This week I’d like to discuss a potentially autistic character in the classic 90’s ‘Wayne’s World‘ films- Garth Algar played by Dana Carvey.
In case you’ve never seen Wayne’s World, the films are centred round metal loving best friends Wayne and Garth who have their own comedy public access TV show in Aurora, Illinois, often getting into weird and wacky situations. The duo are perhaps most famous for re-popularizing Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the 1990s in this iconic scene:
So where does autism come in?
While autism is never explicitly mentioned and little was relatively known about the condition at the time of filming, many have retrospectively concluded that Garth is quite likely on the autistic spectrum. A shy, awkward and uncoordinated nerd, Garth actively avoids eye contact (except with the camera), doesn’t like touching, often misses social cues and can be very literal in his thinking and resistant to change.
His iconic exchange with Kim Basinger, “So, would you like to have dinner one night? Garth: Oh, I like to have dinner every night“; is a classic Asperger’s moment. He also is very into his specialist interests like electronics and heavy metal, and has a wild imagination like many autists.
Here’s a clip from ‘Wayne’s World 2‘ which really showcases Garth’s awkwardness, mind blindness and literal thinking:
Interestingly, despite not intentionally seeking to depict autism, many autists consider Garth to be a very positive portrayal of the condition. Garth is seen as a little bit quirky, but is fully accepted by his friends. He has a job, a social life, and even manages to bag himself a couple of girlfriends. These are all “normal” positive things, the real lived experience of many of us late diagnosis autists. Too often in media portrayals of autism the characters are depicted as othered and often incapable of living independently, even today, so for films this old to have such a positive approach to neurodivergents is pleasantly refreshing.
This week I’d like to discuss the depiction of autism in the Disney + coming of age comedy series ‘Girl Meets World‘ (the spin-off/sequel to the 90’s classic ‘Boy Meets World‘) in an episode from 2015 that has been doing the rounds on Tik Tok in recent months.
The clip from the series depicts the shows protagonist Riley and her group of friends finding out that their best friend Farkle may be on the autistic spectrum, specifically he may have Asperger’s syndrome. Farkle was recently given an aptitude test that affirmed, what he always knew, that he is a genius. Following additional tests to confirm his IQ, it was decided that he should also be tested for autism as he presents with many traits such as touch aversion, social awkwardness, specialist interests etc. (we won’t get into how they automatically jumped to spectrum from a genius test 🙄).
Now while it’s great that such an important topic is getting airtime on a channel as big as Disney, the clip has been viewed quite negatively by the autistic community. After telling his friends that he may have autism, their reactions are somewhat overdramatic. Riley’s friend Maya automatically jumps off the couch and vehemently proclaims “You don’t!”, while Riley similarly jumps up saying “Let’s go tell them you don’t!” Moreover, Riley and Farkle’s parent’s set quite a serious and sombre tone in the room about his potential diagnosis which doesn’t help the vibe. Although not included in the original viral clip, the gang later study up on Asperger’s and every time that Farkle agrees with a trait and gives an example, Maya grabs him and tells him to “Stop doing that! He’s going to stop doing that!” Needless to say, autists everywhere have been highly offended by the reactions as they are treating autism like a terminal disease! This has even made many afraid to disclose their diagnosis to their friends based on this reaction (although I would argue that this is an overreaction as my friends have been nothing but accepting and supportive when I have disclosed my diagnosis).
The clip has since been edited/removed, but you can watch the episode in full on Disney + (Season 2 Episode 15). Here’s a clip instead introducing us to Farkle:
Ultimately, it turns out that Farkle isn’t on the spectrum, so there was a whole lot of hullabaloo about nothing, BUT it is revealed later on in the episode that Farkle’s female nemesis (and later girlfriend) Smackle was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 5 years old. She like Farkle is also a genius (whhhhyyy must we perpetuate these stereotypes!!!), with an aversion to hugs, difficulty reading social cues and struggles to make friends. Her depiction is very stereotypical Aspergers male and doesn’t tie in with how most women with autism actually present- although it is nice to see another woman on screen where autistic men are the media majority.
