Skip to main content

Pros and Cons of Character Portrayals of Autism on TV and Film


Portrayals of characters with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or with autistic traits on film and in TV-series are increasing. Such portrayals may contribute in increasing awareness of the condition but can also increase stereotypes. Thus, these character portrayals are subject to heated debate within the ASD-community, but also in the general public at large. Following our recent published study on character portrayals of ASD on film and TV we here address some central issues related advantages and disadvantage of such portrayals.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Annotations. (1936). The cinema in psychiatry. Lancet, 228(5909), 1280.

  • Baron-Cohen, S. (2015). Autism, maths, and sex: The special triangle. The Lancet Psychiatry, 1, 790–791.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Butler, J. R., & Hyler, S. E. (2005). Hollywood portrayals of child and adolescent mental health treatment: Implications for clinical practice. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31, 509–522.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Byrne, P. (2009). Why psychiatrists should watch films (or What has cinema ever done for psychiatry?) Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 15(4), 286–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Conn, R., & Bhugra, D. (2012). The portrayal of autism in Hollywood films. International Journal of Culture and Mental Health, 1, 54–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Garner, A., Jones, S., & Harwood, V. (2015). Authentic representations or stereotyped ‘outliers’: using the CARS2 to assess film portrayals of autism spectrum disorders. International Journal of Culture and Mental Health, 8, 414–425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gramaglia, C., Jona, A., Imperatori, F., Torre, E., & Zeppegno, P. (2013). Cinema in the training of psychiatry residents: focus on helping relationships. BMC Medical Education, 13(1), 90.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Howlin, P., Goode, S., Hutton, J., & Rutter, M. (2009). Savant skills in autism: psychometric approaches and parental reports. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 27, 1359–1367.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nordahl-Hansen, A. (2017). Atypical: A typical portrayal of autism? The Lancet Psychiatry, 4(11), 837–838.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Nordahl-Hansen, A., Tøndevold, M., & Fletcher-Watson, S. (2017). Mental health on screen: A DSM-5 dissection of portrayals of autism spectrum disorders in film and TV. Psychiatry Research. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2017.08.050.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Stuart, H. (2006). Media portrayal of mental illness and its treatments. CNS Drugs, 20(2), 99–106.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anders Nordahl-Hansen.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Nordahl-Hansen, A., Øien, R.A. & Fletcher-Watson, S. Pros and Cons of Character Portrayals of Autism on TV and Film. J Autism Dev Disord 48, 635–636 (2018).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: