It’s okay to say “autistic.”

So I went to see Morgan today with L (it was… meh). But before this movie, like other movies, there were trailers. One of them caught my attention, and then I ended up having a lot of feelings about it.

There’s a movie coming out at some point called The Accountant. The trailer starts off with a father and a therapist discussing a boy who’s playing with a puzzle (and oh boy will we get to that!). The therapist says that the boy is “like Einstein, or Mozart…” And out loud, in the middle of the theater, I actually said, “Oh my GOD! You can say ‘autistic’!”

The trailer goes on to show the boy, now a man, eating off a very organized plate. There are shots of various parts of his house, such as a drawer with one fork, one knife, and one spoon, all perfectly lined up. There are shots of him stimming (“nervous ticks” if you’re not quite familiar with that term). There are shots of him working with numbers (you know, because all of those people who are “like Einstein” are good with numbers). One thing is clear: this is a (very deeply trope-ish) autistic character.

I was happy to see an autistic character (who, actually ends up being pretty bad-ass), but I had a lot of problems with the trailer.

First off: there was like, a whole theme about puzzles. I don’t know a single autistic person who actually supports the puzzle piece logo or the people who came up with it. Stop with the puzzle thing. Just stop. (link, link, link, link)

Second: they made this autistic character exactly like every other autistic character. Believe it or not, people who have Autism Spectrum Disorders differ from one another! Also, another little-known fact (ridiculously enough): people of any gender can be autistic! In fact, one of the things that seems to affect how autism surfaces in an individual is gender. So, having another male autistic mathematician with heavy indications of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not only completely lacking in creativity, it furthers stereotypes about autistic people.

Third: literally no one in the entire trailer used the word “autistic” once. “Autistic” is not an insult. “Autistic” is an adjective, used to describe someone who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. “Autistic” is treated like an insult because the same people who proudly put little puzzle-piece bumper stickers on their cars think that autism is a disease that needs to be cleansed from the Earth. If anyone in the entire trailer had actually said “autistic” it probably would have provided an opportunity to create a non-trope of an autistic character. You could just have the therapist say, “Hey, your son is autistic!” and have the father be like “Thank you for telling me!” and then just show the main character having a pretty average life, except that he thinks a little differently, or maybe he needs to listen to his music very quietly, or he needs help cleaning his house, or he just gets kind of tired sometimes.

So, everyone, I just want to make sure you know: It is okay to say “autistic.” You can stop saying different, special, unique, weird, or quirky when you mean to say “autistic.”


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