“As We See It” is a recent Amazon Prime drama/comedy series following three 25-year-old Autistic characters: Vi(olet), Harrison and Jack who share an apartment in Los Angeles, USA, and also their carer Mandy and Vi’s Brother Van.
Mainstream reviewers praised it with terms like “lots of heart” (Guardian.com Jan 21 2022) and “charming” (nytimes.com Jan 20 2022)
Autistic Viewers have had different responses
Image Shows three people sitting on a couch, They are the main characters of the show “As We See it”. One – Jack – is in a blue shirt and is holding their calves and looking uncomfortable. One – Vi – is in a grey shirt and looks querulous. One – Harrison – is in a yellow shirt and looks relaxed.
The show cast Autisitc actors to play Autistic characters. This is an enormous step forward for representation for Autistic people and has the potential to open doors for Autistic actors and roles in future.
The characters aren’t all the usual stereotypes of an emotionally cold autistic genius, they show a range of abilities and personalities between them, and each has their own motivations and goals.
The show also made accommodations on set and used this as part of its marketing campaign*
Despite avoiding some stereotypes, the show used others. Harrison and Vi are both shown as childish and obsessive with limited control over their lives (Infantilised) and Jack is presented as a very antisocial but very talented coder.
The story arcs show the Autistic characters constantly being pressured by non-autistics to be ‘Normal’, even desiring it themselves, and never questioning if this is right. The idea of autism acceptance is never mentioned
Jack is shown as constantly being arrogant, rude and insensitive. However, he has the intelligence to succeed as a software developer.
Real autistic people develop Masking to enable them to interact, often at great psychological cost. Jack shows no signs of this and his Scripting is ‘played for laughs’.
Autistic people are often very concerned with not hurting the feelings of others and upset if they accidentally do. Instead of subverting unrealistic stereotypes about Autistic people Jack reinforces them.
Vi wants to have a romantic and physical relationship as an adult. However all the non-Autistic adults in her life discourage this, claiming to fear that she will be taken advantage of.
No-one takes the time to educate Vi on how to make safe decisions and what to expect from relationships. They decide who she should be interested in and push her to get involved with an Autistic character she isn’t interested in.
No interest is show in developing Vi’s independence or enabling her to make decisions about her own life
Van is emotionally, financially and verbally abusive toward Vi. He restricts her access to phones, lies to her about their parent’s money and yells at her for not being “normal”.
However this character is never called out for this behaviour. In fact, the show depicts his behaviour as justified by Vi having meltdowns (when non-Autistic characters have let her down) or making poor decisions (when nobody has clearly explained the risks to her). He is shown to be misunderstood and forced to extremes by his sister’s behaviour. Van is supported by other characters, when almost everything he does is to control and oppress Vi.
The concept of accommodations is never brought up by the adults/carers in the show. Harrison cannot leave the house due to sensory overload but only his young friend AJ thinks to provide him with sound-deadening headphones and sunglasses. Harrison is subsequently punished for this friendship.
Later Harrison has to go to a suit fitting and is
distressed (a brief Autistic point of view is given here), but Mandy has done nothing to help him prepare and does not brief the tailor as to what they might do differently.
Autism is never shown as a positive in the show. Jack’s pride in his work cause him to be fired and Harrison’s trusting nature gets him into trouble. It is only shown as a disadvantage that prevents the characters from having fulfilling lives.
The only brief glimpses of something like a positive Autistic experience are when Autistic characters support each other, e.g. at the end of Episode 7.
Twice non-Autistic people explicitly state that the Autistic characters detract from their lives but it’s worth it because it makes them “better people”.
The series closes on scenes of Mandy’s love-life. In the end she connects with her partner because of the shared experience as carers for Autistic people, concluding a conflict set up in the first episode.
The Autistic characters become framing for the dramatic arc and character development of the non-Autistic characters.
Even in a show all about them Autisic characters, they can’t be what the show is really about.
“As We See It” still appears to be a show written by non-Autistics to make non-Autistics feel better about themselves. Autistic comedian Fern Brady wrote:
“As We See It on Amazon should be called As They See Us cause that’s all it is. More stereotypes.”
It is very encouraging to see Autistic actors in Autistic roles, but the roles are inauthentic. To Autistic viewers this can feel like “Neurowashing” – using neurodivergence to make something seem more inclusive than it really is.
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