Understanding media Portrayal of the autism spectrum Written by Kaitlynn Labit Illustrated by Kaylah Valdez
re people going to think I'm weird? I don't understand what they're saying — is this sarcasm? I don’t want to hear the loud crowd. I’ll put my headphones back on. What are the rules? Am I standing too close? I’ll do some research. A narration of thoughts. It is the way Netflix’s original series “Atypical” (2017) demonstrates autism spectrum disorders to its audiences. Although this is not the first movie or TV show featuring a main character with high-functioning autism, it is the first of its kind that connects the thoughts and actions of Sam Gardner, played by Keir Gilchrist, as he navigates high school to give viewers an “inside look” at how some people on the spectrum could be processing situations and decisions in the 21st century. Prior to “Atypical,” other media portrayals of autism, whether subtle or proclaimed, include “Rain Man” (1988), “Forrest Gump” (1994), “The Big Bang Theory” (2007), “The Middle” (2009), “Modern Family” (2009) and
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“The Good Doctor” (2017). However, when the Kissel family found out about their son Jeff Kissel Jr.’s diagnosis when he was 6 years old in 2001, the only movie they said they could recall portraying autism was “Rain Man.” The classic film features Raymond Babbitt, played by Dustin Hoffman, as an autistic savant who is exceptional at remembering trivia and mathematics but struggles socially. The actions of savants can sometimes be described as “superhuman” because of their almost-unbelievable aptitude in certain areas such as mathematics, memory, art or music. Savants only make up 10 percent of the autistic population, according to the Autistic Research Institute, and for Jeffrey Sr. and Kathy Kissel, say they knew their son was not a part of that small percentage who might be spared from some of the trials of adolescence because of an unusual skill.
the Reality Instead, Jeffrey Kissel Jr., senior journalism and new media major and sports
Volume 8, Issue 2 of California Baptist University's student-produced lifestyle magazine.