World Autism Awareness Day is a day to celebrate and circulate the stories of real people with autism: who they are, what they’re really like, and how society can do a better job of not shutting them out. Unfortunately, when it comes to Hollywood depictions of autism, movies and TV shows that might have helped raise awareness about the disorder have often contributed to damaging stereotypes instead — like Sia’s recent controversial Music, or the classic Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. While Hoffman has been praised for his performance in the latter, that movie — and how often people use it as a reference for autism — cemented in many minds the idea that all people with autism are genius-level savants in one way or another, when in fact that’s rarely true. And that’s just one reason why movies and TV shows made by and starring real people with autism are more necessary now than ever.
Luckily, there are outliers to the pattern of autism portrayals that miss the mark, like docuseries Love on the Spectrum, a reality series on dating with autism, and new Freeform show Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which notably hired actress Kayla Cromer who’s on the autism spectrum herself to portray the leading role. While it’s possible for actors who are not on the spectrum to give thoughtful, nuanced performances as autistic characters (see Claire Danes in Temple Grandin), there’s also so much potential for it to turn into a caricature — and anyway, why not give under-recognized actors on the spectrum a chance to shine?
If you’ve been wanting to watch a movie or TV show that includes autism in its world but you’re wary after being disappointed from past portrayals, we hear you. The movies and TV shows recommended here aren’t perfect, but they avoid common pitfalls and strike a note of truth for viewers who have gone too long without seeing someone like them on screen.
Read on for our favorite portrayals of autism to watch right now.
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