AUTISM AND THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY
Recently I sat down and watched via Netflix “The Umbrella Academy” a dark comedy, superhero, fantasy, sci fi drama. “The Umbrella Academy?”
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY
On October 1, 1989, 43 women around the world gave birth simultaneously, despite none of them showing any sign of pregnancy until labour began. Seven of the children are adopted by eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves and turned into a superhero team that he calls “The Umbrella Academy.” Hargreeves gives the children numbers rather than names, but they eventually are named by their robot-mother, Grace, as: Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Number Five (his only name), Ben, and Vanya. While putting six of his children to work fighting crime, Reginald keeps Vanya apart from her siblings’ activities, as she supposedly demonstrates no powers of her own.
In the present day, Luther is part ape and has lived on the moon for four years, Allison is a famous actress, Vanya is a violinist, Klaus has a drug addiction, Ben, now deceased, is a ghost able to converse only with Klaus, and Diego has become a vigilante with a penchant for trouble. The estranged siblings learn that Reginald has died and gather for his funeral. Number Five returns from the future, chased by time-travelling operatives, and reveals that a global apocalypse is imminent. Meanwhile, the reunited siblings try to uncover the secret of their dysfunctional family while beginning to come apart due to their divergent personalities and abilities.
Now, this blog post isn’t a TV review of the show I just want to make that clear, but what piped my interest going into season 2 (* note there are no spoilers here) was the character of Harlan.
Now how does a superhero end up living on a farm with amnesia looking after this boy?
Well, the mum Sissy runs her over by accident in Dallas in the 1960’s.
But why are you telling us all this for Nick?
Well, it’s the son Harlan that this is main focus of this week’s blog post.
You see Harlan in 1960’s Dallas is a non-verbal Autistic child.
Now, I’ve only watched 2 episodes so far but from what I’ve seen I’ve been very impressed with the way that they’ve accurately been portraying him.
I did an extensive google search but no information came up on who which Autistic organisations the show’s creators consulted in order to be able to write for this character and also the actor himself playing Harlan I couldn’t find out if he’s an Autistic actor or a non-Autistic actor, and yes it bloody well does matter.
Things to note here is that this was 30 years ago before they started diagnosing Autism in children so two assumptions can be made here (again I can only make assumptions due to not being able to find out any information via an extensive Google search) that the writers of the episode have a non-Autistic child or they know one and spoke to their parents.
It’s very frustrating to not be able to find out key information about this.
Anyway, three key scenes stick out for me (*again no spoilers will be revealed here)
Harlan is outside looking at a windmill that’s blowing in the garden, he then grabs Vanya and placing his hands over his eyes he’s communicating with her in his own language that he wants to play hide and seek which they do.
Sissy’s husband is out at a strip club, rings Sissy and asks her to pick him up as he’s drunk, Harlan comes out of his room with a book in his hand, he pushes it into Sissy’s tummy with the request that she read it to him, Vanya attempts to divert him away from Sissy as she needs to head out, but Harlan wants Sissy to read the story to him. Eventually Sissy stays as Vanya offers to go and collect Carl.
We also see in this show for the first time ever on a TV show an accurate portrayal of an Autistic person having a meltdown.
The scene in question is where Harlan is listening to records on a record player, which was the only way to listen to music in 1963. Suddenly, the record hits a spot and keeps repeating itself over and over again.
This repetitive sound is too much for Harlan’s ears. He quickly grabs them, starts yelling random sounds, then grabs the needle and promptly scratches the whole record, once again making a sound his ears do not want to hear.
He goes back to grabbing his ears and yelling, then takes the whole record player and shakes it until it starts breaking apart.
Once the record player has been destroyed and the troubling sound stopped, Harlan calms right down, his stressor now gone. Once he stops his meltdown, he sits down and starts playing with a wooden sparrow.
I’ve been extremely impressed with the way that they’ve handled the character of Harlan; they’ve not made a big deal about him or his Autism, no one judges him or makes snide comments about the fact that he’s non-verbal or that he plays with a wooden sparrow or makes random sounds.
Once I’ve watched the remaining 8 episode’s I’ll comment more but for now a big congratulations to all involved.
I’m still interested to know if the actor is Autistic himself so if you know please let me know.
Carry On The Conversation
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.