The episode ends with everyone accepting Smackle and showing her that none of them in the group identify as “normal” nor aspire to be “normal”, ending everything on a slightly better note of acceptance- something that most of the online chatter didn’t delve into following the disastrous reaction to Farkle’s potential diagnosis.
All in all, this type of representation is not great, but at least the tone does even out by the end of the episode. It’s a very stereotyped depiction and the initial reaction of the gang can be quite triggering for some autists, but I’ve definitely seen way worse handling of this issue. That being said, this episode does come from 2015 and media depictions have come a long way since then, with many shifting to cast autistic actors for accurate on screen portrayals- like the character of Quinni in Heartbreak High. As with history, we should learn from the past and look to examples like this as ‘what not to do’ so that media portrayals going forward will be far more reflective of the real autistic experience.
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’.
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 “SLTs” (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.
This week I’d like to talk about Netflix’s latest drama film ‘I Used To Be Famous‘ and an autistic character that appears in the film.
So what is the film about?
The film follows Vince (played by Ed Skrein), a former member of a famous boy band who has been struggling to make headway with his own electronic music since the dissolution of the band several years previously. One day while busking in the city, he happens upon a teenage boy who starts drumming a beat on a nearby bench in sync with his electronic stylings. The resulting music captures the attention of everyone around and a video of the incident goes viral online. As it turns out, Stevie is on the autistic spectrum and a passionate drummer. Vince tracks him down in a music therapy group for people with disabilities and proposes that they start a band together in his desperation to make it back on top, a move which changes both of their lives forever.
You can see a trailer of the film below:
So how was this films depiction of autism?
The writers have kept things simple in the film, choosing to make Stevie’s drumming abilities the main focus rather than his autism, showing us all that autism should never be a blocker to achieving your dreams. Now one of the great things about this film is that building on from Atypical, Netflix has cast an autistic actor, Leo Long, to play Stevie. Leo is a talented drummer with the London Youth Folk Ensemble and National Open Youth Orchestra, and a passionate advocate for making the music and film industries more accessible for individuals with disabilities.
It’s a heartwarming film with some great tunes to boot- perfect for a quiet evening in 🙂
This week I would like to discuss the introduction of an autistic character to the beloved children’s TV show Thomas the Tank Engine (the series has been renamed Thomas & Friends– All Engines’s Go in it’s latest iteration).
In September of 2022, Bruno the Brake Car was introduced to season 2 of ‘All Engines Go‘ following a team-up between the show runners and a number of autism advocacy groups such as the National Autistic Society and Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in the UK. In creating the character, the creators wanted to reach out to new audiences but to also ensure that their audiences were being fully represented (which makes sense given that so many autists love trains). The creators have also ensured that Bruno is always voiced by an autistic actor- 9 year old Elliot Garcia in the UK and 10 year old Chuck Smith in the USA & Canada.
You can check out Bruno in an episode of the show below:
So what’s Bruno like in the show?
It’s not immediately obvious that Bruno is autistic, but he does have a lot of subtle traits which can help teach neurotypical children about our differences and how to love and accept Bruno as just another train in the yard. The first thing I noticed about Bruno is that he doesn’t make eye contact, his eyes generally shift from side to side and up and down, never directly looking in just one place- something highly relatable for many autists. Every so often Bruno will flap his stepladders, mimicking the hand flapping stimming action of many autists. It’s really subtle, which is quite clever as it helps autists to feel seen whilst also normalizing the behaviour for neurotypical viewers. One of the things I enjoyed most about Bruno was how whenever things were too noisy or when he pushed on the brakes, smoke subtly came down over his ears in the shape of noise cancelling headphones- a true stroke of genius from the animators!
Bruno is also very literal, for example when Thomas describes Diesel as a ‘steamroller’ for his careless racing, Bruno get’s very confused as Diesel is a shunter/switcher train not a steamroller, prompting Thomas to explain that he was acting like a steamroller but not physically one. As a brake car, Bruno likes things slow and orderly, and is obsessed with routine and the train timetable, often getting unsettled when the other trains are off schedule. He’s also very funny, frequently cracking puns and using comedy to get through difficult situations- something I’m very familiar with it. It’s nice to see autists portrayed as having a good sense of humour as too often we’re depicted as gormless and immune to punchlines.
