Autism? Let Me Get Out My Popcorn!

Considering the popularity of the recent show “Wednesday”, it’s safe to assume that people admire eccentric characters in the media that they consume. But, if Wednesday Addams were a real person that they interacted with in everyday life, would this audience still feel the same way about her?

People in online autistic spaces have been pointing out how much Wednesday’s traits resemble diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). And with such a small number of confirmed autistic characters, who often paint a very poor picture of autism for non-autistic audiences, this type of headcanon is not uncommon.

On the other hand, many unconfirmed, yet suspected, autistic characters have a very calculated set of characteristics. Many of their peculiarities are displayed in certain palatable and acceptable ways. Audiences then get this idea that they would enjoy being around a person with said peculiarities in real life, blind to the reality of disability in everyday situations. 

When Wednesday Addams dislikes physical touch, she is “mysterious” and “independent.” But when your autistic family member refuses a hug from you, suddenly they are “off-putting” and “rude.”

Not to mention, one glance at the explore page on a social media platform is all it takes for people to come across cringe culture. Some accounts dedicate themselves to reposting other peoples’ content that they deem “cringe.”

When something is described as cringe online, it is being labeled as embarrassing or socially unacceptable in some way. Many people called cringe display an outward appearance that differs from most (like a physical disability or odd personal style), poor hygiene, lack of social cues or social interaction, an overreaction to something seen as small or meaningless, extreme passion for a particular niche topic, etc.

Do these sound familiar? If you know anything about ASD, they do.

However, it is exceedingly clear that the people reposted on these cringe accounts are not meant to be lifted up or admired because the content is posted satirically. These people are constantly ridiculed and laughed at for oftentimes harmless behavior.

Media is supposed to entertain us. So if people only appreciate autists in the media, they only really appreciate one quality about us: our entertainment factor.

This principle carries over into situations devoid of media as well and has real life repercussions.

Non-autistic people do not appreciate autistic people in the same way that they appreciate their non-autistic peers. The way that they perceive and respond to autistic people in daily life is dehumanizing, as if observing an animal in an exhibit.

When a non-autisic person shares their regular interest in a “normal” manner, their non-autistic peers participate in the social dance of complimenting their passion and displaying curiosity for more information about the topic. When an autistic person shares their special interest in an “abnormal” manner, non-autistic people will become fascinated or humored by the amount of information another human could possibly acquire about such an obscure topic and how much emphasis they speak with about it.

One might not see the issue if positive things are coming out of the interaction, such as fascination and humor. But these reactions imply that there is something deeper separating the two people involved in the exchange: humanity.

People love autistic traits when they are not autistic.

Just as white people have continuously pushed the idea that brown skin is ugly and then gone on to slather themselves in fake tanning solution, non-autistic people replicate autistic traits in controlled ways that benefit them. They would hate to consume buckets filled with spice every day, but a little flavor every once in a while jazzes up their lives. They love practicing imitation as long as it remains inauthentic.

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that people confuse entertainment for acceptance. Sure, you can handle being around autistic people. But do you like us? Do you like us the same way that you like everybody else; for our humanity? Or do we exist purely to be observable anomalies to you?