Characters with autism spectrum disorder in fiction: where are the women and girls?

Priyanka Rebecca Tharian (Sapphire Ward, Newham Centre for Mental Health, London, UK)
Sadie Henderson (Department of Medicine, University of Leicester Medical School, Leicester, UK)
Nataya Wathanasin (University of Leicester Medical School, Leicester, UK)
Nikita Hayden (Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Verity Chester (Department of Psychiatry, Partnerships in Care Learning Disability Services, Diss, UK)
Samuel Tromans (Department of Psychiatry, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester, UK) (Department of Health Sciences, Mental health, Ageing, Public health and Primary care Group, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)

Advances in Autism

ISSN: 2056-3868

Publication date: 12 March 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Fiction has the potential to dispel myths and helps improve public understanding and knowledge of the experiences of under-represented groups. Representing the diversity of the population allows individuals to feel included, connected with and understood by society. Whether women and girls with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are adequately and accurately represented in fictional media is currently unknown. The paper aims to discuss this issue.

Design/methodology/approach

Internet and library searches were conducted to identify female characters with ASD in works of fiction. Examples of such works were selected for further discussion based on their accessibility, perceived historical and cultural significance and additional characteristics that made the work particularly meaningful.

Findings

The search highlighted a number of female characters with ASD across a range of media, including books, television, film, theatre and video games. Many were written by authors who had a diagnosis of the condition themselves, or other personal experience. Pieces largely portrayed characters with traits that are highly recognised within the academic literature. However, some also appeared to endorse outdated myths and stereotypes. Existing works appear to preferentially portray high functioning autistic women, with limited representation of those whom also have intellectual disability.

Originality/value

This is the first exploration of the depiction of ASD in females within fiction. There is a need for more works of fiction responsibly depicting females with ASD, as this can help reduce stigma, develop public awareness and recognition and increase representation.

Keywords

Citation

Tharian, P., Henderson, S., Wathanasin, N., Hayden, N., Chester, V. and Tromans, S. (2019), "Characters with autism spectrum disorder in fiction: where are the women and girls?", Advances in Autism, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 50-63. https://doi.org/10.1108/AIA-09-2018-0037

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Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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