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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

SHIELD and Neurodiversity

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss popular culture's relationship to autism.

In last week's episode of Agents of SHIELD ("The Inside Man," script by Craig Titley) Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) poses as a CDC expert at an international symposium.  The topic is a rapidly-growing group of people with special powers.  The dialogue suggests that the plot line is an allegorical take on neurodiversity:
COULSON: I don't think we've met.
ELLEN KING: [Australian accent] Ellen King. Have you found a cure for them, Doctor?
COULSON: A cure needs a disease.
COULSON: We can start We can start by not calling them aliens. They prefer the term "inhumans."
KING: What kind of a name is that? Is it meant to intimidate us, mock us?
COULSON: Not at all. They're just trying to find their place in the world, but they're more human than anything else, and I think it's important that we see them that way.
Okay, it is hardly clear that "inhuman" is really better than "alien," but the subtext is there anyway. Many people in the autism community object strenuously to the language of cure:  they regard autism as a neurological difference, not a disease.

At SHIELD headquarters, meanwhile, Lincoln Campbell (Luke Mitchell) and Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) -- SHIELD operatives who are also inhumans -- talk with scientist Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) about a discovery concerning the process the triggers the Inhumans' powers.
LINCOLN: A vaccine against terrigenesis.
JEMMA: Potentially. It can't reverse the effects once someone's transformed ...
LINCOLN: This could virtually put an end to...
DAISY:  To us? I'm sorry, but isn't that what you were gonna say?
Again, many in the community are deeply suspicious of practices such as genetic screening, which they see as an effort to put an end to the presence of autistic people.