Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This thesis makes a significant contribution to understanding how exposure to entertainment media portrayals of characters with autism spectrum conditions influences the attitudes and knowledge of preservice teachers towards autism and students on the autism spectrum. Entertainment media contributes to the cumulative knowledge and attitude a teacher has about students with autism. The teacher’s knowledge and attitudes towards students with autism will dictate their behaviour towards the students resulting in a direct impact on the student’s education, social inclusion and personal perception. Additionally, the teacher’s personal and professional behaviours resulting from their beliefs will create a model for all students and the school community as a whole.

This thesis reports findings from two successive studies. In the first study a search of gray literature, an in-depth analysis of the accuracy and dialogue produced through film and relates to autism, a survey of professionals working with individuals on the autism spectrum in education and support were conducted, and a ranking system for films featuring characters on the spectrum was devised. In the second study three surveys (pre-test, post-test, follow-up) were distributed to preservice teachers recruited from a Graduate Diploma in Education course in Australia in 2012. Participants were asked a series of questions to determine their previous exposure to spectrum conditions and their responses to a specific film exposure.

The findings reported in this thesis suggest that autism has become personified through dramatisations of severity and negatively valenced dialogue presented in film. The portrayals omit the individual in favour of the homogenous prototypical stereotypes that serve as plot functions or to create an opportunity for the neurotypical viewer to empathise with those dealing with the ‘burden’ (implied to be the individual on the spectrum). Additionally, exposures to film portrayals of autism that are highly emotive evoke an empathy response from viewers, increase stigmatising attitudes about autism.