How autistic people are being represented on K-dramas and other forms of media

Media content we are consuming now has been more inclusive with accurate representations of the autism spectrum

Many consumers have realized the rising influx of autistic characters in “Innocent Witness”, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”, “As We See It”, and “The Good Doctor”.

Challenging prejudice 

In “Innocent Witness”, a prosecutor gave advice to a lawyer regarding his autistic client: “Autistic people were born with a world of their own. If you want to communicate with somebody from a different world, it’s best that you venture into their world.”

innocent witness

Such advice is not just about communication, but also about coexisting, mingling, understanding, and working together with autistic people.

The same move also showed lawyer Soon Ho (played by Jung Woo Sung), starting his conversations with logical questions – which intrigues most autistic people – to step into the unique world of the witness Ji Woo (played by Kim Hyang Gi). 

extraordinary attorney woo

He would then try to help her sympathize with others’ feelings as well as her own – an extremely difficult yet not impossible job, only achievable with immense patience and sincerity.

Instead of introducing people with developmental disabilities as gag or violent characters, current media now have more tact in their representations, often introducing a brighter and more informed side. 

In “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”, the unique worldview of autistic female lead Woo Young Woo is beautifully depicted via the images of majestic whales. The series also introduces the often-seen knacks of autistic people, ways to handle them, and accurately analyzes their thought process and behaviors. 

extraordinary attorney woo

Despite being a K-drama that focuses on lawsuits, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” introduces a wide variety of cases, mostly taking a delve into the mentality of people and social issues, instead of focusing on serial killers or cruel criminals. It also introduces the roles of autistic people in society, and show their abilities, personal lives, and even romances 

To love and to be loved 

Current media have also been doing a good job at showing the many kinds of love revolving around autistic people. 

as we see it

This is clearly shown “As We See It” – a heart-soothing series that follows a group of friends with autism, and based on the Israel film “On the Spectrum”. The series’ main character, Violet, was someone who wished for a “normal love”, and by her definition, “normal” means non-autistic. 

Meanwhile, playing Violet was the autistic actress Sue Ann Pien, who greatly sympathized with her character. The thought process of Violet is common, Sue Ann Pien said, adding that if she was non-autistic, she wouldn’t be able to deliver the same depth. 

On the other hand, in the American version of “The Good Doctor”, many viewers were moved to tears while watching autistic male lead Shaun (played by Freddie Highmore) confess to his friend Lea.

the good doctor

“Why do you think I can’t handle your selfishness, demands, and messes? You don’t want to be my girlfriend because I have autism?”, he said, to which Lea remained silent before walking away.

These scenes not only touched the hearts of “normal” audiences, but also those with autism themselves. A viewer with personal experience commented: “My husband has autism and I used to think like Lea when we first became a thing. There’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. Having an autistic spouse is going to impact your life, and there will be issues. I hope that the two characters have a deep talk about this.” 

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According to psychiatrist Anna Cristina Tuazon, autism representations in movies and dramas “will never be perfect”, as there are a lot of real life complexities. However, what these media serve to do is increase the social acceptance towards people who are different. 

“We need more portrayals like this, those which show that autistic people also lead fulfilling and colorful lives. They can also dream, have goals, and can also love and be loved,” she said.

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