Film and lit crit about disability

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Asperger's, or lack of same, on TV
autistic spectrum beauty
rainbow_goddess wrote in crip_crit
There are many TV characters who people suspect of having Asperger's Syndrome -- Maura Isles in Rizzoli and Isles; Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds; Dr. Brennan in Bones; Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. Yet even when they show all the signs, none of them is identified as actually having Asperger's, other than a brief throwaway line by an UNSUB on Criminal Minds that mentioned Reid as being on the autism spectrum.

The only time I can recall an adult character on primetime TV was actually identified as having Asperger's, Jerry on Boston Legal, his Asperger characteristics were exaggerated to ridiculous levels, he was turned into comic relief, and they conflated Asperger's with other conditions such as Tourettes Syndrome and implied that it is common for people with Asperger's to have a sexual fixation on objects when a girlfriend of Jerry's left him because she "fell in love with an iPhone."

I'm wondering why the characters are given all of these Asperger-like characteristics but not said to have Asperger's. Is it because writers think that all scientists are geeky/nerdy/socially awkward? Is it because if the character is suddenly identified as having AS, then the writers/producers are afraid that they won't be able to poke fun at the character anymore because "he/she has a disability"? Are they afraid that the audience won't like the character anymore? Is it just a lack of awareness -- not enough people know what Asperger's is, so they won't use the word in the show?

It really puzzles me why so many characters are given characteristics that are so obviously Asperger-like yet the producers of the show won't use the actual identification.

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The show Grey's Anatomy had a character for a short time who identified herself as having Asperger's. She was played by Mary McDonnell and the character was named Dr. Virginia Dixon. She was a cardiac surgeon, brilliant because of her single minded devotion to the human heart. She even says at one point that she finds the color soothing. The only part of the storyline I had problems with came from the regular character's inability to recognise that she HAD Asperger's. These people are all supposed to be Drs yet they all thought she was just 'weird'? That didn't work for me.

Sadly it doesn't surprise me. I didn't learn anything about Aspergers at all in medical school until my senior year when I started doing electives in child development. I was pleasantly surprised when Dr. Bailey did realise what Dr. Dixon was getting at when she brought up Aspergers near the end. Although Aspergers is getting to be better and better known, doctors outside the fields of peditrics and psychiatry may not know much more about it than anyone else who watches the news or reads the papers.

I'd say I did my training at about the same time as the residents on the show except they've done such confusing things with time on the show I'm not quite sure what year it is there. But they were interns in 2005 and I was one in 2007, so I can at least we started around the same time!

She was also a kind of straight up stereotype of people with Asperger's.

It bugged me that her skill at cardio was attributed to her autism, but when other characters obsess about surgery, they're just being good surgeons.

Oh and it bugged me that she's supposed to be this awesome surgeon, with all kinds of experience, but has no idea how to cope with her autism in her job. Like, she didn't get how to talk to people who've lost a loved one, or how to get someone else to do it? And don't even get me started on how she didn't get the parent's attachment to their dying child's body (for organ donation). Seriously?

Honestly? I would "get" neither of those things. I don't "get" how to talk to someone who has lost a loved one. I wouldn't "get" the attachment to a dead body if it meant denying the chance at life to someone else.

If you're a doctor, patient care is a big part of your job, though.

Are these types of things taught in medical school? Do they deny you a medical licence if you aren't touchy-feely enough? Do they give you exams on bedside manner? Are you not allowed to be a doctor if you have problems with social interaction? Why is it so unrealistic for a doctor to be a brilliant surgeon but lousy when it comes to interpersonal skills?

It's not so bad IRL, but she's a character written by non-autistic people trying to represent an autistic person and doing so in a stereotypical, shitty fashion.

And honestly, yeah, good bedside manner is really important. Going and upsetting grieving parents is a really bad thing.

I'm not saying it's a good portrayal of an autistic person nor that bedside manner is not important. What I'm saying is that not "getting" how to talk to a grieving person or not understanding the attachment to a dead body (when the "person" is no longer there), if that attachment is possibly preventing organ donation that could save a life, is realistic for people, even those who are not autistic. It's also not unrealistic for there to be doctors who have lousy bedside manners. Otherwise we wouldn't have House.

Agreed. Having dealt with more doctors over the course of my life than anybody should reasonably have to... some of them have atrocious bedside manners.

On that particular show, she is also not the only character who has a horrible bedside manner, either. Another character who isn't autistic had similar issues learning how to actually talk to people who are grieving.

Nah, most of my doctors have been obnoxious as hell. And I have a mood disorder, so not pissing me off/making me cry really does come under adequate treatment. They still do it on a regular basis.

There are lots of doctors with lousy interpersonal skills and a lot of them are surgeons.

These days interpersonal skills are taught in medical school, although taught badly, and some medical schools are starting to fail people who aren't touchy-feely enough. Although you have to be touchy-feely their way.

At one point in my training, I ended up in a remedial class for doctor-patient skills. I was there because of problems with physical exam skills related to cerebral palsy and lack of accommodations. The other people were there because of problems with patient interaction skills. At one point we were told to physically help patients sit up (without asking first if they needed help) in a way that I would have hated a doctor ever try to use on me. When I pointed out that not all patients like to be touched or want help, I was told that "patients like it if you touch them."

I actually have good interpersonal skills in a structured encounter with a patient and family, and much lousier ones with coworkers in less structured work situations. And even lousier ones in a lot of completely unstructured social situations. But that has a lot to do with scripting and predictability and areas of special interest and. . .

At one point we were told to physically help patients sit up (without asking first if they needed help) in a way that I would have hated a doctor ever try to use on me. When I pointed out that not all patients like to be touched or want help, I was told that "patients like it if you touch them."

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat. Touch me without asking and you pull back a bloody stump.

Yeah I said that being touched unexpectedly was likely to cause me to hit someone, not in aggression but more reflexively from being startled. I was told to stop being overdramatic.

So. . . they tried to teach us touchy-feely doctor skills, but it was very one size fits all, without a lot of acknowledgement that patients may have individual preferences (or, heck, that doctors may have individual styles and that we need to learn to match them to our patients)

Yeah, the way the other characters reacted to her was exceedingly out of character, too. It's been a couple years since I've seen the episodes but ISTR that nobody really liked her. It's weird, because usually they're really good about showing positive traits along with the negative and showing things from many different sides, but they completely dropped the ball here.

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