Best Movies TV Shows That Portray People With Autism Well

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April might be Autism Awareness Month but we’re giving you a list of must-see movies and TV shows with positive portrayals autism that are essential viewing all year round.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Hollywood depictions of autism, movies and TV shows that might have helped raise awareness about the disorder have often contributed to damaging stereotypes instead — like Sia’s controversial Music, or the classic Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. While Hoffman has been praised for his performance in the latter, that movie — and how often people use it as a reference for autism — cemented in many minds the idea that all people with autism are genius-level savants in one way or another, when in fact autism is much more complicated and varied than that. And that’s just one reason why movies and TV shows made by and starring real people with autism are more necessary now than ever.

Luckily, there are outliers to the pattern of autism portrayals that miss the mark, like docuseries Love on the Spectrum, a reality series on dating with autism, and Freeform show Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which notably hired autistic actress Kayla Cromer to portray the leading role. While it’s possible for actors who are not on the spectrum to give thoughtful, nuanced performances as autistic characters (see Claire Danes in Temple Grandin), there’s also so much potential for it to turn into a caricature — and anyway, why not give under-recognized actors on the spectrum a chance to shine?

If you’ve been wanting to watch a movie or TV show that includes autism in its world but you’re wary after being disappointed from past portrayals, we hear you. The movies and TV shows recommended here aren’t perfect, but they avoid common pitfalls and strike a note of truth for viewers who have gone too long without seeing someone like them on screen.

Read on for our favorite portrayals of autism to watch right now.

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‘Heartbreak High’

‘Heartbreak High’
‘Heartbreak High’

Autistic actress Chloe Hayden’s portrayal of Quinni in hit Netflix series Heartbreak High has garnered plenty of praise. The comedy drama follows three teens navigating love and friendship in high school. Hayden has spoken about the importance of seeing autistic characters played by autistic actors on screen.

“The thing is, media has such a hold on us as to what we believe is real life. So, people see autistic people represented in media played by non-autistic men and they go, ‘That’s what autism is’,” she told Refinery29 Australia in 2022. “This is the first time we’ve actually seen what a real-life autistic experience is like because it’s played by someone who’s autistic rather than someone who watched a 20-minute YouTube video on, ‘What is autism?'”

Watch it on Netflix here.

‘Please Stand By’

‘Please Stand By’
‘Please Stand By’

In this heartwarming 2018 movie, Dakota Fanning plays a young autistic woman who has run away from her caregiver to attempt to submit her 500-page script to a Star Trek writing competition.

Watch it on Tubi here.

‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’

‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’
‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’

Based on the incredible book of the same name, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, stars Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks abd features a stunning breakout performance from Thomas Horn.

The movie follows a 9-year-old autistic boy named Oskar who discovers a key in a vase that belonged to his father, who was killed in the September 11 attacks a year earlier. Oskar set out on a quest to find the lock it will open to get closure on his father’s death.

Watch it on Apple TV here

‘The Good Doctor’

‘The Good Doctor’
‘The Good Doctor’

Freddie Highmore plays an autistic doctor who works at a prestigious hospital in this Critics Choice Award nominated, multi-season show.

Watch it on Hulu here.

‘Atypical’

‘Atypical’
‘Atypical’

Netflix’s Atypical initially missed the mark due its lack of autistic actors and writers in season one but it has drastically improved on this error in the season that followed. The hit show follows an autistic teenager navigating high school.

Watch it on Netflix here.

‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’

‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’
‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’

Freeform series Everything’s Gonna Be Okay sees Australian Nicholas (Josh Thomas) decide to visit Los Angeles to reconnect with his father in his 20s, only to meet two teenage half-siblings, Genevieve (Maeve Press) and Matilda (Kayla Cromer), the latter of whom has autism, and find out a secret his father’s been hiding.

Watch it on Hulu here.

‘Temple Grandin’

‘Temple Grandin’
‘Temple Grandin’

This HBO biographical drama stars Claire Danes as scientist Temple Grandin, a woman with autism who came up with new, humane inventions for use on cattle ranches and in slaughterhouses. Director Mick Jackson based the movie on Grandin’s memoirs, and Schitt’s Creek star Catherine O’Hara joins Danes’ Golden-Globe winning performance.

Watch it on Max here

‘Love on the Spectrum’

‘Love on the Spectrum’
‘Love on the Spectrum’

Reality series Love on the Spectrum explores the dating lives of young adults with autism as they navigate romantic relationships. What started as an Australian series has since gone global and while the first season featured only people with autism dating one another but the second season plans to involve partners who don’t have autism in their dating pools as well.

Watch it on Netflix here.

‘Hannah Gadsby: Douglas’

‘Hannah Gadsby: Douglas’
‘Hannah Gadsby: Douglas’

Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas, a follow-up to her smash hit stand-up special Nanette, also on Netflix, addresses her autism diagnosis more overtly than her earlier work, explaining how it affected her through childhood and really taking the time to break down how her mind took things in. While fictional characters with autism can take on the burden of trying to represent all people across the spectrum, Gadsby is wonderfully, uniquely herself while offering insight into how her autism affects how she sees the world.

Watch it on Netflix here.

‘The Rider’

‘The Rider’
‘The Rider’

Chloé Zhao wrote and directed modern Western The Rider about a Lakota Sioux family: a former rodeo star who suffered brain damage in an accident, his deadbeat dad Wayne, and his younger sister Lilly who has autism.

Watch it on Prime Video here.

‘Life, Animated’

‘Life, Animated’
‘Life, Animated’

Documentary Life, Animated is based on journalist Ron Suskind’s 2014 book of the same name, in which he describes how his son with autism Owen Suskind found a way to communicate through his love of Disney’s animated movies.

Watch it on Prime Video here.

‘Jack of the Red Hearts’

‘Jack of the Red Hearts’
‘Jack of the Red Hearts’

Janet Grillo’s Jack of the Red Hearts tells the story of orphaned 18-year-old Jack (AnnaSophia Robb) who has a moment of desperation when her younger sister is taken into foster care and poses as a therapist to apply for a job as the caretaker of a young girl with autism — which she then lands.

Watch it on Tubi here.