In this blog, one of our advisory teachers from the Autism and Social Communication Team (ASCT) shares some ideas for supporting autistic children and young people to understand and embrace their diagnosis through autistic representations in the media.
One of the questions we are often asked as advisory teachers is how to support an autistic child or young person with a recent diagnosis.
We think one of the best ways to do that is to help them find a community with similar experiences, to help them find their place in the world, their ‘tribe’. There are many fictional representations of autistic characters in a variety of media which can be used as a starting point, although some of these may be experienced as problematic by the autistic community.
The Good Doctor (TV drama series) for example, focusses on a young autistic surgeon, navigating his way through adult life, but it leans heavily on the trope of gifted savant, and tells the story very much from a neurotypical viewpoint. Some autistic individuals may find comfort in seeing an autistic doctor succeeding against the odds, while others may feel that his portrayal is stereotypical, and would be better played by an autistic actor.
Slug Days, by Sara Leach, is a first chapter book, narrated by an autistic girl who finds some of her school days hard. While some situations are hard for Lauren to navigate, she develops coping strategies of her own, and makes some friends along the way.
Can You See Me? Written by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott, is another book with an autistic girl as protagonist, this time navigating the transition to secondary school. It was co-written by an autistic girl and an adult author. We have already seen it used to great effect in one of our schools that took part in the Autism and Social Communication Team’s Autism Aware Award!
The CBeebies cartoon, Pablo, is also an excellent resource for prompting discussion around neuro diversity for younger children. Pablo is drawn as a 5-year-old boy who is autistic, experiencing everyday situations accompanied by his magic crayons and incredible imaginary friends. The main cast members of Pablo are all autistic themselves and have co-written some of the episodes.
One of the key rallying cries of the autistic community is “Nothing about us, without us!”, and one of the most valuable things to have come out of the social media boom is the proliferation of autistic social media content producers. Some of the autistic young people we have worked with have connected to these channels in a way that hasn’t been possible before. Seeing people who feel the same as you cannot be underestimated!
Many of these content providers are on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube. Some may not be appropriate for your young person, so please do watch the videos through before recommending them!
Some of the producers we have found useful are:
Princess Aspien Chloe Hayden: Australian 23-year-old who loves glitter, rainbows and festivals
_thislineismine Cheryl Fyfield: English 20-something, with a particularly good set of videos about trying her ‘fear foods’
Autistiktok Paige Layle : Canadian autism acceptance activist, 21.
21&sensory: Account which focusses on the sensory processing differences experienced by some autistic people, review of sensory resources and ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos.
Martyimmortal: American man, with an interest in D&D gaming, autism activism, and cats.
Autienelle Lauren Melissa is an intersectional autism activist and social justice influencer. She posts daily ‘autietips’ on Instagram, addressing everyday coping strategies for autistic people.
Autism_sketches: autistic artist Anouk, using visuals to communicate her experiences as an autistic woman.
Myautisticsoul Oliver Quincy is a transgender non-binary person, the account also contains some discussion of their surgery, and journey to self-acceptance. They also have a Great Dane service dog, called Albus!
Women, girls and non-binary people are strongly represented on social media platforms, while there are less men and boys producing content focussed on autism.
Also, on social media, the hashtag ‘#actuallyautistic’ is a useful search term. The #actuallyautistic community are an activist group of autistic individuals who centre the autistic lived experience and challenge the neurotypical ableist perceptions of their world. Teachers might find Pete Wharmby, @commaficionado, an autistic ex-teacher who shares his experiences of autism and the education system, sometimes in strong language!
Please feel free to add links to resources and representations that your autistic learners have found useful in the comments below. Our children and young people are usually streets ahead of us in finding their own role models!
Further reading can be found here: