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Neurodiverse Mumsnetters

Best/worst representations of neurodiversity in TV shows.

22 replies

BlackberryCat · 21/11/2022 12:17

I started watching Atypical and just got so fed up of it. I hate this representation of people with autism as being these self-absorbed robots incapable of understanding that other people have feelings. Maybe some people with autism are like that, but I think most people would be distressed to think they have upset someone like Sam upset his girlfriend Paige.

I watched an Australian drama called Heartbreak High and I just love how they portrayed Quinni as a girl with ASD who tries so hard to fit in and mask and pretend everything is fine until she reaches the point where she just kind of explodes and withdraws into herself. I loved that her character was kind and caring and loving.

I also love Jake Peralta from Brooklyn 99 who I think has definite ADHD traits. I relate to so much that he does from the chronically messy locker, easily bored, can hyper-focus on stuff that interests him, just constantly searching for that dopamine hit. I believe the actor doesn't have ADHD but based the character on a family member who does.

So, I'm curious does anyone else have any dramas that they think portrayed neurodiversity in a real way that they can actual relate to rather than just trotting out the tired old stereotypes?

OP posts:

Tired2tired · 21/11/2022 13:39

Honestly atypical is one of my favourite shows 😬because of sam I related to his character so much. and I found paige the worst.

Personally I didn't think he came across as robotic/not caring about others feelings. His character has that speech where he says that not having empathy is bs, he just can't always recognise when people are upset but when he does he feels so much empathy.
Massive relate to that.


Clarice99 · 21/11/2022 14:09

Tired2tired · 21/11/2022 13:39

Honestly atypical is one of my favourite shows 😬because of sam I related to his character so much. and I found paige the worst.

Personally I didn't think he came across as robotic/not caring about others feelings. His character has that speech where he says that not having empathy is bs, he just can't always recognise when people are upset but when he does he feels so much empathy.
Massive relate to that.

Like @Tired2tired, I enjoyed Atypical and didn't find Sam irritating. I recognise a lot of his traits in myself and I can relate to him quite a bit.

Paige on the other hand, jeez, massively irritating. I wouldn't be able to spend 5 minutes in her company IRL 😖

I haven't watched the other shows mentioned in your post @BlackberryCat. I will look out for them.

I enjoyed Young Sheldon and The Big Bang Theory. Although Sheldon does not have an autism diagnosis and online articles say he is not autistic, he has significant autism traits, and I relate to a lot of Sheldon's behaviours.


BlackberryCat · 21/11/2022 15:18

I don’t find Sam annoying. I find his mum really annoying though!

He’s just so calm about everything. I’m always so anxious about any social interaction and I get so stressed and withdrawn when my social interactions go wrong. So, when he tries to hook up with the college girl and she kicks him out, he just seemed unfazed by it all. I wouldn’t be able to speak to anyone for months after that. I always get so anxious trying to mask and fit in but he doesn’t seem bothered. My son has autism and he has so many meltdowns all the time about seemingly nothing but Sam never does.

I guess I’m just so frustrated with life sometimes. The constant battles, the constant issues. It’s hard for me to watch someone so calm and unbothered by it all but perhaps I didn’t give it enough time. It’s good to hear that other people could relate to the show though.

Heartbreak High was good, I thought. It’s a bit raunchy like Sex Education. I believe the actress who plays Quinni actually has ASD and ADHD, so I think she shows a different portrayal of autism rather than the usual nerdy, white boy cliche.

OP posts:

Tired2tired · 21/11/2022 15:44

Shows how we relate to things differently as I wouldn't describe Sam as calm, I cried a lot watching it as we see the constant internal struggle and not understanding the world, we see a lot of meltdowns or the comedown of a meltdown or in the s1 college situ a shutdown, he knows he fucked up pushing her and the hood up blocking sensory stuff out, walking in the road oblivious to the car and just sobbing in the bed :'(

Hard agree on the mum, my worst nightmare would be stuck in the room with paige and the mum 😂

I shall check out the other shows!


Tired2tired · 21/11/2022 15:53

The lass with aspergers in s1 (haven't seen s2) young royals I was not a fan of... But I wasn't a fan of any of the characters in that show, all strange and annoying, so in a weird way maybe I liked her as she wasn't a freak show 😂 as she was justas annoying as all the NTs ones and I think the actress actually has aspergers so that's cool.


