Date of Award

December 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Media Studies

First Advisor

Elana Levine

Committee Members

David Allen, Lia Wolock


autism, television


Characters with an autism spectrum disorder are not new to media, television in particular. What has recently changed is the willingness to put a label on a character who is on the spectrum. This thesis looks at 21 characters in television from 2007 to 2017 who are labeled or are generally perceived to be autistic. I categorize these character representations by genre and find that representations of autism vary according to the characteristics of each genre. I also focus in more depth two series, ABC’s The Good Doctor and Netflix’s Atypical, which both premiered in 2017 with lead characters who were on the spectrum. This thesis uses textual analysis of characters and genre to identify shifts in depictions of autism on television since 2007. I find that, over time, these representations have increasingly correlated more with a social model of autism than a medical model. This representational progress is related to broader societal awareness and acceptance of autism in American society.