Using television shows that we enjoyed was a consistently helpful way to teach and reinforce lessons, both autism-related as well as basic life lessons.
Doctor Who and Star Trek in particular were both crammed with great examples that we could talk about and learn from. Both had great stories and writing, as well as having long histories of shows to draw from.
In September of this year, a new Star Trek series premiered. After the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, it appeared that there might not be another series to carry on the legacy of Star Trek.
But almost 51 years to the day that the first Star Trek episode aired, Star Trek: Discovery made its debut.
The show’s story was developed with a bit of a twist from previous Star Trek series in that it would focus on the character of a first officer, rather than a captain or captain-led ensemble.
More importantly, though, the first officer character was going to be a human raised on Vulcan – a planet whose inhabitants had such strong emotions that they developed a centuries-old culture of controlling and repressing their emotions through the study and application of logic.
A human, with a human’s need to process and express emotion, raised in a culture that quashes emotion.
Like an autistic, with an autistic’s needs related to communication, sensory, and social demands, raised in a culture that does not support those needs.
Then the character joined Starfleet, populated primarily with humans, where her culturally ingrained reliance on logic might be interpreted as unfeeling – remember Spock’s troubles in the original series?
The potential parallels were exciting to think about, offering an amazing opportunity for teaching new lessons, like those of awareness and flexibility.
Because some readers may not have yet seen the show, there will be no spoilers about the new series here, except for this:
There is a point early in the story where the main character must make a choice between the demands of logic and upbringing, and the demands of her native emotions.
She makes a choice which tries to meet both demands, and when it fails she is faced with the censure of both the Vulcan and human cultures, leaving her despairing, bereft, and directionless.
There is a really important point about autism here: When there is limited or no acceptance of who someone is, when they are forced to try to straddle the culture of who they are and the culture of where they are, they are being set up to fail.
And when the assumption is made that it was the attempt to stay true to their culture that caused the failure, not the absence of acceptance by those of the different culture, the culture of where they are fails.
It is the Kobayashi Maru – the no-win scenario that is a test of character.
To learn about using Star Trek episodes to better understand autism, the book “To Explore Strange New Worlds: Understanding Autism Through a Star Trek Lens” is now available!
You are invited to listed to Moms Going Boldly, a podcast by two moms who are Star Trek fans, and who also write about autism, talking about the new Star Trek: Discovery television series. Making comparisons to the older series and the movies, we’ll throw in a little bit of autism when we see it. It’s not polished, it won’t come out regularly but we’re having fun! Join Vickie of “Taking it a Step at a Time” and Elizabeth of “Autism Mom” as we talk about Star Trek from our unique perspectives!