The representation of autistic spectrum disorder in fictional film and television from 2000 to 2013

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2016
Thesis identifier
  • T14291
Person Identifier (Local)
  • 201268929
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This thesis focuses on the portrayals of autism and Asperger's in film and television in the fourteen year period between 2000 and October 2013. As diagnoses of the condition have grown in this time, so too have the number of popular media presentations of autistic spectrum disorder, which could influence the general population's perceptions (Green, Garst, & Brock, 2004). While Rain Man (Levinson, 1988) still has an impact on popular perspectives and representations of autism, the examination of contemporary media is critical to understanding the characterisations of the disorder in the current period and the perceptions potentially affected by them. This thesis aims to provide a comprehensive examination of trends in the depiction of the condition in movies and television and how these portrayals have changed over time. A qualitative and quantitative, longitudinal process was implemented through a category system and applied to a total of fifty motion pictures and television series. The category system collected data related to audience reach, character demographics, educational and workplace inclusion, relationships, commonly portrayed traits, standard narratives of texts containing autistic spectrum disorder, and character agency. The representation of autism and Asperger's was found to be varied. The was no single characterisation of those on the spectrum, although white, middle class, males with Asperger's were the most commonly shown. A shift toward educational and workplace inclusion was observed, although the perpetuation of some stereotypes noted in earlier research and/or deriving from Rain Man, like speech patterns and special interests, was also noted. Additionally, there was a movement away from standard narratives depicting characters on the spectrum with little agency and spectacular skills, and toward depictions focusing on complex characters with ASD. These results are indicative of a shift in fictional, visual media to represent autism and Asperger's in a more sympathetic way.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 2014
Former identifier
  • 9912517293402996