Overall Bruno’s characterization is spot on, nice and subtle and a great character to represent the autistic community. I would say however the choice of using yellow detailing on Bruno as an autistic character is a little unusual, as some autists have colour sensitivity issues, with the colour yellow being particularly triggering.
This week I’d like to take a look at autism in the popular BBC mystery/crime drama series ‘Sherlock‘ starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (I know, I’m a bit late to the party on this show, but I only recently binged it during the pandemic 😛 ).
So what’s Sherlock about?
The premise of Sherlock is fairly self explanatory- it’s a series based on the infamous Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set in modern day London. Holmes, a consulting detective, works closely with his friend Dr. Watson to solve mysteries and crimes across London by using Sherlock’s keen powers of observation and deduction in tandem with modern sleuthing technologies, giving Holmes’s story a contemporary edge.
Here’s a trailer of the series for those of you who have never seen it:
So how does autism tie into all of this?
There has been much debate as to whether or not the character of Sherlock has Asperger’s Syndrome. Many experts have theorized that he original character of Sherlock Holmes in the 19th century stories may have been displaying signs of autism decades before the condition was first characterized. Sherlock indeed displays many traits of Asperger’s- his powers of observation, his intellect and memory, obsession with his work, issues with sleep and drug addiction, mind blindness to social cues, his struggles with empathy, and moments of perceived sociopathy (some autists have been misdiagnosed as sociopaths) all tend to paint the picture of an autist. Moreover, the chief of police and Dr. Watson have even theorized that Sherlock may have Asperger’s.
You can find a video of some of Sherlock’s best bits in the show at the link below:
However, this depiction has not been without it’s critiques. It has been argued that this depiction of Sherlock as a superhuman intellect with sociopathic tendencies is damaging for the autistic community as this is a negative, somewhat romanticized and simplistic portrayal of the condition that can mislead the public in their perceptions of the condition (although let’s face it- 90% of autistic characters recycle the same traits and rarely give us an insight into the variety and complexity of the neurodivergent population 😛 ). The autistic community on the whole however, has mainly been supportive in claiming Sherlock as one of our own as many relate to Sherlock and feel seen in Cumberbatch’s portrayal.
Following the recent release of Netflix sensation ‘Stranger Things‘ Season 4 Vol., this week I’d like to discuss a possible autistic character that many fans have been discussing online since the season dropped (don’t worry- I’ll keep this spoiler free!).
So before I get into discussing this character, what’s Stranger Things about?
For those of you who may not have heard of Netflix’s all time most streamed TV show, Stranger Things is an 80’s nostalgia sci-fi/horror/drama series set in the fictional town of Hawkins Indiana. Secret government cold war experiments exploring psychokinesis have ripped a portal to an alternate dimension filled with monsters called the ‘Upside Down’, leading to a series of mysterious events in Hawkins which a young group of pre-teens set out to investigate after their friend Will disappears.
Now back to autism.
In the most recent series, one of the new characters introduced in the last season, now appears to be showing a lot of neurodivergent traits- Robin Buckley, played by Maya Hawke (daughter of Hollywood legends Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke).
Robin is a highly intelligent high school student that befriends the main Stranger Things gang in season 3 when Russian scientists build a portal to the Upside Down in a secret lab beneath the mall that she works at. Described as “an alternative girl” when her casting was first announced, Robin has certainly captured the attention of autistic viewers as her character has developed in season 4. Throughout the season, Robin has been very quirky, exhibiting no filter and rambling constantly about random topics, but can also be quite easily distracted, suggesting that like many autists she has ADHD.
She mentions that she has no grasp of social cues and has awful coordination, claiming that she took 6 months longer to walk than the other babies which she says was not normal. Robin also claims to be a terrible liar and regularly addresses her weirdness and tendency to inadvertently come across as mean or condescending, constantly asking her friends if she is being annoying.
During one particularly memorable scene, Robin, a notorious tomboy, is dressed up in tight frilly clothing which she constantly complains about, arguing that the borrowed outfit is itchy, the bra is pinching her, and the blouse is strangling her, which could suggest that sensory sensitivities could be driving her penchant for baggy clothing.
