Autism in Heartbreak High

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about Netflix’s film ‘I Used to be Famous‘, this week I’d like to talk about another new Netflix series that has an autistic character- the reboot of the Australian comedy-drama series ‘Heartbreak High’.

So what’s the show about?

The show centres on a group of teenagers in the fictional Hartley High School in Australia after a graffitied “sex map” has been discovered on a wall detailing all of the sordid details of the students sex-capades. Following its discovery, the principal puts the students in a mandatory sex education class called ‘Sexual Literacy Tutorials – or β€œSLTs” (which inadvertently sounds like ‘sluts’) in an attempt to guide the students and calm the PR storm brewing outside.

You can see a trailer for the show here:

Now one of the great things about this show is that it prominently features an autistic character called Quinni, played by autistic actor and activist Chloe Hayden. Quinni is an emotionally intelligent, vivacious and bubbly teenager with ADHD, who loves bright colours, art, stickers, crocs and fantasy novels (one of her specialist interests). Quinni is also a lesbian, which marks one of the first times I’ve seen an LGBT autist in a fictional show, which is quite surprising given that many on the spectrum identify as LGBT+. It was refreshing to not have the classic asexual wallflower that is often depicted on screen. The real twist is that there is actually an asexual character in the show but he wasn’t autistic!

The writers worked very closely with Chloe to create a genuine picture of autism for the audience (she pretty much got to write all of her character). To the untrained eye it is not immediately obvious that Quinni is on the spectrum, she just seems like a chatty, quirky teenage girl. We don’t find out she is autistic until she blurts it out to her annoyed date after seemingly ignoring her attempts at conversation all evening as she was struggling to concentrate due to noise sensitivity in the crowded restaurant. The response she gets is one that all high functioning autists can relate to- questioning, doubtful, comparing us to stereotypes/media portrayals from neurotypical actors etc. This scene was added as the writer’s asked Chloe what happens when she tells people about her diagnosis which you can see below:

As the series progresses we get to see her navigate the rollercoaster of her first relationship. While it starts out sweet with Sasha being considerate of her needs, a typical selfish teenager, Sasha starts coddling her and feeling responsible for Quinni rather than understanding her needs:

The relationship ends in tears when Sasha becomes dismissive of her need for routine and ruins a much planned and anticipated meeting with Quinni’s favourite author for her, triggering a meltdown and shutdown, with Quinni retreating into herself, not speaking for days on end- a sad reality that autists may face.

Personally, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show (in my opinion it was a little bit too “woke” and the broad diversity of the characters seemed a bit forced), but it is a genuine portrayal of the reality that teenage autistic women face every day and is one of the first times that I’ve seen something of myself in an autistic character on screen in a long time. We need to see more Quinni’s on our screen to properly educate people about the realities of living with autism, and to give the next generation of autists someone to relate to, something that so many of us were lacking in our developmental years.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

3 thoughts on “Autism in Heartbreak High

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      1. We’re still getting through it in Korean. There are some really great performances that make it worthwhile. The English dub was released recently – I think the lead is dubbed by an autistic woman? I don’t think I can recommend the dub in good faith though, it sounds very clumsy and loses a lot of the nuance of the characters.

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