Clarice99 · 21/11/2022 17:52

I don't see Sam as calm. A lot of the time he appears to be in a state of anxiety of varying degrees. It's also obvious to me that he has internal struggles; his face shows his angst.


Scautish · 21/11/2022 22:58

Abed from Community is amazing. They don’t apply the lazy stereotypes and I think it’s a really compassionate portrayal.

I also like Saga Noren from The Bridge (Swedish/danish version). She’s not officially diagnosed and they don’t get everything quite right but she was one of the reasons I started looking into whether I was autistic.

I think Sheldon is a terrible portrayal (I know he’s not diagnosed but everyone assumes). I think it has really damaged our community as so many think it’s an accurate portrayal. Now Amy Farrah Fowler on the other hand….I think she probably has quite a lot of female autistic traits - especially the really wanting to have friends and fitting in.


WeirdPookah · 22/11/2022 12:21

The second season of Atypical was better when they had real Autistic cast members and writers.

Temperance Brennan on Bones, they have specifically said they didn't give her a formal label to "not put people off" but she really is a good example of being Autistic, she comes across cold, but in reality it's often keeping a lid on intense feelings, she has hyperfocus on her work, she says what she means without thinking sometimes .


Snorken · 22/11/2022 13:07

I just started watching Stranger Things 4 and had to google whether Robin is meant to be autistic or not and although the Duffer brothers don't confirm whether she is or not, the autistic community seem to think she presents as an undiagnosed autistic female of the 1980s. She is lovely and I resonate with her difficulties in communicating with Nancy in the one scene where it is just the two of them. She clearly finds it easier to hang out with Steve and the D&D playing younger male characters.

I liked Sam from Atypical, I also quite like Elsa (the mum) and there has been speculation around whether Elsa, as well as Paige, are autistic too. But as women they are probably experts at masking so not picked up on/as obvious.

It's been a long time since I watched The Bridge and but I remember thinking used that Saga Noren was autistic but now I'm not so sure she is that well portrayed. I mean, most women would have (sadly) leant to mask a lot harder and be a lot less blunt in their behavior. I do like her though, she does show a lot of vulnerability and empathy. At the time I would never have heard of masking and would also have been completely unaware of my own autism so maybe I am being a bit unfair on the script writers!

Amy from Big Bang is another one I really like. I used to watch TBBT with my late MIL and I suspect she was ND too.


WeirdPookah · 22/11/2022 19:18

We discussed Robin as well, I would see her as Autistic coded, there would never have been a diagnoses for a girl like her back then, but she absolutely ticks plenty of boxes!

Newt Scamander in the Fantastic Beasts films is good, Eddie Redmayne playing him said he intended his interpretation of him to be autistic.


HappyBinosaur · 25/11/2022 21:48

I know not everyone agrees with this opinion, but I think Sean Murphy in the The Good Doctor portrays autism fairly well. When I watch it he reminds me of my son in many ways and he captures some of the less common and more subtle aspects of autism really well.


BlackberryCat · 26/11/2022 14:01

The second season of Atypical was better when they had real Autistic cast members and writers.

Thanks! I will probably go back to it sometime. It's good to hear that.

re: Young Royals. I really like the series but I felt they gave Sara ADHD as well as ASD just so they could do the drugs storyline with August. I see zero ADHD traits with her though. Unless her meds are just really amazing.

I must admit I saw The Good Doctor pop up as a recommendation and thought it was the usual ASD savant, nerdy white guy blah blah. I will check it out sometime. I love medical dramas. The Bridge sounds good too!

I don't know about Robin. I didn't really get that vibe from her. It's hard to say.

I've been watching The Walking Dead and I guess Eugene is supposed to have ASD but he's another savant nerdy white guy. Or is he just a manipulative liar who is playing into the savant nerdy white guy stereotype to stay alive? I can't tell.

I think it's good that they are showing more autistic characters on TV but even better when they are showing more diversity in those characters rather than just the Rain Man type.

OP posts:

FurryDandelionSeekingMissile · 26/11/2022 15:04

I tend to prefer it when there are sympathetically-written characters who are clearly a character "type" which can be read as autistic, but either written before the recent increase in awareness and diagnosis, or written without reference to those things. I feel that once you've got a 21st century writer wanting to write an autistic character (whether explicitly, or implicitly but with plausible deniability, so that if they get it wrong they can say "but we never said so-and-so is autistic, you all just assumed it because we wrote them as a walking stereotype of autism, but that's on you!"), they're either deliberately writing diagnostic criteria and/or stereotypes and/or things autistic people commonly say about themselves, or deliberately defying or subverting diagnostic criteria/stereotypes etc., and it feels very obvious and a bit cringey to me.

