What the mainstream media doesn’t tell you about autism

Now, most of you probably think you have a general idea of what autism is. While some of you may know someone who has autism, others may have only seen autisitc people portrayed in movies and on television, most notably in the 1988 film “Rain Man.” If you’re part of the latter group, your assumptions about autism are likely based on what you’ve seen portrayed — which is a huge problem because, more often than not, autistic people in the media are portrayed as one type of person: a person who has little to no social skills; a person who feels the need to stick to some sort of strict schedule; a person who has all of these special abilities and interests; and lastly, a person who will never overcome most of their struggles.

Well, what if I told you that there are many autisitc people who display little to none of the characteristics commonly displayed in the media? It is also worth noting that these people still feel as though they are underrepresented in the media. I know this because I am one of those underrepresented people.

As someone who is on the autism spectrum, it frustrates me to see that almost every portrayal of autism in the media largely does not relate to my own experiences. While some of the characteristics displayed in the media are definitely true for many autisitc people I have encountered throughout my life, what the media fails to understand is that people who are autistic are not all the same. People on the autism spectrum can range from those who have adequate social skills and can lead relatively independent lives to those who are totally dependent on the care of another person and can’t even utter a single word. As you can probably guess, I am in the former category.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I haven’t had my fair share of struggles, especially when I was younger. Throughout my primary and secondary school years, I always needed extra help when it came to many school-related tasks. I also had terrible social skills, and because of this it was very difficult for me to make or even maintain close friendships. However, I have made great strides since then. For one thing, I gradually took control of my own schoolwork as time went on, leading me to not even need assistance from my special education teachers by my senior year of high school. And my social skills, while still far from perfect, have also dramatically improved, and I now have some of the greatest friends that anyone can ever ask for! My life has improved so much in the past few years that it has gotten to a point where my struggles with autism are no longer an everyday occurrence.

I am proud of how far I have come since I was a kid, and consider the strides I’ve made to be my greatest accomplishment in life. However, it saddens me that the media doesn’t try to focus on people like myself who worked so hard to beat the odds of their disability. And that needs to change. You can help propel that change by educating yourself about autism as much as you can so that you can have a better understanding of why some autistic people share characteristics with Dustin Hoffman’s character from “Rain Man” and why others do not.