An old friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in years recently visited us in London. We talked about the usual stuff: His job. His wife’s job. His home town (where we used to live). When I asked after his 10 year-old daughter, he responded: ” She’s quite spectrum-y, so we’ve gotten her into horseback riding. It really helps.”
Spectrum-y. I smiled. While I knew that he was referring to being “on the spectrum”, I’d not yet encountered the adjectival form of this condition. I also smiled because as an American living in London for the past nine years, I welcomed the unabashed, un-self conscious way he dropped this fact into the conversation, rather than the hush-hush, highly coded way these sorts of issues still get talked about over here in Britain.
“Autism Spectrum Disorder” – for those of you not in the know – refers to “any of a group of developmental disorders (as autism and Asperger’s syndrome) marked by impairments in the ability to communicate and interact socially and by the presence of repetitive behaviors or restricted interests.” That’s the formal definition. More colloquially the term “on the spectrum” tends to refer to people with social tics or awkwardness.
We all know people like this. We work with them. We go to school with them. They are our friends and our siblings and our children.
According to the Autism Society, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. The percent of children in the U.S. classified as “on the spectrum” rose by 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, from 1 in 150 kids to 1 in 68. Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability.
That’s an awful lot of “spectrum-y” people floating around out there. Which is why it’s really important that the entertainment industry – and television in particular – begins to acknowledge this form of identity and captures it in its characters.
Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side…