The media often gets blasted for all it does wrong - being too one-sided, only being out for ratings, showing too much sex, etc etc etc (I mean I could go on and on but you get the idea!)
However, this post is about what the media is doing RIGHT. And lately I have to say I have seen some really positive characters and shows about autism and other special needs. When I was growing up I don't remember there being shows with special needs characters. There was a girl with cerebral palsy on Facts of Life but she was only a guest, one of the girls' cousins, and wasn't in many episodes. The first show I can think of a special needs main character was Corky on Life Goes On in the early 1990's who had Downs Syndrome. As I recall they did a good job with his character. Then...nothing much for years that I can think of other than the occasional guest spot for special needs characters.
This season there is Parenthood which (in my opinion) has done a really good job of depicting a child with Asperger's. Max is intelligent, funny and handsome. However, he ignores greetings, obsesses about insects, and has meltdowns when his routine is disrupted or something unexpected happens. He has sensory issues like being completely undone by the bubbling sound from the fish tank in his classroom. He has trouble with sports teams. This show has also done a great job in showing the parents' reaction to the diagnosis and dealing with it on a day to day basis. When Max was diagnosed in the first season (last season) they were devastated and the wife implored the husband "Don't leave me alone with this." It was heartbreaking and very realistic. Then they realized they had work to do to help their son and rallied. This is all very familiar to me.
I also like The Middle's youngest child Brick. He does not have a diagnosis on the show (it is a 1/2 hour sitcom, not a drama) but he is definitely "autistic-like". He is funny and smart and not at all tragic. The mother does a lot of eye-rolling and sighing but accepts her son for who he is. In one episode the parents are intent in having Brick make some friends until they realize he is happy how he is and would rather be reading a book. Again, acceptance.
Finally, on my list is the new MTV (yes, really, MTV!!) show World of Jenks. In each episode, Andrew Jenks spends time with a different interesting person. In the episode "Can't Make Me Be" Jenks moves in with a 20-year old man who has autism named Chad. I think it was really well done. They showed what Chad does on a day to day basis (like going to school) and also showed the broader issues of autism like hyper-sensitivity to smells and sounds. In the final analysis, it showed that Chad really isn't all that different from other young men his age. He likes a lot of the same things, he is able to communicate fairly effectively (dispelling the Rain Man stereotype), and he is a funny and compassionate person. My hope is that many younger people will watch this show (because it is on MTV) and understand that people with autism are not "less" or tragic, but just need some understanding. Jenks demonstrates this well when he takes Chad on a road trip to Manhattan and quickly realizes it is a mistake when Chad is upset by all the horns honking, smells - in short, the total sensory overload. At the end of the show he finds a more appropriate place to road trip with Chad. This is reality TV as it should be. It's hard to believe Andrew Jenks is roughly the same age as the morons on Jersey Shore (which I admit I have watched from time to time - a little escape from reality!).
I have read there is a boy in a wheelchair on Glee and that Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory is a classic Aspie but since I have never seen either of these shows, I can't comment on them.
I'm sure there are other shows and examples, but to be honest I am not a huge TV-watcher so this is all I am aware of now. It's a great start.
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