Autistic Characters in Television

I love Grey’s Anatomy as much as the next person, but I stopped watching sometime in 2012, around the time of the plane crash – if you watch, you know what I’m talking about. But just recently, I decided to start rewatching the show, and since I now have an autism diagnosis, I was excited when autistic character Dr. Virginia Dixon came to Seattle Grace in season 5. Dr. Dixon has ASD, but it’s not explicitly said until the end of the episode. In fact, before we even meet her, Dr. Webber says that she’s “a bit off.” His comment didn’t bother me all that much, but what really got me (and what was honestly super cringey) was just how autistic Dr. Dixon really was.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that there is a wide range of symptoms that an autistic person can have, but no one has all of them. Additionally, males and females display those symptoms very differently. Dr. Dixon seemed to have all of the (primarily male) autistic symptoms rolled into one. She was highly socially awkward, did not make eye contact, had zero empathy, had a lifelong special interest (the human heart) and was a prodigy in her field. She was germaphobic, had OCD, and was prone to meltdowns. While none of these symptoms are bad in any way, it’s unlikely (albeit not impossible) that an autistic person would have all of them, especially a female. If she was a real person, it would be a different story, but the fact that she’s a fictional character and is a representation of how the neurotypical population sees autistic people frustrated me.

This got me thinking about some of the characters that portray autism in a really realistic and positive light, and I came up with this list of three awesome, fictional characters on the spectrum.

Abed Nadir on Community

Abed Nadir is one of the most well-portrayed characters on the spectrum. Sure, he’s weird and he’s got his moments when he melts down, but overall, he is one of the best, most well-rounded, most lovable characters on the show. He has difficulty reading social cues, but everyone accepts him, he’s part of a group, and he has a best friend. Writer Dan Harmon (who also happens to be on the spectrum) doesn’t define Abed by his autism, but shows it as an awesome addition to his personality.

Shaun Murphy on The Good Doctor

Shaun is a bit different from the rest of the characters on this list because in addition to ASD, he’s also got Savant syndrome. However, Shaun portrays the autistic community a really positive light — he beats the odds and proves everyone wrong who doubted his abilities because of his autism. He has a troubled background and has difficulties in his day-to-day life, but he is also a successful, well-respected doctor who is great at his job.

Max Braverman on Parenthood

This kid has a special place in my heart because he was the first person on the spectrum with whom I felt a connection.

Max is such a typical autistic boy, but it’s not overdone. He has special interests, but they evolve over time. The writers of this show do an amazing job of showing Max growing up with autism. I love how he’s not ashamed of his diagnosis, and how we get to go along on the journey with him as he learns how to get along in the confusing neurotypical world.

What do you think of this list of autistic television show characters? Do you have any other autistic characters that you’d add? Let me know!

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Autistic Characters in Television

  1. Ir’s been years since I’ve watched any tv, so I’m not familiar with any of those characters. But I’d guess that a real Dr Dixon would never have made it through medical school and residency with those characteristics. Plus, OCD and germaphobia aren’t even part of autism.


  2. I do not spend a great deal of time watching TV, but what I have seen of how people are portrayed on TV is generally one dimensional. People are complex, every person is an individual, different from every other person. They are a sum of all their unique traits and experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

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