How Girl Meets World handled Autism


Lately, there has been controversy surrounding an episode of Girl Meets World, entitled “Girl Meets Farkle,” wherein a character is getting tested for autism spectrum disorder. In the episode, when he tells his friends, two girls in his class, they react very strongly saying “you don’t.” It comes across very strongly to people who have autism, and caused some to fear telling their friends that they have it.

As someone who knows multiple people with autism, myself, including direct family members, I have several thoughts. First, if you watched the show and felt that way, know that your feelings on it are valid. It’s how you feel or felt about it at the time, and emotional response is how you react to something based on your situation or relationship to it.

That said, one thing to keep in mind while watching the show is this: these girls are friends of his who had been his friend since they were very young. They are also, like him, very young themselves. Their response isn’t the response of an adult hearing about this. Their response is the response of a teenager or pre-teen hearing about their friend possibly being diagnosed with something that makes them different, and they don’t really know how to properly respond.

Even some adults respond similarly to those girls, but typically that kind of response comes from a place that isn’t meant to hurt. It’s because deep down, they love the person who is either getting diagnosed or has already been diagnosed, and want the best for the person. They just don’t know how to express it.

On top of that, there is a character on the show who turns out to have autism. And I don’t know if the young actress that played her actually has ASD, but she did a fantastic job of playing the role. And all of the same characters were very supportive of her, just like they would have been about their friend who was being tested for it.

What those girls were saying to their friend in the episode, when they were saying “you don’t,” was simply this: we’ve known you for years, and you have always been who you are, and right now you believe that you’re going to get this diagnosis, and we can tell that you might be hurting from this possibility, and we love you, so we are trying to be supportive the only way that we know how.

What they were saying wasn’t meant to be damaging. People don’t always have the perfect thing to say. I know I don’t. Girl Meets World was very careful with their stories about things like this. Even though the term Asperger’s was out of clinical use a couple of years before the episode aired, for instance, it is still used by those who were diagnosed before it went out of use, and not everyone immediately ceased using the term immediately. Things like that take time.

What they were saying was that this boy had a couple of friends who were trying to be supportive of their friend. It almost doesn’t matter what they actually said, because they were trying to tell their friend that everything was going to be okay. And they wouldn’t feel any different about him if he had been diagnosed with autism. They were going to support him no matter what.

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