As We See It, the story of three twenty-something adult autistics sharing an apartment, has gained much positive attention from the autistic community for its portrayal of people on the spectrum.
As We See It is based on the 2018 Israeli television production, On the Spectrum (see the Spring 2022 issue of Autism Matters for our review). The 2022 Amazon Prime production features autistic actors in the leading roles of Jack (played by Rick Glassman), Harrison (played by Albert Rutecki), and Violet (played by Sue Ann Pien).
Autism Ontario assembled a panel of adults on the spectrum to discuss As We See It and the questions it raised. The panel included self-advocates Courtney Weaver, freelance writer; Christian Malatesta; and Nicole Corrado. Michael Cnudde, Managing Editor of Autism Matters, acted as moderator. The panel discussed the first episode, "Pilot."
One of the natural questions arising from the discussion was the differences and similarities between As We See It and On the Spectrum.
"I thought this show was actually more believable regarding autism. I found the characters more accurate in As We See It," said Nicole. She said the characters from On the Spectrum were more stereotyped. In the earlier program, Nicole felt the characters were one-sided. From watching the first episode of As We See It, she found this cast far more relatable. "I found the characters in As We See It to be more nuanced," she said, "They're more multifaceted and multi-dimensional. You see more growth in the characters, and I just found way more relatable, way more believable, more likeable, and less stereotyped."
Courtney also found the characters more relatable, which made her want to cheer them on. From watching the first episode, she thought they were all different. She felt the first episode set the stage for further character growth and development. "Just within the pilot alone, we see Harrison struggling with his sensitivity to audio stimuli and even going across the street to the coffee shop."
Christian said that the series took some getting used to. "It brought me back to those days of not understanding what my autism was because I didn't." Christian didn't receive his autism diagnosis until age seven and spent some time undergoing therapy. He said he found Violet's meltdown particularly hard to watch. "It was a bit like a culture shock to see that extreme behavior."
Courtney noted that some of the techniques used by the show's producers to illustrate some of the characters’ sensory sensitivities were well done. "The sound amplification that was used in the scene when Harrison was making his way to the coffee shop, for example," she said, "I thought that was done as great as the sound of the black marker in the Temple Grandin movie."
"I might relate to the sound sensitivities," said Nicole. "I have noise-cancelling headphones." She said that dogs don't bother her much as they did Harrison because she said she loves dogs. The other sounds that bothered Harrison also bothered her; she says she stays in the house and would sometimes avoid going places because of sound sensitivity. "I also relate a lot to Violet," she said, "because of her vulnerability in wanting to find a partner."
"I mostly relate with Jack because I have a high IQ," says Christian. Sometimes, he says that his parents will tell him he can't say something because not everyone is as intelligent as him and that he must be polite. He says he struggles with this sometimes while trying just to be himself. "I don't think people who have autism are free to express that they have autism."
Nicole agrees with Christian. "I relate to Jack in that regard... he knows he's smarter than the rest. I often feel that I don't have a lot of patience for people who are really ignorant about things." When she makes a deputation to the local Police Board or City Council, for example, it's because she sees the problems with things. "It's kind of like the story of the Emperor's New Clothes."
Courtney found herself relating her experiences to Harrison, especially those she had as a younger person. "I can relate to Harrison,” she said. "I guess his sensitivity to sound and everyday stimuli; I was much more like that when I was younger."
"In a way, it was nice," says Christian, "but they overdramatized it. He wasn't impressed when the character Violet screamed on the floor after her date. Several other things, he said, "such as the use as the R-word, and the fact that the characters had a worker, didn't ring true for him. "This doesn't feel like the series was made in 2022. I had people working with me, but I've never been in a group home situation where people like, almost live in with their workers. So I thought it was a bit antiquated," he said.
Nicole thought having autistic actors in the lead roles playing autistics was an excellent idea and could better represent people on the spectrum because it shows a wide range of support needs. "Harrison had more complex support needs, and so does Violet" she said, “while Jack has minimal support needs." Nicole noted that Violet is good at masking in public but has more complex support needs in selecting a partner.
"Everybody was so messed up, but they did a good job," said Christian. "But it seemed they brought in their issues too much. It was well done, but they didn't have to go that far." He conceded that, although the acting was superb, it was perhaps a little too realistic for comfort.
Courtney believes that As We See It has furthered the discussion of autistic representation in media. She's not as concerned about having neurotypicals play autistic people. It's more important now to ensure that when parts like these come up, autistic actors have an opportunity to audition for them. "Within the last five years, this has become more of a discussion," she says. "It might slowly but surely become more of a practice."
Autism Ontario extends its gratitude to Amazon Canada, not only for the images accompanying this article but also for the extra assistance that enabled the participation of several members of this group.
Photo caption: The main characters from As We See It (left to right): Jack, Harrison (below), Violet.