Many are familiar with the artistic achievements of autistic people. There is no shortage of highly detailed drawings and paintings created by autistic hands. Autistic people have also created beautiful works of music, literature, and dance. With logical thought, attention to detail, an often creative mind, and a thought process outside of the norm of society, there is little doubt that autism is synonymous with art.
But what about the art of acting? Acting is a direct representation of human behavior and interaction with other people. Surely a social disability like autism would get in the way of that.
As it turns out, there are quite a few accomplished actors with autism. In fact, many autistic people who have tried acting feel that their autistic traits actually contribute to their ability to perform. It's even likely that acting can help autistic people to better navigate society.
The first thing that comes to mind is that when acting, there is usually a script and a fair amount of rehearsing. Obviously, that isn't the case in improvisational acting. However, when a script is provided, it does help to know ahead of time what you're saying and doing. It makes it easier to not miss cues or have to stop and think about your response.
Another obstacle that I've heard mentioned is that autistic people tend toward honesty. In fact, many autistic people are practically unable to lie. How is it that an autistic person can portray anyone but themselves on stage?
The answer is simple, really. In acting, there is no intent to deceive. Everyone knows that an actor is simply playing a character. During the performance, there is no pressure at all to be your true self.
The most obvious and apparent obstacle to acting would be the accurate portrayal of human behavior. It would seem that, since this is the most defining characteristic of autism, this most fundamental aspect of acting would be the most difficult. After all, we tend toward logic, and, as I've said in past posts, human behavior tends to be the opposite of logical.
In fact, we can make very effective use of our logical and analytical minds to portray normal human behavior. We can do this the same way we learn anything. There may not be much in the way of logic behind human behavior, but there are patterns.
Simply observing human behavior and recognizing the patterns can teach us a lot about how neuronormal people interact. We can then mimic those patterns on stage. In some ways, it may even be easier for us to do this as an outside observer. We can approach these observations without the same kinds of expectations that a neuronormal would, meaning we can perhaps learn more from each observation, comparing it to previous ones.
Another thing we have going for us is that we don't have an innate understanding of human social behavior. Most people learn social behavior from a desire to fit in. They simply mimic the behavior of those around them, knowing instinctively that that is the correct way to interact with others.
As children, most autistic people don't really connect our behavior to how others see us. We tend to stop trying to mimic others when it's made clear that we got it wrong, but never explained how. Because of this, we tend not to learn about appropriate social interaction until we're older. We have to think about it on a conscious level. The fact that we have to keep the social rules in the front of our mind translates to being able to portray such behaviors during a performance.
I said early on in this post that acting can help autistic people learn to live in a neuronormal world. I hope by now you might have some ideas how it might. I've spent the last several paragraphs talking about the ability to learn about social interaction and human behavior. It should be obvious that these same lessons can be applied off stage as well. I think in many cases, acting may be the motivator to learn about social interaction.
I can think of one further obstacle to autistic people acting. That would be the nervousness of getting on stage. Many of us tend to be shy. Why wouldn't we be? Many of us have spent much of our lives getting shot down when we tried to interact with others. It would seem that the natural shyness that comes after that would interfere with our ability to get on stage in front of a large number of people.
The truth is this is a problem for any actor. It's generally just scary to get up in front of people and, let's be honest, make a fool of yourself. First, many autistic actors, as well as autistic people doing other types of performances, find it easier to visualize an audience as a single entity, or even to ignore them entirely. You're there to perform, not to interact with the people watching you. It also helps to keep in mind that those people in the audience came, often paying good money, just to see you make a fool of yourself (also known as acting).
There are many other fears involving performance and what can go wrong. I won't get into all of them here, but there are many ways to get around those fears. It shouldn't be hard to find techniques that will work for you.
To be clear, acting is not for everyone. Some people can never get over their fear of the stage. Others just have no interest in it or don't enjoy it. My point is just that acting should not be seen as being outside the abilities of autistic people. Like any interest worth pursuing, it can be very beneficial to the person doing it. And of course, the most important thing is to have fun!