Most autistic fans did not notice much in the line of neurodiversity in season 3, but other keen eyed viewers have noted traits prior to season 4 citing her ability to hyperfocus, her memory, her ability to connect dots the others can’t, her blunt truth bombs and that she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community (which a large proportion of autists are). Robin also remarked in season 3 “I feel like my whole life has been one big error“, a sentiment that many an autist can relate to. It could be argued that perhaps now that Robin is part of the gang, she is far more relaxed and doesn’t feel the need to mask as much as she did in season 3.
Whilst it is highly unlikely that Robin will have an autism story-line given how poorly understood autism was in women during the 1980’s, nevertheless it’s always nice for autistic fans to feel seen when watching our favourite shows. It will be interesting to see how her character develops in season 4 vol 2 and beyond!
This week I’d like to talk to you about one of my specialist interests- the Eurovision Song Contest, as this year one of the entrants is on the autistic spectrum! 😀
So, first things first, what exactly is the Eurovision Song Contest?
The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is an annual international songwriting contest organized by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that was first established in 1956 as a means of bringing divided European nations together through music in the wake of World War II. Originally, only 7 countries participated, but over the years musicians representing 52 countries have competed across Europe, Israel and Australia (don’t get me started on the logic for that one…)
Each participating country submits one original song under 3 minutes in length, and performs the song live on stage to the world, competing to win a trophy and the chance for their nation to host the contest the following year. There are two semi finals and one grand final, all held over one week, usually in May. The voting is a 50/50 split from audience televotes and panels of industry experts from each participating country.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Eurovision is very popular in Europe with an average annual audience of just under 200 million viewers. Over the years it has grown from a simple song contest to a huge spectacle with elaborate staging and often crazy performances from bread baking Russian grannies, to metal monsters, dancing drag queens, to flapping puppets (sorry again for that one Europe!), to powerful songs that unite us and capture the hearts of an entire continent.
We get it, you love Eurovision Aoife, so where’s the autism link?
This year, the Australian delegation (we’ll let the geographical issues slide for a few paragraphs) are sending autistic singer Sheldon Riley to the contest in Turin, Italy with his song ‘Not The Same‘ where he talks about his struggles in life, and particularly his struggles growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can check out the song here:
Diagnosed at 6 years old, Sheldon was told that he would never be “normal”, that he would never achieve his dreams, never have a job, friends or a romantic partner. Instead, he has defied the odds and went on to compete in several song competitions in Australia in addition to America’s Got Talent. As part of his stage persona, Sheldon incorporates elaborate crystal masks into his performances to hide his face to allow him to focus on his singing as he often feels judged for his appearance, a shield to allow him to perform, taking autistic masking to a new level. With his participation in Eurovision however, Sheldon finally feels confident to start ditching his mask to embrace who he really is. You can also hear Sheldon talking about his experiences of autism to BBC in the video below:
Sheldon isn’t however the first autist to take to the Eurovision stage. In 2015, Finland sent the rock band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät comprised of disabled musicians with Down Syndrome and Autism. To this day it holds the record for the shortest ever song performed at Eurovision:
On another level, Greta Thunberg’s mother, Malena Ernman, who is an outspoken advocate for autism awareness, represented her native Sweden in the Eurovision in 2009!
Whilst these are the only confirmed examples of autists competing in the Eurovision, it’s quite possible that other past artists may also have been on the spectrum (knowingly or otherwise) but they have not revealed their diagnosis.
Fun Fact– yours truly contributed to last years 4th place Icelandic entry as part of an online virtual choir of 1000 fans, so you could say that one other autist has appeared on the Eurovision stage (in a roundabout way 😛 )
Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂
Have a lovely weekend and enjoy the competition tomorrow night if you’re watching!
After recently seeing the new Fantastic Beasts film in the cinema, it’s got me thinking about whether or not some of my favourite characters in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are on the autistic spectrum.
