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Autism/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Coby Bird and Freddie Highmore standing and posing on set for the camera

Coby Bird and Freddie Highmore of The Good Doctor

“I am so proud that I have been able to play roles of people on the spectrum but I also would love to be considered for roles that are not characters with autism.”

Coby Bird, The Good Doctor, Speechless and The Miracle Project

Producer Dan Harmon and actor Mickey Rowe also have autism.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that refers to a group of complex disorders of brain development. According to the Autism Society, “some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills; and sensory sensitivities.” However, symptoms vary across the spectrum. In 2012, the label of Asperger’s syndrome was brought under the umbrella of ASD, although some people who were originally diagnosed with Asperger’s may still refer to themselves as such, due to fewer stigmas associated with Asperger’s than with ASD.

More than 3.5 million Americans live with ASD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2016 ADDM autism prevalence report, the prevalence of autism had risen to one in every 68 births in the United States – nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of one in 125 – and almost one in 54 boys. Some people with autism prefer to be called a “person with autism,” while others prefer to be called “autistic person.”

There is a misconception that individuals with autism cannot focus or attend to the demands that might be made on them in a professional TV, film or theatrical environment. This oftentimes causes production companies to hire those without autism to portray a character with autism. In actuality, actors with autism who have had proper theatrical training can be the best people for the job. They are prompt, follow directions, stay focused, rarely make distracting small talk and can memorize dialogue with minimal rehearsal time. Mostly they are experts in what autism is so their portrayal is authentic.

National organizations for people with autism:

  • Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization run by and for autistic people. ASAN was created to serve as a national grassroots disability rights organization for the autistic community run by and for autistic Americans, advocating for systems change and ensuring that the voices of autistic people are heard in policy debates and the halls of power. Their staff works to educate communities, support self-advocacy in all its forms and improve public perceptions of autism. ASAN’s members and supporters include autistic adults and youth, cross-disability advocates, and non-autistic family members, professionals, educators and friends.
  • Autism Society of America is the nation’s leading grassroots autism organization, and exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism. Annually, the Autism Society and it’s 80+ local affiliates, serve over 620,000 individuals impacted by autism through advocacy, education, information and referrals, support services, and community building at the local, state and national level. The Autism Society is committed to measurably improving the quality of life for individuals and families with autism, and to ensure that all are treated with the highest level of dignity and respect.

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