Autistic characters in drama have become almost stereotypical stock roles.
Asperger’s was added to the character of Sherlock Holmes in the recent BBC version with Benedict Cumberbatch and in many ways it’s a good fit. We find a form of it in earlier shows like Star Trek with Spock and Commander Data. “Rain Man” has become a phrase that instantly summons up a farther range of the spectrum, even less socially competent, more obsessive and rigid. These characters are often given an awesome savant talent, further increasing pressure on autistic people to entertain us with magical-weirdo-brain-tricks like playing any song after hearing it once or lightning calculation. Further out still are the lost children (you almost never see an adult) spinning plates and squealing.
What people often fail to realize is that this spectrum has them on it too! We are all on this spectrum even if we are sitting in the comfortable normal box.
Consider the classic issues that come up for people on the right hand side of this image.
- Overwhelmed by social intensity. (attention, crowds, eye contact)
- Sensitive to noise
- Sensitive to little somatic distractions like a scratchy tag in their shirt.
The difference between you and some poor soul melting down from these isn’t one of kind but of degree. It’s just a question of the amplitude it requires to send your needle into the red. Have you ever heard of police trying to drive people out of a house by blasting music at it day after day? Or similar techniques focused on someone under interrogation? This is a conscious attempt to push people into the breakdown zone that ASD people reach with far less intensity.
We all have these same vulnerabilities but ASD people have less insulation on their wires.
Imagine yourself wearing a shirt of spun fiberglass. In a 12 hour death metal battle of the bands. Surrounded tightly by a crowd of strangers who keep staring at you and touching you.
Welcome, you have arrived at weekdays for autistic folks. Have a seat and pay attention. Don’t act up.