A bit like how 90s British television could be a bit self-consciously cringey with, for example, some physically disabled characters, where you could tell the (usually) able-bodied writers were either going by research or stereotypes about what they thought disabled people were like and what their seemingly homogeneous difficulties and personalities were like, writing caricatures or using them as offensive stock characters, or being very careful to make sure that they were the opposite of the stereotype — every wheelchair user or blind person defying limitations and expectations and being inspirational, for example, and almost highlighting offensive stereotypes by the studious avoidance of them. Basically, either way, avoiding portraying people as full people either by writing them as a stereotype or as the exact inverse of a stereotype. You could also see this type of thing with portrayals of people of some ethnicities, or other characteristics.

I think it's a stage that lots of portrayals of non-culturally-dominant groups go through, though there are differences with how it happens for each group — for ASD one of the differences is that until recently, some of those who would now be diagnosed were blending in enough to not be identified as a minority group but rather to be noticed by writers as character types, which means they show up in the pre-Asperger's diagnosis (i.e. early nineties) era.


FurryDandelionSeekingMissile · 26/11/2022 15:10

I apologise for the length of my sentences there 😒 Brain's not working well enough to edit it into more readable ones.


DinosaurOfFire · 27/11/2022 14:57

Abed from Community is quite possibly the best portrayal for me, how he adapts over time as well and learns how the rules "work". I also think Frankie in the later seasons is coded autistic. I find Frankie in the wedding episode brilliant- the whole "I'm here to get ready because that's what girls do, together, am I doing it right?". Super relatable.

I love Sheldon, both in BBT and Young Sheldon, I find his portrayal as a highly intelligent person who just doesn't understand the social rules/ elements and sticks to scripts as being really relatable. Young Sheldon in particular resonates! And a big fat Yes to Amy being coded autistic too.

I also think Lucy in Two Weeks Notice is coded autistic- not that it would have been intentional then but again, I can see lots of the traits in her character that I had/ have and it was fascinating to rewatch recently knowing that I am autistic, and seeing her character and the "geeky unsociable woman" 90s trope play out.

I also agree that Robin in Stranger Things is coded autistic/ ADHD, and I enjoy her character a LOT.


puddleduck234 · 27/11/2022 19:31

Definitely Robyn in stranger things, really relate to her scene where she is talking really fast at Nancy, knowing she's being annoying but can't help herself over explaining how she doesn't fancy Steve. Unfortunately have also met too many people like Nancy who have rolled their eyes at me in that way


amusedbush · 28/11/2022 14:46

I definitely agree about Robin in Stranger Things. While watching the new season, DH turned to me and said "she is you!" Grin everything from the rambling to the extreme clumsiness (a lot of autistic people are also dyspraxic (which I am) or just have poor proprioception).

Again, I agree about Amy from TBBT. I really relate to the way she's "too much", super keen and trying really hard but it never quite lands.

I came here to say Dr Brennan in Bones but I can see I'm late to the party there! The show's creator has said he based her on an autistic friend but the network wouldn't allow him to come out and say she's autistic. The moments where Booth is teasing her and she's trying so hard to read his face and work out if he's joking - that's 100% me and my husband Grin I especially like that you can see she experiences empathy, just not in the way NT people expect to see it. That's another thing I relate to as people have accused me of not being empathetic but I am, it just doesn't present they way they expect.


Percie · 29/11/2022 16:29

Extraordinary Attorney Woo on Netflix is really interesting and I mostly enjoyed watching it. Woo has insight but I feel like they threw all the traits at her character and the result is perhaps not what they intended.


ofwarren · 30/11/2022 13:42

Can you watch heartbreak high in the UK?
I follow Chloe Hayden on Instagram and she seems like a really nice person.


NewMum1715 · 30/11/2022 19:45

Abed off Community most definitely. As the series go on, it really is quite emphatic and he becomes the heart of the show. Plus, he is insane hot.

Also Chloe Hayden has just released a book on neurodivergence.


NewMum1715 · 30/11/2022 19:46

P.S the show is funny as hell.


ASDADHDBAME · 10/12/2022 22:15

Another one for Abed

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