Spoilers for Community through “Virtual Systems Analysis”
Patterning characters after popular perceptions of Asperger’s syndrome has become an easy way for television writers to show that a character is quirky and super-smart (see Bones, Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, and Sherlock on the BBC programme). Very rarely however do these characters experience any of the downsides of being on the autism spectrum. They don’t have to deal with discrimination. Failing to fill the expectations of a neurotypical world is met with canned laughter rather than abuse, loss of autonomy, or murder.
Abed from Community, however, portrays being ambiguously “on the spectrum” (to use his own words) beyond comedy. Okay, I know what you’re thinking (I really can; it’s my Disability Superpower), “Why are you so pleased about a disability being a source of tragedy? Isn’t this the kind of thing we want to move away from?” And to you, hypothetical reader-people, I say, yes, kinda sorta. I obviously don’t want stories where disability is OMG the worst thing ever and limits characters from ever doing anything. But I also don’t want stories where disability is just a source of comedy. Let’s be real: having an impairment and being disabled can really suck sometimes, but other times it’s really fucking funny. I want stories that acknowledge that. Community does.
(Community also acknowledges that autistic people of color exist. Characters with quirky-smart-Asperger’s are almost uniformly white. So, not only are those portrayals ignoring the discrimination faced by people with ASD, but they’re feeding into this stereotype of ASD as something that only happens to white people. Which is deeply, deeply frelled in a world where autistic people of color are killed for being autistic people of color.)
I wanna take a microt right now before we get into the nitty-gritty to address something important. Talking about autism spectrum disorders on a disability blog is messy. Some autistics don’t consider themselves disabled; others do. I’m not on the autism spectrum, so it’s not my place to take sides in this debate. I’m gonna talk about Abed’s experience of ableism as a character with an ASD who also has unspecified (and likely undiscovered) mental impairment. Not all of Abed’s Abed-ness can be contained under the label of autism–that’s what makes him Abed the Undiagnosable.