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‘The Proud Family’ Celebrates Autism Awareness Month

‘The Proud Family’ Celebrates Autism Awareness Month

In Season 2’s penultimate episode of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Trudy (Paula Jai White) and Oscar (Tommy Davidson) take their twins BeBe (Aiden Dodson) and CeCe (Bresha Webb) to see Dr. Lord (Holly Robinson Peete). It’s not just a routine check-up — the family has noticed some unusual behavior from BeBe. He’s been reckless beyond the standard kid amount of chaos. While at the museum with Penny (Kyla Pratt) he jumps in an airplane, which falls, and he simply laughs. Later he falls from the roof and gives little to no reaction. 

Even Dr. Payne (Kevin Michael Richardson) knows something is wrong and refers the family to Dr. Lord, who is a behavioral psychologist. Dr. Lord mentions that CeCe performed above average but she has concerns about BeBe. Immediately Oscar becomes edgy and Trudy becomes anxious. Dr. Lord explains that BeBe appears to be on the autism spectrum and is currently “low support” (the amount of support the individual needs due to the condition). She says that can fluctuate throughout his life, but for now they just need to know that he may need a different kind of support. 

Though this is the episode that focuses on BeBe’s autism diagnoses, there have been hints dropped throughout the season. And having Holly Robinson Peete voice Dr. Lord was no coincidence. In the credits she’s listed as “consultant.” That’s due in part to her son RJ who was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. 

“If I saw a family with this journey after my son’s diagnosis, I would have had so much more hope!” Robinson Peete told TV Insider. She and her family star in the Peacock unscripted series Meet the Peetes. In many ways the show puts a humanizing face on those dealing with autism and their caretakers. It’s even more impactful because the family is Black. 

Did you know that Black children are on average diagnosed three years after their parents have expressed concerns? And one and a half years later than white children after several more visits. Some suggest a “cultural divide” between African Americans and mainstream healthcare providers, others allege racism, and others attribute it to the stigma mental health has, especially in African American families. Regardless of the issue, it points to a need for more accurate representation of people of color on the autism spectrum. 

It appears to be starting first with children. Characters like AJ Gadgets from Hero Elementary, Max on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and of course BeBe are making their mark on young minds and their families. While it’s important to note that very few of these characters are girls, it is nice and refreshing to see it at all. BeBe’s voice actor, Aiden Dodson, is on the spectrum himself. It’s a great path to seeing opportunities for young actors who are autistic. 

Not that long ago these characters would be hidden, or just written off as being “weird” or “different.” Knowledge is power, and giving these children a voice to say what they may not be able to points to a goodness that can be easily overlooked. Let’s face it, autism isn’t going anywhere, and more and more families are dealing with members on the spectrum. Yes, even in Black families!

Tisha Campbell’s son Xen was diagnosed early. Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men has a son, Micah, who is autistic, and Toni Braxton’s son Diesel was diagnosed as a toddler. It’s not necessarily that more people are autistic, but rather more people are finally able to put a name to understanding the way they learn. 

In The Proud Family, BeBe processed pain differently than expected. But he still became hurt. Simply ignoring the problem or, worse, refusing to see it, ends up causing more trouble and offers no real solution. 

In more adult shows, we’re also seeing a rise of autistic characters though again, the number of Black characters is small. There was Dean (Harrold Perrineau) on the beloved series, Claws. There was some criticism of him playing the character and the choices he made, but overall many were happy to see the representation. There are even characters who are diagnosed after the fact like Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) on The IT Crowd, who exhibited enough autistic qualities that the neurodivergent community embraced him readily. 

Given that the other examples are Crazy Eyes from Orange Is the New Black and Kanye West, I think it’s more than safe to say that representation is needed before we slip back into the caricature we’ve seen employed in other projects. Today’s characters are not without their flaws, but that’s what makes them human and relatable. 

During Autism Awareness Month, take some time to appreciate these characters that champion for diversity, representation and inclusion. 

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