“But slowly, steadily, many myths about autism are falling away, as scientists get a better picture of what’s going on in the bodies and brains of people with autism and as more of those who are profoundly affected [by autism] are able to give voice to their experience”
-Claudia Wallis “Inside the Autistic Mind”
While scientific reports may be useful in providing a diagnostic understanding of autism, the autistic narrative lends itself to a greater understanding of autistic people. Ann Jurecic claims that, “What gets lost in the scientific literature is attention to the inner life of the person with autism” (“Autism, Writing, and the Problem of Empathy”, 6). Scientific reports tend to lead to the belief that people with autism do not experience or understand emotion and are incapable of employing theory of mind (the ability to conceive of another’s mental state) because the scientific literature does not examine the “inner life” of an autistic person.
The autistic narrative becomes a window through which neurotypical people can see what the inner life of someone with autism is like. This is accomplished in various ways in different narratives. In some works the literary style is “autistic” with awkward transitions and seemingly unrelated tangents. Other works literally describe what being autistic is like; how an autistic brain process information, how an autistic person’s sensory experience is abnormal etc… A third approach is to not describe what it is like to be autistic, but for autism to be interwoven into the fabric of the work. Details on how an autistic brain processes information aren’t provided, instead the reader is watching the character think in an “autistic” manner. These approaches are not mutually exclusively and are not an exhaustive list. They are just some of the ways that the reader is able to glimpse into the inner life of an autistic person.
The autistic characters in this genre are predominately people with high functioning autism. It is very difficult to decipher the cause of a challenging behaviors of someone with low functioning autism. This is not very useful to a narrative that consists of character development or one that is trying to engage a neurotypical audience. The possible causes of the “challenging behavior” may be endless and too abstract for a neurotypical person to pick up on or relate to. When a novelist or film maker wants to incorporate an autistic character into their work they must make sure the character is dynamic and somewhat relatable which is more easily accomplished with a case of high functioning autism. The result is stereotyped depictions of autism.