Many people receive autism labels these days. Sometimes people are diagnosed with autism when they are young children. Other people struggle into adulthood until their challenges are given the autism label. This labeling can be helpful for some to get professional support and education. Different labels can help us understand aspects of ourselves and our loved ones, and help us empower ourselves to address our unique challenges.
At Face Value Comics, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping society understand those given Autism Labels: children, teens and adults everywhere who are challenged with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD. At the same time, we want to give people with ASD tools to help them navigate the neurotypical world.
One thing that people with ASD struggle with is recognizing what others’ facial expressions mean. In our stories we use the theories of Dr. Paul Ekman and his Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to illustrate different emotions. Because a comic is a static image, people can study the face as long as necessary to decode the emotional signals. The words appear in speech bubbles and captions help place the scene in context.
More than anything, we hope that Face Value Comics will give useful autism expressions, both to help people with ASD understand the emotions of others, and to give a positive and affirming view of people with ASD to a neurotypical world. An autism diagnosis isn’t the last word on a person. Autism labels should just be a tool for understanding. We hope that we can further this understanding with our stories of Michael, his friends, and The Zephyr!
What’s the Difference Between Labeling Autism and Raising Autism Awareness?
When trying to understand something, we human beings often turn to labels to help us organize our thinking. This can be useful or it can reinforce prejudices. Anyone with ASD knows the dangers of labeling autism. Most of the time, people want to understand, but they accidentally choose labels that are hurtful or misleading. I’ve written before about how Marvel and DC Comics have had characters with ASD. While I applaud the willingness of these companies to include people with ASD, I dislike labeling autism with the category tags “Mental Illness Weakness,” as Marvel does.
At Face Value Comics, we’re trying something new. We’re raising autism awareness by giving the main character, a Superhero, autism. This allows us to show an autistic person dealing with everyday situations.
Rather than simply labeling autism as a weakness or a mental disorder, we’re showing a person coping with it in realistic situations. Of course, our futuristic steampunk universe isn’t exactly reality, but who could pass up the chance to write about crazy aliens or robots that are a mix of plants and metal?! By removing the stories a bit from our daily lives, we’re allowing space for our readers to get involved in the characters and the story lines and absorb the messages, raising autism awareness and teaching readers to decode facial expressions.
Autism awareness is the first step we take with readers. We make relatable characters for kids in middle school. Demystifying the broad spectrum of autism is a huge task. Our goal is to start by showing kids can have heroes like themselves, and one hero just happens to have autism.