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Hollywood Loves It Some Autism (Sort Of)

By joslyngray |

Between The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, and Parenthood, autism is totally hot in Hollywood. Or at least Asperger Syndrome, a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum, is. Some television shows and movies handle it well; some don’t.

Last fall Glee botched the introduction of a character named Sugar who had “self-diagnosed Asperger Syndrome” and used it as an excuse for terribly self-absorbed behavior.

“I have self-diagnosed Asperger’s so I can pretty much say whatever I want…I’m pretty much like a diplomat’s daughter”, she said.

Many people in the autism community were less than pleased with the one-dimensional nature of the character, who was seen as perpetuating negative stereotypes. Considering Glee’s sensitive handling of  issues like cognitive impairment, what it’s like to be a gay teen, and bullying, the one-note character of Sugar was surprising.

Here’s my take on several of the most popular movies and shows with characters who are autistic, or who have autism-like traits. Some of them are great, some of them are … less great. And some, honestly, are just meh, because the connection to autism isn’t necessarily really there for me.

Note: I have two kids with Asperger Syndrome, but I don’t speak for anyone in the autism community but myself (my kids speak fine for themselves). I’d love to know what shows and movies you love for their portrayal of autism, and which ones you think really missed the boat.


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Hollywood Loves It Some Autism (Sort Of)


(Photo credits: iStockphoto, Wikimedia Commons)

Read more from Joslyn at her blog stark. raving. mad. mommy. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for even more funny.

Related post: But S/he Doesn’t Look  Autistic!

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About joslyngray



Joslyn Gray is the mother of four children with a variety of challenges ranging from allergies to ADHD to Asperger Syndrome. She writes candidly and comedically about this and her generally hectic life on her light-hearted personal blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy.. Read bio and latest posts → Read joslyngray's latest posts →

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12 thoughts on “Hollywood Loves It Some Autism (Sort Of)

  1. bettywu says:

    Monk has OCD.

  2. Jackie says:

    Why do movies and tv shows always have to show people with disabilities in a positive light. Why cant a character have aspergers and be an asshole?

  3. CW says:

    The climbing thing apparently is very common among folks on the spectrum. A relative of mine who is most likely an Aspie has a theory that it has an evolutionary advantage because in a hunter-gatherer village, you’d probably want the person who prefers to be alone and is very anal about things being the one up in the tree keeping guard.

  4. AllisonB says:

    Doc Martin is a great show about a surgeon who becomes phobic about blood and takes job in small town as GP. Set in England. He is typical Aspie, though they don’t bill it that way. Having two of my own….
    You can watch no Netflix.

  5. Beck says:

    Parenthood is the most realistic show with people you care about. Temple is awesome and that is how you do it. I love Elvis, but i mised this movie and his power to cure autism through hugs. Is anyone waiting in the wings to take his place?

  6. Nancy says:

    I think the point of Sugar on Glee was that she *DIDN’T*

  7. Nancy says:

    I think the point about Sugar on Glee is that she DIDN’T have Asperger’s (hence the “self-diagnosed”). The purpose of that line was that it was just part of her character being a general a-hole.

  8. les says:

    it isn’t TV or hollywood but i have fallen in love with the graphic novel series “with the light”

  9. Megan says:

    The Temple Grandin movie is my favorite, because it really gives insight into the autistic mind. Sometimes it feels like they only the extremes of the spectrum both high and low. At the end of the day what we need is not just more autism on shows by an more variety. The spectrum is large and there is a wide area of difference between Rainman and a character like Max on Parenthood.

  10. Megan says:

    I wish they showed more classic autism.

  11. Jennie K. Diller-Daniels says:

    when i first seen ‘temple grandin’ i was like ‘omg, that’s how my daughter is’. both my husband and i LOVE this movie and would wish to see dr. grandin give her lectures. i would love for my daughter to describe me the way that temple described her mother in the movie. she’s only 4 now, so i guess we’ll see in 20 or 30 years. as for sugar on ‘glee’ i was not happy with the way they wrote her. i seriously hope it was meant to be the way that someone else above had described that the point was she was just an a-hole.

  12. nikki says:

    should i watch parenthood, i mean is it worth it ?
    i can’t believe the Elvis movie, that’s just priceless.. lol
    my jaws dropped when i saw the introductory scene of Sugar in Glee, but I also thought after that it is only picking up a development that I had observed around the internet for a while…self-diagnosed highly functioning autism in adults..
    my son’s actual pre-diagnosis is on it’s way to be confirmed by a second specialist, though, hence my interest for parenthood…

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