The children's television series, centered on an endearing eight-year-old aardvark and his family and friends, seems to have a particularly strong grasp on the disorder.
As a recent BuzzFeed article points out, in 2010, the show -- which is currently in its 20th season -- debuted a rabbit named Carl with Asperger's in an episode called "George and the Missing Puzzle Piece," a reference to one of the most recognized symbols associated with the disorder.
In the episode, a character named Alan helps the episode's protagonist, George, understand what Carl is going through. In so doing, Alan gives one of the most cogent descriptions of the disorder in TV history:
Imagine you've crash-landed on an alien planet. It looks like earth, but there are lots of differences. For one, a lot of people seem to talk really loudly. And even though you speak the same language, you sometimes have a hard time understanding what they mean. And things that seem hilarious to you aren't funny at all to them. You wish the scientists back on earth had given you a guide book to this strange planet, but they forgot to pack one, so you have to try to learn things all on your own. Maybe there's one thing in particular that captures your interest and you study just that. Hopefully the people on the planet begin to understand you a little better. And you might even learn to fit in. But you'll always feel a little bit different.
While the show is intended for children, this incredibly clear description could potentially serve anyone struggling to understand the disorder. Watch the scene play out below.
Carl has since appeared in several episode, including "Go Fly A Kite," in which he teaches the rest of the "Arthur" gang that sharing an experience is usually the best way to enjoy it.
Other popular TV shows for both adult and young audiences have tackled autism in ways that make the disorder more accessible. In NBC's recently concluded drama "Parenthood," for example, the main character Max Braverman received a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. The show followed Max from the beginning of his diagnosis through high school, showing how his disorder affected his and his family's daily lives.
Disney's "Girl Meets World" recently aired an episode about a character who identified as having Asperger's, explaining what the disorder means without making negative associations.
How autism spectrum disorders are portrayed in entertainment can have a significant impact on the way our culture understands them and accepts them into its consciousness. Shows like "Arthur" and others can dispel needless myths and help us learn to treat each case individually.
We really hope this positive trend will continue.
CLARIFICATION: Language has been amended to reflect that Asperger's is no longer a term used by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
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