I heard about the play, All in a Row, the other day. Specifically, I read what the writer had to say about deciding that the character of an autistic boy with “challenging behaviour” could only be portrayed by a puppet.
I know so many autistic people who have dedicated many years to overcoming society’s prejudices, fighting against the dehumanisation and othering of autistic children and adults.
And then we saw this. Among a cast of real humans, played by human actors, the single autistic is indelibly marked as an outsider. Perhaps he can, like Pinocchio, dream of one day becoming a real boy, but for now he’s cast out of humanity.
It’s hard to express just how painful it is as an autistic person to see someone who is essentially like you–the character with whom you have the most in common–portrayed this way. To be dehumanised, an empty, soulless shell incapable of any thought, feeling or expression, whose every action is in response another’s command.
This is the very embodiment of the prejudice and, yes, even hate that we face in our autistic lives. We live the reality of being labelled emotionless, incompetent, unfeeling, thoughtless. The agonising wounds of our experiences are opened afresh by this careless action, by seeing this puppet represent every insult levelled at us by our bullies and abusers.
And that is why using a puppet to portray an autistic person among a cast of human actors is unacceptable.
An empty boy with empty head,
My only life is what you bring
In gift each day, my will is yours.
I go where you direct my string.
What do you see inside this shell,
Behind this vacant glassy stare?
Could anybody care enough
To ever see the person there?
I didn't ask to be your puppet
To play this part that you defined.
Am I lost, forever other,
Denied my place with human kind?