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Top 10 Inspirational Characters on the Autism Spectrum

VO: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut
Representation done right! For this list, we’re looking at inspiring characters who are on the spectrum. To be eligible; the character has to be acknowledged as autistic by the show, creator, or performer; or, be viewed as a respectful presentation by the autistic community. The focus will be exclusively on fictional personalities, so overt biographical dramas about incredible real life individuals, like "Temple Grandin," will not be considered. Our list includes Raymond Babbitt, Shaun Murphy, Maurice Moss, Abed Nadir, Joe Hughes, and more! Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Inspirational Movie and TV Characters on the Autism Spectrum.
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Top 10 Inspirational Movie and TV Characters on the Autism Spectrum


Representation done right! Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Inspirational Movie and TV Characters on the Autism Spectrum.

For this list, we’re looking at inspiring characters who are on the spectrum. To be eligible; the character has to be acknowledged as autistic by the show, creator, or performer; or, be viewed as a respectful presentation by the autistic community. The focus will be exclusively on fictional personalities, so overt biographical dramas about incredible real life individuals, like "Temple Grandin," will not be considered.

#10: Raymond Babbitt
“Rain Man” (1988)


Partially inspired by Kim Peek, a genuine autistic savant, "Rain Man" was among the earliest big Hollywood films to prominently feature a character on the spectrum. A decorated method actor, Dustin Hoffman conducted extensive research in order to properly portray Raymond Babbitt, resulting in a performance that is sensitive, authentic, and humane. While certain aspects have not aged especially well – mainly, that "Rain Man" helped popularize the Hollywood stereotype of autistic savants – Raymond helped raise awareness and educate viewers as to how people on the spectrum understand the world.

#9: Max Jerry Horowitz
“Mary and Max” (2009)


A stop-motion animated film centering around an eight-year-old girl and a 44-year-old man who become unlikely pen pals, "Mary and Max" takes place over a number of years and focuses on the ways this friendship changes the lives of both parties. Voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Max is diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and fights against the general insinuation that this condition is a disability that must be cured. At one point, Max goes into a beautiful monologue that lists the characteristics associated with Aspergers, concluding that he likes, as he puts it, being an “Aspie”.

#8: Sam Gardner
“Atypical” (2017-)


By choosing such a broad title, Netflix's depiction of autism had to be especially sensitive and on-point. A high-functioning autistic character, Sam Gardner lacks social awareness, loves to talk about penguins, and often comes across as rather selfish. Even though Sam is a bit stereotypical, "Atypical's" protagonist manages to excel in high school while maintaining a weekend job and pursuing a relationship with Paige. Sam’s depiction improves considerably as the series progresses, and Netflix hired a number of actors on the spectrum to portray the teenager's support group.

#7: Shaun Murphy
“The Good Doctor” (2017-)


This is medicine for the brain and heart. Shaun Murphy is "the Good Doctor," an extremely talented young surgeon diagnosed with autism and savant syndrome. Despite possessing a near-photographic memory, Shaun is initially ostracized by the rest of the hospital's staff. But the surgeon continues to persevere and gradually proves to be a valuable member of the team. Putting aside the savant aspect, "The Good Doctor" does a fantastic job of sensitively representing many traits associated with autism, and eliminates a common misconception by clearly showing that Shaun is more than capable of empathizing with patients.

#6: Maurice Moss
“The IT Crowd” (2006-13)


An early 30-something IT man who works in a basement, Moss is simply a delight. "The IT Crowd" never officially diagnoses Maurice, but the character is generally assumed to be on the spectrum. Certain things are exaggerated for comedic purposes, but Moss is a genuinely realistic portrayal of autism, and the man's personality is never used as a crutch for cheap laughs or to justify rude behavior. "The IT Crowd" proves a character does not need to be a savant to be inspirational and Moss amounts to a lot more than a checklist of traits associated with Asperger's.

#5: Det. Sonya Cross
“The Bridge” (2013-14)


Identifying the protagonist as autistic is a great way to raise awareness, but a convincing argument can be made in favor of subtlety. Based on a Danish-Swedish series, "The Bridge" is a crime drama starring Diane Kruger as Sonya Cross. In interviews, the actress has confirmed that Sonya is on the spectrum, but "The Bridge" opts for a more nuanced portrayal. Kruger gives an astonishingly committed performance, making autism an integral part of Sonya's personality without letting it completely define the detective. In order to facilitate Kruger's depiction, "The Bridge" hired a consultant from "Wrong Planet," an online community devised for individuals with autism, and the extra effort shows.

#4: Max Braverman
“Parenthood” (2010-15)


A major theme across all six seasons, autism is tackled openly and honestly in this NBC drama. Diagnosed with Asperger's in the second episode, Max is a young boy who must face the challenges that arise due to being perceived as different by other children. "Parenthood" focuses heavily on how the diagnosis impacts the entire family, while Max gradually gains greater self-awareness and even attempts to improve his social skills. "Parenthood" showcases various useful tools designed to help anyone diagnosed with autism; crucially, the drama never sacrifices authenticity for the sake of an easy answer. A multi-layered character grounded in realism, Max is one of a kind.

#3: Joe Hughes
“The A Word” (2016-)


In no small part thanks to its young main character, this BBC series made serious waves when it debuted. Finding difficulty in maintaining eye contact and communicating with others, Joe is diagnosed with autism right before starting school, and the "A-Word" examines both he and his family’s attempts to adjust. The "A-Word" has more than a couple of heartbreaking and painful scenes, but this is undercut with moments of levity and the fact Joe develops quite a bit as the series progresses. First and foremost, Joe is still Joe, regardless of the diagnosis, and the show does an excellent job with this theme.

#2: Abed Nadir
“Community” (2009-15)


Arguably among the most unique representations, this beloved comedy character bypasses most tropes or cliches that tend to crop up in other depictions of individuals on the spectrum. "Community" is packed with quirky personalities, but Abed stands out from the crowd. Seldom displaying any emotion and relating more to films than people, Abed's stoic behavior should not be mistaken for indifference, as the relatable student often serves as "Community's" heart and soul. While the character naturally faces certain difficulties, Abed is probably the most level-headed and confident member of the core group and an undeniable fan-favorite.

#1: Julia
“Sesame Street” (1969-)


In an attempt to lessen the stigma associated with autism, "Sesame Street" put together a workshop and introduced a puppet who is on the spectrum. A 4-year-old girl, Julia proved to be a big enough hit to land a recurring spot on the main show, and the muppet has been greeted with overwhelming positivity. Highlighting some distinctive habits associated with the diagnoses while not neglecting to explore the commonalities shared with other kids, "Sesame Street" and Julia helped demystify autism for millions of viewers. Undeniably charming, Julia is an inspiration who has changed the world for the better.
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