The Glee Project
If autistic people are going to represented fairly in the media, we need to to be included in the production of it. One of the barriers we face is that behavior which may be associated with our disability is seen as so unprofessional that it is disqualifying.
Parks and Recreation actor Nick Offerman told GQ he was not surprised that Dan Harmon, who is on the autism spectrum, was fired from Community:
It was crazy, but not surprising. Dan has been notoriously difficult with NBC. And then he had that really public Chevy Chase feud. I think Dan is brilliant, but we all kind of hung our heads and thought, That's no way for a boss to behave.
Last week on The Glee Project, Charlie Lubeck's autism got him in trouble, again, and his talent rescued him, again. Naya Rivera, who plays the super sexy Santana on Glee, chose him as the winner of the sexuality homework assignment.
As he says in this video, that meant a lot to him:
What it means to me to win the sexuality assignment is that maybe I can be sexy. Maybe I can own this weird quirky nerd thing that I've got going on and make it work for me.
That's smart, but it wasn't smart for him to get so full of himself that he flirted with Aylin while recording his solo. Or to decide that he needed to take over and direct the music video. His focus on achieving his goals once again makes him forget to stay in the role is expected to play,
Fortunately, he gave an impressive performance when his failures to follow social rules meant that he had to perform for Ryan Murphy and risk being off the show for the second week in a row. And fortunately, he and Aylin have decided to cool it a little in a preview of tonight's episode that you can click here to watch.
Charlie Lubeck had to perform for Ryan Murphy in order to stay on The Glee Project after he went too far while playing a bully in the last episode, but the autistic contender ended up impressing the producer with his performance of Coldplay's "Fix You."
The incident that got Charlie in trouble is a good example of the sort of behavior that makes neurotypical people think we lack empathy. He was one a group of boys pretending to bully Mario, a blind contestant. Charlie got so caught up in finding a mindset that would allow him to enjoy bullying someone that he went beyond the following and calling insults that he was asked to do. And he grabbed a blind kid's cane away from him.
Even after they stopped the scene, the fact that this was both dangerous and unkind did not occur to him-- he just thought it was "a bad blocking choice."
So did Charlie lack empathy for Mario? Does he have problems with theory of mind, the ability to understand that others experience reality in ways that are different from him?
I don't think so, or at least I don't think it's the whole story-- when it was pointed out to Charlie that his actions could have hurt the other performer, he quickly recognized that that was true and apologized sincerely.
I think Charlie's autistic brain focused in so much on the character he was playing that he forgot that he and Mario were also real people. This ability to focus can be a very good thing-- it's obviously central to his performing skill-- but whenever we focus on one thing, we lose sight of other things.
If we think about autism in terms of what it is-- brains that make lots of some kinds of connections and few of other kinds-- instead of what it looks like from the outside-- people behaving in ways that seem less considerate of others-- we can make it easier to empathize, at least with each other.
If we can admit that sometimes autism does cause us to act in ways that can hurt others, we can support each other in more meaningful ways.