The musician Sia recently revealed what many had long suspected: She is autistic.
The reactions from autistics have been quick and sharp. Sia’s 2021 film Music, about a non-speaking autistic girl’s vivid inner world and upheavals after her mother’s death, was widely criticized by autistics for its absurd autism stereotypes and mishandling of dangerous issues like restraints. Sia was abruptly dismissive to this backlash, which did not endear her to her now-fellow neurokin. Also, the actor who played the title Music, Maddie Ziegler, is not herself autistic—a sticking point for some but a distraction from deeper, systemic concerns for others:
But in that Maddie Ziegler not being autistic wasn’t what made that movie bad.
It was someone trying to tell that story without any connection to the community and therefore any sense of history or what we’ve generally come to regard as hurtful storytelling.
— Emily Paige Ballou (@epballou) May 31, 2023
Now that we know Sia is autistic, how can we respond? Being autistic is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for bad behavior. Sia’s novel neurostatus doesn’t mean Music is suddenly a good movie (it is not) or that Sia is instantly absolved from all missteps, like soliciting but then ignoring feedback from non-speaking autistics, and thus making a mockery of Music’s autistic characteristics, human rights, and communication needs.
But, perhaps, we need to consider the greater circumstances leading to an undiagnosed autistic person like Sia getting autism so, so wrong and redirect our energies into encouraging her to understand her neurodivergent self better. To that end, an anonymous autistic contributor shares their insights*.
“In the days before her fame, Sia dated someone I knew and we’d occasionally find ourselves hanging out. So, I’ve been waiting for this day.
“When Music came out, I found it particularly heartbreaking because I saw that flawed film for what it was: The byproduct of an autistic person who didn’t yet understand themselves as autistic. It reminded me of problematic movie and TV tropes about gay people made by artists and directors who were so repressed that they didn’t yet know they were gay (I’m old enough to rememberer that!).
“Yesterday on Twitter, I tried to express empathy for Sia and noted that criticism of Music led her to try to figure out how she got it wrong, which led to self-reflection, which led to her diagnosis. I ended up deleting the tweet because of the bullying and harassment I received.
“To me, this is a moment of reflection on what happens when autistic people aren’t centered in things about us. Just like those old gay tv tropes, it creates an ecosystem where an autistic person who does not understand herself as autistic creates a film like Music. I see it as a point where we can reflect on why we need to better serve autistic people, and how we can grow from here.
“Many folks on Twitter just seemed focused on hatred and retribution. I wish we could provide each other more grace.”
If you or Sia are looking for resources to better understand yourselves as late-diagnosed autistics, we have recommendations:
- The Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s Welcome to the Autistic Community
- We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia
- Lauren Ober’s late-diagnosis podcast The Loudest Girl in the World
- Knowing Why: Adult-Diagnosed Autistic People on Life And Autism edited by Elizabeth Bartmess
- NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman
- Our own Neurodiversity FAQ
*If you know who the anonymous person is, please don’t reveal their name. Thanks.