Being Neurodiverse Makes You The Punchline

Society's slow evolution to disability and neurodivergent inclusion


TRIGGER WARNING: ableism, reference to derogatory terms used against people with disabilities


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The lack of disability awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity leads to modern entertainment promoting ableism, stigma, and misrepresents the community.


Marginalized groups are notoriously mocked in comedic satire. Often, this is perceived as normal. Society is used to poking fun at minority groups that many are unconscious of their ableist comments. However, there is a fine line between comedy and promoting ableist ideals.


At the same time, harmful ideas about the neurodiverse world are rampant in entertainment. The stigmatized portrayal of autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and dissociative identity disorder, to name a few, is continual. There is a delayed evolution of change to acceptance of persons with disabilities versus blatant disregard for the call for equality.


It's not funny when no one is laughing


Looking back on the early late 1990s to 2000s comedy in movies is in stark contrast to today. Jokes about race in movies like White Chick's or sexually charged scenes that are disrespectful to women like in Batman Forever are no longer considered societal norms. The evolution of society's comprehension of what is bad behavior is ongoing. Nonetheless, the view of disability and neurodiversity is evolving slowly.


Movies and television still depict a stigmatized version of mental health. For example, The Joker 2019 shows a man with a disregard for human life that takes no accountability for his actions and blames society. The character has suffered physical and emotional abuse throughout his life. Nonetheless, it supports the idea that people with mental health diagnoses are dangerous, uncontrollable, and not responsible for their actions. The idea that he couldn't help it or is crazy is strewn throughout the film. This mainstream media depiction of outdated ideas on neurodiversity is damaging to the community.


Words like crazy and re**** are still in film today. For example the Netflix show Daybreak uses the derogatory "R" word towards one of the main characters. It is still viewed as acceptable to use harmful language for the sake of comedic effect in modern entertainment. There is a blatant disregard for the disability communities' innate human right to be seen as equal.


In 2021, the film Music sparked controversy in the autistic community due to the misrepresentation of autism and lack of autistic voices in the movie. This film was made without an autistic presence and was not accepted by the community. Despite the petitions and push back, the film was aired, and nominated for its ableist ideas. An infantile view autism perpetuates the stigma that people on the spectrum are incapable of functioning "normally" in society. Love is not the key to being happy as autistic. Equality and acceptance is the only way.


The odds are not in your favor


According to the U.S Department of Labor in 2020, only 17.9% of persons with disabilities were employed. This number is not due to the pandemic for In 2019 only 19.3% of the disability population were employed.


It is impossible to accurately portray people with disabilities in film when there is no workplace representation.


The National Center for Education Statistics reported that students in 2017–18 that graduated with a high school diploma were 47% for students with multiple disabilities. However, students with only speech or language impairments graduated at 86%.


The same report shows that "the percentage of post-baccalaureate students who reported having a disability (12 percent) was lower than the percentage for undergraduates (19 percent)" (National Center for Education Statistics).


People are graduating high school, a small percentage move into higher education, but they are not being employed.


If the TV says so


It is an endless loop of ignorance and ableist ideas. Entertainment feeds the mind and the concepts are shown to take root. When people watch The Joker they may become wary of hiring a person with a mental health diagnosis like PTSD. When an employer watches Music they picture that character when interviewing an openly Autistic candidate.


What we see influences how we respond to others.


These obstacles can only be overcome by neurodiversity and disability involved in the entertainment industry. The voices of the community you put on screen need representation.


Changing the Punchline


When researching a concept for a film, talk to people. Outdated information is readily available because the medical field is constantly changing. Therefore, the facts are not always as reliable on paper than from the lips of those that live it.


The first step to inclusion and understanding is changing the stats. Hire neurodiverse individuals and learn from them instead of relying on media "facts." Support higher education for persons with disabilities by making it accessible. Accessibility of information through various formats and disability services and inclusion coordinators to ensure the students receive ample opportunity for reasonable accommodations.


Takeaway the power of entertainment to use disability as a punchline by making the reality visible. Disability and neurodiversity do not mean you can't, it means you do it differently. Once the world catches up to the reality of the neurodiverse people thriving and contributing to society, entertainment media will too.

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