Autism, Culture, and Representation

Jasmine

Jasmine woke up to the sound of autorikshas honking. Priya was calling her name too, but she didn’t hear it. As the clock turned to 6:00 A.M., she opened her eyes and Priya took her hand and led her to the bathroom. After getting ready, she sat down for breakfast next to her mother. Priya had already brought out upma for the family, and she was just returning with dosa and sambar for Jasmine. The family ate their breakfast in silence, listening to the chorus of car honks pouring in through the window. Priya led Jasmine down to the street and helped her get into the car with the driver, Sahil.

Jasmine closed her eyes.

***

Jasmine opened her eyes.

Priya helped her out of the car and walked with her to classroom A. Jasmine sat down in her seat in the far left, at the very back corner of the room. She took out her notebook and began drawing. She drew her father and her mother. Just like she did every day before class started. The first class was math. While Sir talked, Jasmine copied his work from the board with her right hand and held her calculator in the left hand. Sometimes when she needed it other students would borrow her calculator and replace it with flowers. After that, Jasmine would get very anxious and would not be able to sit still anymore.

After math was French. Jasmine spent French class drawing her grandmother and grandfather and anticipating her next class. Science was her favorite class by far. She always raised her hand to answer questions, but madame always called on other people. She did all the science labs by herself and would draw her brother when she finished.

During lunchtime, Jasmine would eat her lunch at her desk and watched. She watched all the other kids eat together and talk and play. After lunch was literature. She would read with the other kids and when she got bored, she started drawing a bookshelf. Last was geography. Jasmine already knew all the countries and their capitals, so she took this time period to draw herself.

And tomorrow it would start all over again.

—–

At first, I was not particularly fond of the idea behind this task. By being told to create an autistic character, I felt like I had to design the autistic characteristics of Jasmine. I felt obligated to highlight her autistic traits so that her autism would be apparent. To consciously create an autistic character, and in so few words, made it inevitable that autism would define her as a character.

I definitely found this task challenging. After just finishing up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, I first found myself fantasizing about creating the character of a young boy with autism. I mean, I could totally hear his voice in my head. When I realized where that not-so-ingenious idea had come from after all, I tried to break away from Christopher and away from the common stereotype of autism in little boys. But then I started thinking about how autism is always depicted in children, and I wanted my character not to fit that stereotype either.  And I was worried that there was no way I would have the words to actually develop a character.

This is the first time I ever wrote about something and someone Indian. I chose to make Jasmine Indian because autism in India is a seriously underdiagnosed and overlooked problem. Indian society can be closed off and unaware of conditions like autism. Even medical professionals often misdiagnose or overlook autism. Because of this, many Indian children are not diagnosed and do not receive the proper treatment or care.

If I had more time, I would further illustrate the point that Jasmine does not know that she has autism. She does not know why she is different. She sees things happen around her, but because her condition has never been explained to her, there is no way for her to understand.

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Comments on: "Jasmine" (1)

  1. Oh kudos to you for writing a POC with autism. I love the idea of her being Indian however in the beginning was confusing and so quickly paced and you used some words that I didn’t understand. But kudos for doing something so challenging and doing it well.

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