The Washington Post gets autism (and facilitated communication) wrong–again

In a recent Washington Post commentary Clara Ferreira Margues, the parent of an autistic child, provides some much-needed critical commentary on new Korean courtroom drama.  As Margue rightly laments, the “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” is yet another show about a character with stereotypical autism superpowers. Yet another show, in other words, that fails to

show people with disabilities as they are. Rather, they are shown as audiences want them to be. In this case, awkward but pretty, academically high-achieving, notching up one professional triumph after another.

As Margues points out:

savant syndrome — responsible for the legal brilliance with which lead character Woo Young-woo constantly awes her colleagues — is rare. Statistics vary, but perhaps 1 in 10 people with autism show some savant skills, and not many of those with anything like the degree of virtuosity on display here. Reality for the vast majority of people with autism could not be more distant from Woo. It’s more mundane, more complicated and far more challenging. Not least because, for too many, the workplace remains out of reach entirely. Perhaps those struggles would not have made for comfort television.

Yes, absolutely.

But then, though it returns to these key points at the end, Margue’s commentary goes astray. Faulting Rain Man and The Good Doctor for creating “stereotypes that impact the way society sees people with autism, their capacities and limitations,” and noting that documentaries about autism provide more accurate depictions, she cites “The Reason I Jump” as one of her two examples.

But of all the documentaries about autism, The Reason I Jump is, by far, the most chock-full of misinformation, for all the reasons given here and seen here.

Much of the misinformation in The Reason I Jump, furthermore, involves showcasing people with autism just as today’s audiences want them to be: not as socially awkward, highly focused, and endowed with specific, savant-like skills, but as exotic, synesthetic, and poetic–with intact linguistic and literacy skills suddenly emerge when people “presume competence” and provide “appropriate support.”

When it comes to honest portrayals of autism, Rain Man is light years ahead.

Worse, The Reason I Jump gives family members false hopes. Worse still, it has encouraged countless parents down a path that, all the evidence shows, hijacks the authentic communications of, and imposes tremendous opportunity costs on, many of the most vulnerable individuals on earth.

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