Abed Nadir – an accurate portrayal of autism?

Posted on 19 July 2020
By Dana Andersen
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When it comes to autistic characters in TV, we’ve seen them all.

The quiet, weird type of Maurice Moss in The IT Crowd, the loud, outspoken type like Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, or the math genius, with no human emotions like Scorpion’s main character Walter O’Brien.

Although relatable for some autistic people, they all have their negative side.

Moss is almost entirely unable to live an adult life, working in a basement, and admitting he doesn’t open the door to anyone who knocks.

Sheldon is frustrating, often selfish, and almost always annoying.

Walter is the typical stereotype of an autistic person, someone who understands numbers, but not people, and withdraws entirely into that.

With shows like Atypical, and even Sesame Street, trying their best to give accurate representations of autistic people, there is one character to look towards, to see how that can be done well, and that character is Abed Nadir from Community.

Although his autism isn’t outright spoken about, we have lines like ‘on the spectrum, none of your business’ in Troy and Abed’s christmas rap, and Abed also refers to his friends as ‘neurotypical’ at comic-con, implying that he is neurodivergent.

Throughout the six seasons of the show, Abed offers a character that most autistic people can heavily relate to, without feeling like they’re being made fun of.

Abed presents a variety of autistic characteristics in a realistic way, and they’re very rarely the butt of any jokes. Even when they are, it feels that Abed, and by extension the autism community, is in on the joke, being laughed with, rather than at.

He has special interests like most autistic people, his being the TV show Cougar Town, and later Inspector Space Time, a clear parody of Doctor Who, well known for being a show with a wealth of lore, and having many autistic fans.

His friends understand and respect those interests, encouraging him to find a new show once Cougar Town ends, and engaging in his interests by watching movies with him, and even attending comic-con.

His autistic traits, like often eating buttered noodles, having melt downs when he’s overwhelmed, his repetition of the word ‘cool’ when he’s uncomfortable, and consistent references to them living in a TV show, are all accepted as his ‘quirks’ by the rest of the study group, eventually becoming normalised to them, validating those actions not just for him, but for any autistic people watching with similar traits.

There are even entire episodes dedicated to the study group assisting Abed in dealing with change, helping him to understand that it can be a good thing, or you can be sad that its over while being happy it happened.

Throughout the show, we see Abed learn how to be a more caring, attentive friend, how to be more himself, and how to better express his emotions, all without altering the core of who he is, and without erasing his autism.

He’s one of the few characters never represented as being selfish or uncaring due to his autistic traits, most likely thanks to show runner Dan Harmon feeling that he himself has many traits of autism, and may be autistic.

The writer researched autism quite extensively to write the character of Abed, and should be commended for doing such, since he managed to sensitively write a character that, in many other shows, would have been the comedy relief, or a character to punch down at.

Danny Pudi, the actor behind Abed, should also be recognised for how well he played the character. Although it would be nice to see an autistic actor play an autistic role, Pudi also researched autism for his portrayal of the character, finding a way to still portray emotion while maintaining common autistic traits of avoiding eye contact, and having a monotone speaking voice.

Autism is very much a spectrum, and although its likely not all autistic people will be able to fully relate to Abed, most can see at least elements of themselves in the character.

Abed offers autistic people a chance to see themselves on screen, being loved and accepted by others, and also assists in normalising viewers to autistic traits.

Put all of this together, and you have one of the best representations of autism in media.