Anyone who follows me on twitter (@kazherine) is probably already aware of what this article is going to be about, but for those who don’t, I recently witnessed a relatively popular celebrity generally ignore statements by autistic individuals in response to their belief that Netflix’s new show Atypical provides a good representation of autism. I, personally, do not think Atypical portrays autism well, and I’m not alone in this view either.
The most annoying thing about the responses by Doctor Christian Jessen, a qualified medical professional in general medicine, infectious disease, travel medicine, and sexual health, is that it’s assumed by non-autistics―or allistics―that all medical professionals are experts on mental illnesses, diseases, developmental disorders, neurological conditions, and disability in general. I’m very sorry to inform all of you but you’re wrong. The only experts of a condition, illness, or disability are those who live with it or those who study it extensively and listen to those who have whatever it is they research.
Christian Jessen, GP, is not an Autism Specialist, nor is he Autistic. His beliefs are not fact, they are not an ultimate authority, and they should certainly not be listened to about Atypical above and beyond those of the #ActuallyAutistic who speak about Atypical.
Netflix’s show aims to portray autism as quirky and goofy, as a thing that makes its main character Sam an awkward, adorable teenage boy who is excused for his behaviour; even when his behaviour is overtly sexist or stalker-like.
I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and am about to undertake a masters in disability studies. Compared to Christian Jessen, TV doctor, I am more qualified to make statements about Atypical, autism representation, and socio-cultural aspects of prejudice, ableism and stereotyping. I do not presume I am the only individual capable of judgements of Atypical―in fact, I know I’m not!― but, when the majority of individuals who are directly impacted by Atypical’s portrayal of autism are saying the same thing, then perhaps it is more prudent for allistics to actually listeninstead of disregard or challenge.
Someone I follow on twitter has written a number of threads on the representation of autism, the problems of diagnosing autism, the importance of engaging and listening to autistics, and the problem of allistic-silence when we are attacked and ignored when we challenge harmful stereotypes that directly impact how we live and navigate the world around us.
The most significant thing that all this tweeting back-and-forth with a stubborn medical professional is this:
There is a responsibility that professionals have to people to not encourage harmful beliefs and ideas, most especially when they have three-hundred thousand followers who respect them. The influence they have over the views of individuals and their behaviour is not something to be taken lightly, nor should they ever ignore the power of that influence on people. To do anything less, is to indirectly allow individuals and groups the potential opportunity to cause harm to those who disagree or deviate from the accepted norm.