More and more films and TV series show characters with mental health, neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism. But are these representations of autism accurate?
Why did we do this study?
With this study, we checked whether autism was accurately represented in films and TV series. Inaccurate representations of autism are often based on stereotypes. The problem is that these inaccurate representations also reinforce these stereotypes in the general population. In turn, this increases the general population’s misunderstanding of autism. On the contrary, accurate representations of autism can change people’s idea of autism and educate them.
What did we do?
We reviewed 22 films and 4 TV series (from 11 countries) with at least one character who either had a clearly stated autism diagnosis, or was considered autistic by the public. We checked whether the autistic (or assumed autistic) characters corresponded to the current understanding and definition of autism.
What did we find?
We found that most characters matched the DSM-5 criteria unrealistically well, in a stereotypical way. For example, almost half the characters had savant skills, which is not the case in reality. Some of these representations could be good to educate and inform the public. Still, the way autism is currently represented in films and TV series lacks the diversity that exists in the autistic population in reality.
The results were published in peer-reviewed journals, and are available at
– Nordahl-Hansen, A., Tøndevold, M., & Fletcher-Watson, S. (2017). Mental health on screen: A DSM-5 dissection of portrayals of autism spectrum disorders in film and TV. Psychiatry Research https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2017.08.050
– Nordahl-Hansen, A., Øien , R., & Fletcher-Watson, S. (2017). Pros and Cons of Character Portrayals of Autism on TV and Film. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3390-z
Who conducted and funded the project?