Representation Matters: Race, Gender, Class, and Intersectional Representations of Autistic and Disabled Characters on Television

John Aspler, Kelly D. Harding, M. Ariel Cascio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Media reflect and affect social understandings, beliefs, and values on many topics, including the lives of autistic and disabled people. Media analysis has garnered attention in the field of disability studies, which some scholars and activists consider a promising approach to discussing the experiences of – and for promoting social justice for – autistic people, who remain underrepresented on scripted television. Additionally, existing portrayals often rely on stereotyped representations of disabled individuals as objects of pity, objects of inspiration, or villains. Television may also serve as a primary source of public knowledge about disabled people and the concept of disability. It is therefore essential that such portrayals avoid stigma and stereotyping. We take a disability studies lens to critically analyze and compare representations of diverse people, who may sometimes be conflated in the popular imaginary, across television series about autistic characters (Atypical, The Good Doctor), those with cerebral palsy (Speechless, Special), and a character with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (Shameless). We employ an intersectional analytic framework to problematize representations of autistic and disabled people, using television, feminist, and critical disability studies literatures. We analyze how the formal structure of television storytelling can either enable or disable its characters, as well as how portrayals of disability that display a sensitivity to concerns raised by critical disability discourse do not necessarily display the same sensitivity when they intersect with marginalized experiences of gender, sexuality, race, and class.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-348
Number of pages26
JournalStudies in Social Justice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Disablement
  • Fasd
  • Intersectionality
  • Representation
  • Television


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