'Young Justice' and Autism
More Than Simple Entertainment
The former Cartoon Network turned DC streaming service show has long been known to be more than just simple kids' entertainment. Even at the time of its final episode, Endgame, words such as smart, witty, and mature could be used to describe it. Sadly, due to lackluster toy sales, not even funding by a third-party crowdfunding campaign could convince Cartoon Network to bring the show back after it originally ended its run on March 16, 2013. That was until a few years later when Warner Brothers (the parent company of DC animation), announced the creation of their own streaming service. It would be on this platform that the still massively popular animated show Young Justice would finally make its return on January 4, 2019.
What a return it was. Picking up where the series left off, the show continued to grow and really flex its muscles. Due to being released on a streaming service rather than network TV, the rules governing what could and couldn't be shown, along with what could and couldn't be said, seem to be a bit more relaxed. In this season alone, the show has dealt with the creation and the trafficking of new metahumans (individuals with powers beyond that of a typical individual) across national and international borders, discovering who they are, what they want to do with their powers (if anything at all), and most recently, knowing when to break the rules/laws for a good cause and when to listen to them.
Autism in Young Justice
Along with the heroes in the opening picture, other members of this new Young Justice team, nicknamed Outsiders, include Fred Bugg aka Forager (a bug-like alien who has been exiled from his home planet New Genesis), Violet Harper aka Halo (a young woman who's body died but was then brought back to life by living technology-watch the show, it's complicated), Traci Thurston aka Thirteen (a magically gifted human mentored by Zatanna), and Terra Markov (who does not yet have a code/superhero name in the show) the sister of Brion Markov aka Geo-Force.
Out of all of those heroes, the ones autistic individuals can likely relate to the most are Violet Harper and Fred Bugg. They are literal outsiders struggling to discover who they are and what their purpose is, not just to the group they work with but also in the world overall. In the case of Violet Harper, while many people likely cannot relate to being taken over by a living machine, what they can likely relate to is taking in a frankly overwhelming amount of information each day and struggling to comprehend it. Whether autistic or not, the world can be a mind-boggling place to live. The sheer amount of information an individual is expected to process each day is similar to that of a computer processing massive amounts of information every day.
In the case of Fred Bugg, he is basically a sentient bug attempting to understand and imitate human culture much like an autistic person. One of the things autistic individuals are taught when they can't understand why their peers act and do things in a certain way is how to imitate it. Take eye contact for instance. There are many cases of autistic individuals being unable to do this for a variety of reasons. In this situation, these unique individuals are taught to simply imitate their peers and others who do this, as in many cultures all over the world, it's a nonverbal sign of respect, that you are listening and taking in what someone else is saying, that it is important to you.
How I and Others Can Relate
Even as a young adult with Asperger's Syndrome, AKA high functioning autism, who has no problem making eye contact, I attempt to do this all the time with other forms of social cues such as reactions to what people say, what to and not to say in certain situations and more. It's not so much that I blindly follow what they do, simply that I use it as a learning experience for similar situations in the future as I'm sure many other autistic individuals do as well. At least in my case, I learn slower than others. Whereas my peers likely know what to do in a whole range of social situations, I take much more time. Even between those with similar forms of autism, some might be faster learners than others.
Even more than what has been said, he does occasionally have difficulty communicating much as one with more severe forms of autism can have. Some such as myself typically have very little issues talking (although there are times where even I have massively embarrassing amounts of problems communicating) while others have very limited to no speech at all. For those with more severe forms of this genetic condition, it is easy to see why they would likely identify with Forager/Fred. They can see in him another who also struggles regardless of who/what he really is.
A Powerful Message
Changing the topic slightly to other messages the show presents is when to break the law for the cause of good and when to listen to it. This is a truly powerful message to send to individuals of all abilities and one that likely wouldn't have been overtly tackled on network TV. Sure, vigilantes as the Young Justice group like their mentors were known, technically broke the law all the time, but again it wasn't overtly mentioned until the latter part of this season when a familiar phrase that had been used to launch the show, "Get on board or get out of the way," made a reappearance.
Originally, this phrase was said by Superboy to all the mentors present (Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, Aquaman, Flash, Black Canary, Green Arrow and more) following his, Robin's, Kid Flash's and Aqualad's first solo mission. It was the teams' way of saying that they were ready to use the skills their mentors had taught them over years of training to help the world on their own team, or else why teach them at all? They were ready to accept their own missions that required a more covert touch that the league couldn't do, so The League could either get on board in the form of providing backup and support (as even the new team knew they weren't completely ready to be on their own just yet-that would come later), or get out of the way as Superboy, Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad were forming their own team whether their mentors approved or not.
In the latter part of this season (season three), this phrase has since been adapted by Beast Boy (a later addition to the team towards the end of season one) to mean that he, along with Kid Flash, Static, Blue Beatle, Wonder girl and most recently El Dorado (all of whom except El Dorado joined the team throughout the first and second seasons of the show), were ready to use their powers in a much more public compacity in order to not only fight against the very justice system that was preventing them from doing so, but also inspire others like them aka those with special abilities, to use said abilities in the right way. If the law is keeping them from saving and helping people then it is high time to inspire change not just in others like them, but kids, teens, and young adults especially to fight back using social media and prove to the government what is truly right and wrong. To see what specifically is meant by this, one simply has to watch the latter half of season three. So far, it is quite amazing even if the choices are not always agreed with.
Outsiders Bringing Both Messages Together
Whether the show is unconsciously giving autistic and other differently-abled individuals one or more characters to identify with or telling people of all backgrounds and abilities the right and wrong times to break the rules/laws, the one thing both have in common is the name of the group demonstrating these messages, Outsiders. Another one of the group's favorite quotes that they often encourage their fans and potential recruits to use on social media is, "We are all Outsiders". While on the surface it seems to simply refer to their name as a group, but dive deeper and the phrase, of course, has more significance both in the show and reality.
In both instances (fiction and our world), the phrase is also giving power to those who are deemed "different" be it due to one's powers, physical appearance, mental abilities, physical handicaps and the like. Just because one is an outsider doesn't mean they don't have powers, strengths, and abilities better than our own. Often times, it is these people who can teach us the most about patience, inner strength, determination and more. Simply because one is different, an Outsider, it does not mean they are worthless.
This can also be said for those who choose to go against the crowd and stand up for those who are different and can't stand up for themselves. The typical wisdom of the crowd seems to be to look out for yourself while quietly helping out those in need. To risk making a fool of one's self and standing up for others, even in today's more open and accepting world is a feat. Especially with the invention of social media and video sharing platforms, one not only has to worry about what those around them will say but also their opponents both on and offline.
Regardless of what others think and say about you, don't be afraid to be an Outsider. It no longer has as much of a stigma as it used to. Just be yourself and others can either "get on board or get out of the way". You have more power to influence change than you realize. Without people being brave enough to be Outsiders and speak up, women likely wouldn't have the chance to vote, Jim Crow laws could still be in effect, and employers could still have free reign to discriminate against differently-abled individuals.
All that said, it doesn't give everyone the right to go out and break any law they see as unjust, simply that one must be knowledgeable about which laws they are breaking in the name of change, how far to go with it and be willing to accept any and all consequences that come with change until that change can be legally implemented, much like The Outsiders in the season three episode seventeen episode "First Impression."
© 2019 Megan Rickards