As I stared up at the big screen at Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, I was really struck by how many autistic traits that his character possessed. Newt is quirky and socially awkward, he rarely makes eye contact, he has an unusual gait and is obsessed to distraction with magical creatures, often mimicking their behaviours to communicate with them. Perhaps most telling of all in the latest film, Dumbledore tells him that his honesty is one of his greatest attributes. Eddie Redmayne himself has said in interviews that he feels that Newt probably has Asperger’s syndrome based on how JK Rowling described Newt’s mannerisms to him, but would have unlikely been diagnosed as the films take place in the 1920’s long before Kanner and Asperger first published their work on autism.
Here’s a video that someone spliced together showing Newt and some of his autistic moments in the films:
Driving home after the film, I started thinking back over the books and wondering how I had never wondered if some of the characters were autistic.
Perhaps the most obvious potential autist would be Luna “Looney” Lovegood- a quirky and eccentric girl who is often shunned by her peers for being different (famed in particular for her radish earrings). She floats around the castle a social outcast, her mind often miles away in a dreamland. Highly intelligent, fiercely loyal and brutally honest, Luna is quite gullible and often the victim of bullying, as many of us on the spectrum often are. Irish actress Evanna Lynch who played Luna in the films has said in interviews that she regularly receives letters from autistic fans about Luna and how they connect with her. I didn’t quite connect with Luna in the same way that I identified with Hermione Granger (as I’ve mentioned previously), but she was the one character I would have loved to have played in the films.
Many have also questioned whether Hermione Granger is on the spectrum due to her obsession with good grades and initial struggles to make friends after arriving at Hogwarts. While I certainly connected very strongly with Hermione, I doubt that she is on the spectrum- her emotional intelligence and understanding of people wouldn’t generally be expected of an aspie. She spent many nights by the common room fire schooling Harry and Ron on how to understand women and their emotions, something that very few on the spectrum would feel knowledgeable enough to comment on.
In addition, there are those who also feel that Snape and Voldemort could have been on the spectrum. I can see how Snape, like Hermione, could in passing seem autistic as he has displays some traits through his anti-social behaviours, obsession with potions and tendency towards eloquent language use, but again feel that this is unlikely. Let’s face it- most of us have no filter, we’d have never successfully hidden that we were working as a double agent from Voldemort!
As for Voldemort himself being an autist…I think that’s really reaching. Most people possess some level of autistic traits, and I think it’s a little insulting to liken one of the most evil literary villains of modern times to autists, and in fact quite damaging to compare his sociopathic lack of empathy to our struggles with this emotion. To attempt to humanize him by linking autism to his origin story really doesn’t do the autistic community a service.
While none of these character’s were ever explicitly written with autism in mind, it’s wonderful to hear that many autists feel they can connect with these character’s and feel seen 🙂
This week I’d like to talk about an autistic character in the British medical TV drama ‘Holby City‘ that I have been following for a few years now- Jason Haynes.
One of the really special things about this character is that Jason is portrayed by actor Jules Robertson who has Asperger’s syndrome – the first autistic actor to have a recurring acting role in a BBC TV show! Jules has been playing Jason on and off again since 2015 and has proven very popular with both his co-stars and the audience. His portrayal has been praised by several autism charities in the UK and Jules has even been nominated for a BAFTA for his acting work.
You can see Jules in action as Jason in this behind the scenes video:
Over the years the writers have really developed Jason’s character to highlight how much can be achieved when autists are properly supported. When he first appeared in the show, Jason was very literal, and needed full time care. Over time, he get’s a job as a hospital porter, get’s a girlfriend (who also has Asperger’s) and they have a baby and get married living completely independent lives, really challenging the stigma surrounding what autists can and can’t do.
I always get great enjoyment out of any episode that Jason appears in (he get’s some great one liners!). It’s a pleasure to see such a truthful portrayal of autism. Whilst Jules may not have some of the same issues in real life as Jason does, nevertheless he lights up the screen, fully able to be his true autistic self.
None of this would have happened were it not for producer Simon Harper who fought hard to have an autistic actor play Jason to avoid another cliched Rainman-esque portrayal of an autist. Minor accommodations are made when Jules is filming such as encouraging a calm set and preparing the scripts further in advance than would be the norm for him, enabling Jules to work and inspire the next generation of autists to realize their dreams.
You can read an interview where Jules talks about life with autism here: