When Our Autistic Heroes Disappoint Us

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So there's this thing that happens?

Where an autistic person will say or do something dumb or thoughtless?

And then we're all supposed to decide not to like them anymore?


Let's try not to do that.


Let's remember that autism impairs communication and socialization, pretty much always.

So-- those big famous autistic people who speak so well and write so movingly?

Still are likelier to mess up and say something wildly off-key than our neurotypical heroes are.


And we have to remember that,

In order not to make some faction of Autismland hate you with what you say or do,

You have to walk such a complicated network of tightropes that sooner or later you're going to fall.




And if you talk publicly about autism, you're going to be spectacularly wrong from time to time.

No matter how smart or good-hearted you are.

No matter how autistic you are.


Because autism is hard.



when I read that someone autistic who I admire is working with a celebrity who says dangerous things

Or a charity whose work I oppose

Or has made insensitive comments about gender

Or about "functional levels"

Or what have you


I try to say-- "Oh, autistic people are just like everyone else.

Imperfect, and frustrating and

Different From Me."


Why do I try harder to do this with autistic people than with most other people?


Because they have social and communicative challenges that most other people don't.

Because they are My People.

Because I know that probably not enough other people are trying to understand and keep empathy

When people get autistic, not in a nice way.


It's not my job to be Fair.


It's my job to promote the rights of autistic people.

One of those rights

Is the right to disagree.


Even with me.


Jodi DiPiazza Sings About the Heroes You Are

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Many of us were emotionally overwhelmed by Jodi diPiazza's performance of "Fireworks" with Katy Perry during the Night of Too Many Stars autism benefit. 

At last-- about us, with us.  Too many stars, and the person who stole the show was the person who told truths that are too often ignored:

We do not need people to speak for us or tell others about us. 

The best way for people to learn about autism is to meet autistic people.

We aren't all great talents, but there are great talents among us. 

Some of us do not speak, but that is no excuse for always substituting neurotypical voices for our own.

Jodi is inspiring, no matter how much of us dislike that word, but she is also revolutionary.

And she is inspired by you.

She wrote and perfromed the song above:

I'm a hero, and you are too. I would say...
Heroes are people you see every day.
Are teachers heroes? Yes, they are.
Volunteers are heroes.  They work so hard.
Are sisters heroes? Yes, way!
Parents are heroes every day.

All of the children in the video have been diagnosed with autism.


Autistic Boy Saves Mom's Life

Six-year-old autistic Charlie Major saved his mother's life when she had an allergic reaction to a wasp sting:

Mother-of-two Charmaine, 30, said: "I rushed to get the EpiPen I carry in my handbag but, try as I could, I found it impossible to use it.

"I started sweating, I became dizzy, my throat began to swell and I was trembling so much I could not hold the EpiPen steady."

Charlie, who attends Thriftwood special school, Galleywood, calmly took the device from his mother saying: "Mummy I can do it for you".

But Charlie's first attempt lacked the power needed for the needle to penetrate her skin.

Charmaine said: "Charlie tried again and this time he hit me hard in the leg and the needle went in. I told him to wait a little and then rub the area for ten counts so that the medicine kicked in.

"He was so pleased when he heard the EpiPen click, which meant it had worked, that he asked me if it was sharp and if it hurt me.


Autistic Teen Saves Choking Friend

Mason Stokes says his autism helped him to administer the Heimlich maneuver to a boy at his high school lunch table who was choking:

Stokes credits his autism with helping him stay calm and help his friend.

"My particular autistic trait is that it allows me to, how do you say, remain cool under intense situations," he said. "Basically, it just helps me out in basic day-to-day situations."

Click here to watch a news video.

A "Touch" of History: Erasing Gay and Autistic People

Invisibly gay: Love, Sidney


I remember the first time I felt the sort of disappointment I see in the online autistic community about the decision to give Jake, the young hero of the new TV show Touch, a vague disability rather than actual autism, which early press for the show suggested.  I was 16 years old and NBC was going to air a television series with a gay lead character played by Tony Randall. 

There had been a hit American series with an important gay character before, Soap, which starred Billy Crystal as Jodie Dallas.  But, after protests from Christians (gay person shown sympathetically) and gays (gay person shown as wanting a sex change) his sexual orientation was obscured and compromised so much that he mostly dated women.  And Jodie was never intended to be the star of the show.

