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Dear Sia and Hollywood, Stop Hiring Ableds to Play Autistic People

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“Music” is a film coming out soon directed and written by musician Sia. It stars Maddie Ziegler as a non-speaking autistic character whose special interest is, you guessed it, music. Sia, after posting the trailer on Twitter, started receiving backlash from the autistic and disability communities, which I think is well deserved.

Ziegler did mention in an article that she researched autism in order to portray it. No amount of research is enough to understand how their neurological system works. Autistics don’t get many chances to be heard. It also hurts a little bit to see a neurotypical imitate stimming, even if it is an homage rather than an insult. Autistics are all so different. We all have different sensory issues and stimming habits. I don’t think it is fair to see a neurotypical represent us because of this. It feels like they are just embodying stereotypes, like they are lumping all autistics together.

I think one of the things that upset me most was when Sia tweeted it would have been cruel to cast someone who was actually at that level of functioning, so she made the executive decision to try and represent the autistic community the best she could. That sentence alone is the exact opposite of supporting and representing us. So many people look at us and assume what we can do and handle. Sia claimed that the autistic actor would have been stressed and overwhelmed. That would have been the perfect opportunity to adapt to the actor and make accommodations.

Honestly, if I saw a movie about a non-verbal autistic being played by a non-verbal autistic, my world would be shattered in the best way possible. I never saw people like me in any kind of media growing up. If there was an autistic in a TV show or movie, they were generally portrayed in a way that only highlighted the negatives of autism.
Non-verbal autistics are often the most under represented of our community. There is a horrible perception that anyone who is non-verbal is “lower functioning.” This is one of the reasons we need to do away with functioning labels. Just because you don’t use your vocal cords to communicate has nothing to do with your intelligence or your ability to live in this world.
Sia also said that Autism Speaks helped her with the movie. Anyone doing as much research as she claimed to do would know that many autistics do not like Autism Speaks, myself included. They are the perfect example of an organization that thinks the neurotypicals know more about autism than the autistics who live it every single day.
I had absolutely no confidence in my autism growing up. I always thought it was a bad thing, that there was something wrong with me. I think if I had someone who was publicly being true to their autistic self, I would have felt a lot better about myself and my diagnosis. I do appreciate Sia’s attempt to shine a positive light on autism, but I think if she truly wanted to empower us or change people’s view on autism, she should have cast an autistic or at the very least stop arguing with our community online about why she did nothing wrong. We are our own best experts, and neurotypicals seem to have a hard time remembering and accepting that.

Imager courtesy of Sia’s YouTube Channel

Originally published: April 3, 2023
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