he’s my favourite fictional portrayal of an Aspie. He’s smart, weird, funny, and also relatable, complex, and recognizably human. Too many Aspie characters are boiled down to a handful of stereotypes- I’m thinking specifically of The Big Bang Theory here, which is fucking minstrelry- but Abed defies easy categorization. He is an individual- just like real autistic people are.
Arthur: When Carl Met George
I know, right? Fuckin’ Arthur! For those of you who were not ‘90s kids, Arthur is a TV show about the regular lives of a bunch of kids who are anthropomorphic cartoon animals. It’s been on the air forever, and in this time it’s tackled every issue you can imagine, ranging from regular childhood experiences like sibling rivalry to more complicated stuff like coping with the terminal illness of a family member. And they also tackled Asperger’s Syndrome. When I looked this episode up on YouTube for the first time, I braced myself for the worst. But the episode is funny, insightful, and accurate. They cover all the bases in a friendly, straightforward manner, and in no way suggest that autism is a problem to be fixed. If you only have twelve minutes to learn something about Asperger’s- but why the hell don’t you have more time? Are you attached to a bomb?- I can’t think of a better way to do it.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
I’m going to write a full blog post about Star Trek someday. Probably more than one. To make a long story short, the character of Data- who is an android- was my hero growing up. I identified with him, and I wanted to be him. He wasn’t deliberately created to be an autistic character, but he was a successful adult who had some of the same problems I had. When I was a kid, that meant a lot to me.
The One Good Movie About Autism:
Mary and Max
I don’t know why it’s so hard to make a good movie about autism. But they’re all condescending, or bland, or wildly inaccurate, or seem to believe we’re broken. Mary and Max is different. It’s different from other movies about autism, and it’s different from any other movie I’ve seen. The movie is about a lonely little girl in Australia who becomes pen pals with a lonely middle-aged Aspie in New York. Their friendship lasts years and years, during which time the girl grows up, and both of them endure many trials and tribulations. It is sad, funny, disturbing, and- despite being deeply strange- it feels real.
Movies That Communicate the Autistic Experience:
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The only people I’ve ever met who have enjoyed this movie have been autistic. This means something.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is deeply fucked up; it’s absolutely one of the strangest movies I’ve seen. I could describe the plot- or most of it, anyway- but I can’t describe the feeling of the movie, or the way it communicates its ideas.
This movie isn’t about autism; it has autism. And- unintentionally- it serves as a tragic metaphor about what life is like for autistic people in an uncompromisingly non-autistic world.
The Brother From Another Planet
Another really strange science-fiction movie which unintentionally serves as a metaphor for living with autism. What it’s really about is race, but oh, I identified with the main character so much. This movie is especially good at portraying just how weird the regular world is.
Unlike the other two films in this category, this one isn’t a metaphor for autism, and there are no characters who serve as autistic surrogates. But the film is a perceptive, frequently painful, and devastatingly accurate portrayal of the effects of loneliness and the need that everyone has for human connection. It’s the best portrayal of social isolation I’ve seen in film. There are a few scenes in Marty- notably his monologue to his mother, and his final monologue to his friend- which strike way too close to the bone for me. But I value movies that make me feel so deeply, and I appreciate Marty’s overall message: we dogs aren’t such dogs as we think we are.
This is a blog written by my favourite Aspie writer, Sarah Kurchak. She is fiercely funny, insightful, and genuine. Kurchak is one of the reasons I wanted to start a blog of my own. I know this is a fucking terrible thing to say, but I find her inspirational.
Dan Harmon Poops: You Are a Moon For Awhile
Dan Harmon is the creator of Community. I don’t know if he has Asperger’s, but his knack for hemorrhagic emotional honesty and public social impairment certainly suggest he might at least have a summer home somewhere on the spectrum.
He wrote an eloquent blog post called You Are a Moon For Awhile about his life-long struggles with social isolation. I’ve believed for a long time that loneliness is at the heart of the autistic experience. Kurchak posted a link to this blog entry because it resonated for her as an Aspie, and I followed the link and it resonated with me as well.
Prepare to lose days of your life. This is a message board for folks on the autistic spectrum, as well as their friends, family, and other interested parties. It has all the information about autism you could ever hope for, presented in the least coherent way possible. This is the closest thing to a concrete example of autistic culture any of us will probably ever see. And it’s as intense and immersive as you can imagine.