The TV movie that functioned as a pilot for Love, Sidney was disappointing, both because the writing was dull and because Sidney was the sort of gay man who is mostly interesting in helping straight people and living vicariously through them--  a Magical Homo, like the Magical Negroes and Autists I talked about yesterday.  It was actually called Sidney Shorr, A Girl's Best Friend. He had a picture of his departed boyfriend on the wall, but his actual orientation was never mentioned.  And THAT was too much for the American Family Association, which successfully protested the show to the extent that even the subtle references were gone when the series premiered.  They returned only when the show was on the verge of cancelation.

And it sucked to be told first of all that gay people like me could only be on TV if we had no sexuality and no lives of our own and constantly earned the approval of straight people by helping them.  And then to be told that even that was too controversial, to watch as even offensively oblique references were stripped away felt awful.  The people who wanted me, as a gay teenager, to hate myself and hide from them were pretty successful.  And I think the feelings some autistic people have had about watching references to autism disappear from the Touch website are similar.

Anyway, it was still disappointing when NBC did pretty much the same thing again twenty-five years later with its show Heroes.  The producers planned a gay character, and the network did some publicity around that idea, and the plug was pulled.  Bryan Fuller explained:

Now, there was some drama as to if Claire’s friend Zach was going to be gay.

That big debacle!

Yes! That debacle! Was that really a path that you were going to take?

It absolutely was a path that we were going to take. In the first meetings when we were sitting down and talking about the show, one of the things about the show that Tim said that he wanted all these characters to represent different people in the world and we had an Asian guy and an Indian guy and… a whole bunch of white people. He just wanted it to be a united Benetton cast. I said that’s fantastic, but if we have this many people, then we need to have a gay character. If you want to represent the world, that’s certainly a demographic that we need to hit. [Tim completely agreed and] was thinking Claire’s best friend might be a good person – and I couldn’t agree more. So we were definitely going down a route of making [Zach] the gay character and having him have a big role in her life and sort of teaching her to come out about her ability and embrace herself and actually using the coming out metaphor and the gay metaphor in that instance as a fun piece of storytelling.

There was an unfortunate miscommunication and when the script arrived that had the line in it, ‘I would take you to homecoming but you have to know that I don’t like girls that way.’ The actor [Thomas Dekker]‘s, manager threatened to pull him from the show because he was up for the John Carter role in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and she didn’t want him playing a gay character because it might affect FOX’s interest in hiring him. It got really ugly.

Considering Heroes is a show about people embracing what’s special about themselves, it would have been great for gay teens see themselves reflected on TV by Zach.

It’s unfortunate and really – we only took one line out of the script. In really, in all of our minds, the character was still gay but we couldn’t say it explicitly.

I was very upset by it – I was not happy about it at all. There were times I had to avoid talking about it because we didn’t want to have a negative reflection on the show. The show’s been such a positive experience for so many people, we didn’t want to get hung up on the fact that one actor’s management felt that it was a career killer for him to play a homosexual which, as a gay man, I found incredibly insulting.

We had episodes planned for him to be in, and she pulled him from the show altogether. So that’s why he sort of disappeared.

The "Tim" he refers to is Tim Kring, the producer of both Heroes and Touch.  He's done this before-- planned to represent a minority community, and then backed away.

In the midst of the Heroes controversy, he sent this message to gay website After Elton:

I am very sorry this has caused concern for the readers of your website. It was certainly not our intention to confuse the issue of Zach's character being gay. We have too much respect for our audience to do that intentionally. However, it has simply become too complicated behind the scenes to push this issue further with this particular character. We apologize for misleading the audience, and wish that we could have handled things better on our end. But making a TV show is often a very imprecise business. As you stated, Heroes is a big, sprawling drama and there is no reason to believe that a gay character will not be represented on our show in the future. It is my hope than we do, we do it with honesty and dignity. That will certainly be our attempt.

No,  a gay series regular never appeared on Heroes. (Correction:  Gretchen Berg--thanks, Heroes fan Jason.)

I don't know what happened with Touch.  I'm guess that again "it has simply become too complicated behind the scenes to push this issue further with this particular character."

And it makes me feel just as sad and invisible as it did when it happened to characters who were gay.  It's disappointing that Kring's experience with Heroes did not cause him to be more careful about causing "concern" and "confusion" to autistic people.


More on Touch here and here.


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