As we see, autism is finally getting right
As We See It is a compassionate and often hilarious take on the Spectrum that manages to avoid most of the usual clichés and tropes.
Screen representations of autism have come a long way since rain man. While the 1988 film was groundbreaking at the time and won Dustin Hoffman an Oscar, it was flawed. For starters, the character he played, Raymond Babbitt, was primarily based on scientist Kim Peek, who had a rare genetic condition, not autism. rain man spawned many false stereotypes about autism that have been hard to shake. (Namely, being autistic means we’re all card-counting geniuses. If that were the case, I’d be in Vegas right now!) In reality, savantism remains rare, even among autistic populations, except around 10 %.
More than a decade passed before autism returned to the small screen in a meaningful way. And when it did, autistic characters invariably played second fiddle to the central plot, which revolved around parents (The A-word, parenthood) and their experience of autism. Rarely, if ever, has the spotlight been shone on the autistic characters themselves and explored their own stories. In recent years, however, there has been an explosion of TV shows with autistic main characters. There have been some good examples in non-fiction shows and specials. by Netflix Hannah GadsbyDouglas is a live performance written and performed by Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby. love on the spectrum, also on Netflix, is a reality show that follows seven autistic young adults as they navigate the world of dating. And Spray it’s us, a documentary, features four autistic friends who perform in a troupe of actors. Curiously though, and without exception, autistic lead roles in scripted fictional shows have been played by non-autistic actors. Up to Prime Video As we seestreaming now.
parenthood Writer Jason Katims admits that while he was proud of Max Braverman’s portrayal of an autistic character on the show, he wanted to “do better”. So, inspired by his 23-year-old son, who is part of the Spectrum, Katims set out to adapt the award-winning Israeli series on the spectrum for an American audience. This time he involved neurodiverse cast and crew members. The result, As we see, follows the daily lives of three autistic roommates in their twenties – Jack (Rick Glassman), Harrison (Albert Rutecki) and Violet (Sue Ann Pien) – as they navigate the ups and downs of the adulthood. Prospects are as different and unique as anyone on the spectrum, yet they share the same desire for independence in a world that often refuses to accept them at face value.
This depiction of autistic characters as having typical wants and needs — namely, friendships, work, sex — deviates from the usual Hollywood fodder. As we see gets the right autism largely because his leads are actually autistic. Jack, Harrison and Violet all exude an authenticity that others show, despite the brilliant talents of Keir Gilchrist (Atypical) and Freddie Highmore (The Good Doctor), cannot hope to match. While autism is at the heart of their vulnerability and their humanity, the main characters of As we see are never reduced to a list of mannerisms and quirks. They are not revered as scholars with superhero abilities (The Good Doctor, Touch). Nor are they infantilized and caricatured based on their special interests and sensory triggers (Atypical). It’s refreshing to see autistic adults who aren’t portrayed as innocent or square. Harrison lusts after his fitness instructor. Jack tries edibles with his dad. And there’s a particularly funny scene where the roommates huddle together on the couch to watch porn.
For once, the face of autism is not white and cis male. Through Violet, we see autism through the lens of a woman of color. And about time, too. As an autistic woman, the importance of seeing herself portrayed on screen cannot be understated. On screen, Violet is a breath of fresh air, dropping F-bombs and obsessing over losing her virginity. Sure, there are occasional challenges and meltdowns, but these are handled with integrity.
Sometimes the characters’ vulnerability is so compelling that it’s easy to forget they’re actors. This is the crucial difference between non-autistic actors playing these roles. The performance remains just that – a performance. A pantomime. It can’t compare to someone who knows firsthand what it’s like to be autistic on and off screen. As brilliant as Claire Danes was in the 2010 biopic Grandin Temple, there were clear limits to its performance. An actor, after all, can spend hours studying people with autism; she can mimic their speech pattern and stimulation habits, but she can never fully experience that person. Conversely, the actor who plays Harrison in As we seeAlbert Rutecki, has never appeared on television before, or even taken an acting class.
The way the show portrays caregivers is also relevant. Mandy—Violet’s caregiver, played by Sosie Bacon—is relentlessly heroic and selfless throughout the series. In contrast, his brother Van, played by Chris Pang, is more conflicted over his guardianship. He loves his sister, but that love is tempered by the incredible pressure he feels to protect her.
As we see is a compassionate and often hilarious take on the spectrum that manages to avoid most of the usual cliches and tropes. The series isn’t perfect, but it may be the closest to an honest portrayal we’ve seen on TV so far. As we see paves the way for richer, more progressive narratives about what it means to be autistic today.
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