Note: This article was entirely inspired by this Twitter thread I saw and would highly recommend giving a read! The user touches upon a few points that I may miss, and I wouldn't want to just repeat everything they state.
No matter how many times it is stated, everyone seems to forget that autism exists on a spectrum.
Therefore, the symptoms and signs demonstrated by one individual may not be shared by another. Sure, there may be similarities among two people on the spectrum, but these similarities should not be seen as defining factors of autism. Likewise, someone further along the spectrum may not compare at all to someone else.
Yet, television, films, and other forms of media don't do a great job showing this.
There are very few cases of representation for autism on-screen, but when there is, it is often a very stereotypical, inaccurate case of it. Some traits that I've noticed most of these characters share are accelerated intelligence, lack of tact, honesty that borders on rudeness, and so on. And yes, some people with autism will have these characteristics. But a large percentage of them don't!
In all of my years working with those with special needs, I have never met someone who acts like what television considers the perfect picture of someone with autism. This is a big problem. Why?
Because the general public will start to believe that this is how everyone with autism acts. They'll start to think that these characters define what autism is like, and when they're confronted with the reality that this is not the truth, they won't know how to help.
This false idea of what autism is and means could lead to this concept of not "being or acting autistic enough."
To an outsider, if you don't act like the main character from "The Good Doctor" or Sam from "Atypical," your identity is considered invalid. If you don't have the characteristics of having above average intelligence or complete honesty at all times, nothing matches in their head. See why this is a problem?
Autism is a spectrum in which no individual who has it is alike and will match all of the symptoms and signs.
So it is foolish for television and film to describe autism through the same stereotypes when it is unlikely that the people you encounter will find truth in that representation. Even the best representation will not be accurate for everyone.
While telling someone that they don't act "autistic enough" is already an insult to their identity, that harshness buries itself deeper when you take into account that society already looks down on those with mental disabilities.
They spend their entire lives trying to fit in with the crowd, lessening their ticks until it becomes easier for them to do the everyday activities that you take for granted—all for people to invalidate them by saying they don't look like they're on the spectrum.
Even today, society doesn't know how to explain autism, and admittedly, it isn't easy when it is so different for everyone.
Even the people deep in that world don't understand everything about it, and that's okay. What is important is that we start considering everyone as individuals and not expect to fit them in a box of preconceptions.
It is important that we try to erase the stereotypes and start explaining the truth: autism is complicated and tricky, but that doesn't mean we should ever stop trying to understand or make the world kinder for those on the spectrum.