K-Drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo was one of the most popular dramas in 2022. About a genius lawyer, Woo Young Woo, who struggles with her autism spectrum disorder, many found ways to relate to the heartwarming show.
On the other hand, some have voiced concerns that the show was not a realistic portrayal of autism. Young Woo was not only accepted at a prestigious law firm…
…but she also has a successful relationship with the office’s Mr. Popular, Lee Jun Ho.
While actress Park Eun Bin was highly praised for her convincing acting of someone struggling with autism, viewers had more to say about the plot and portrayal. They claimed that it would not be as easy for an autistic person in real life to have a smooth-sailing career and love life.
In response to the criticism, a psychology PhD student clapped back. While they were not majoring specifically in autism, they still wanted to explain a little bit more about the disorder to the public. They had been particularly upset about the term “detachable autism“, which the public had used to describe the portrayal of Young Woo’s disorder in the drama. Many felt that the writers of the drama treated the disorder as an option, putting it in when it fit the storyline, and let the character seem like a non-disabled person at other times.
I was frustrated every time I saw the term “detachable autism” being used when people criticized Extraordinary Attorney Woo. And I also thought that it was interesting because the response from the West is totally different. I barely saw anyone criticizing the drama for this reason there. On the other hand, there were actually many autistic people and their families [in the West] who praised it saying that it was realistic and that they could relate to it. There were also people who had a hard time watching it, saying that it was like looking into a mirror. I thought about it and I think it’s because of this…
I think the largest reason is that Korea finds it hard to recognize the existence of autistic people. What I realized after watching EAW, was that as I spent some years in the States, people often used the term “on the spectrum” to describe themselves or others. But in our country, it’s so rare to hear someone say “I have autism” or “they didn’t do it on purpose, it could be that they just are autistic.” I think this difficulty in recognition comes from the following three reasons.
— Phd student
The first reason is that they feel that society has been understanding autism wrongly. Many think that “the spectrum” is a straight line, ranging from little autism to more. This isn’t true of course. The spectrum is more like a web diagram where autistic people may be more high-functioning in certain areas than in others. A good example would be Young Woo’s genius brain compared to her inability to process a sensory overload.
The second reason is masking. Masking is when someone with autism acts just like someone without. They hide the special characteristics of their autism but it doesn’t mean that it disappears. An example would be the ending of episode 16, where Young Woo seemingly was able to deal with the sensory overload on the train. This is why the OP is upset at the term “detachable autism”, for the public doesn’t understand that the writers were not making autism seem like an option for Young Woo, but rather, masking is a part of the disorder.
Lastly, a poor understanding of neurodiversity. Many people on earth may exhibit some symptoms of neurodiversity, such as the need for fidget spinners, or sensitivity to sound and light. However, given the varying levels of intensity, not all are diagnosed with mental disorders just for having these traits. Some of these neurodiverse people could actually have autism, but are simply conducting masking. In this aspect, the OP feels that the number of autistic people are under-reported, and because it is those who are on the heavier end of the spectrum who get formally diagnosed, these people help to form a stereotype about autism.
Hopefully, through Extraordinary Attorney Woo, more people will begin to understand the complications and intricacies of autism and the spectrum.