Attorney Woo, who is extraordinarily talented, is both at its finest and its worst form of autistic representation

Attorney Woo, who is extraordinarily talented, is both at its finest and its worst form of autistic  ...

Extraordinary Attorney Woo starts with an argument. Jung Myung-seok, a senior attorney at Hanbada's law practice, objects that CEO Han Seon-young has assigned an autistic lawyer to his team. Seon-young is quick to lambast him. What matters is that she graduated from Korea's most prestigious university.

It's an immediate introduction to Extraordinary Attorney Woo at its finest and worst: text that emphasizes Myung-seoks, Koreas, and ableism, while the subtext reinforces the idea that disabled peoples' worth comes from what they can contribute.

Park Eun-bin, an autistic savant who arrived at Hanbada after six months of struggle for employment due to her autism, follows her as she searches for solutions to problems her allistic colleagues cannot.

Is Extraordinary Attorney Woo a good representation? The answer is complex. After having seen the series, spoken with autistic viewers, autism organizations, and an actual autistic attorney, the consensus appears to be yes and no?

Autism in Korea, in context

Ableism is common in the West, but there is a significant increase in stigma surrounding autism and disability in Korea, where the value of social order has traditionally predominate. Despite the prevalence of autism in Korea, Son Da-eun of Autism Partnership Korea claims that individuals with disabilities are diagnosed at a rate of 1 in 38, whereas internationally estimated 1 in 100.

That's not to say there isn't much progress in Korea; public opinion is slowly shifting, leading to improved access and increased service providers. In reading through comments to Extraordinary Attorney Woo, it's clear that autism and disability continue to be stigmatized in Korea, the extent of which is revealed when reading how many parents were forced to flee their autistic children's schools.

Scratching the surface

In that vein, it's appropriate that the series begins with Young-woos' difficulties in finding employment. According to the Employment Development Institute of Korea, only 22% of autistic people in the country are employed, the lowest rate of any demographic.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo excels in highlighting the realities of discrimination through Hanbada's microcosmic lens. Though it falls short of ever tackling the system that drives those realities, it often emphasizes the problems inside. For instance, while Young-woos ableist colleague Kwon Min-woo is often reprimanded for his efforts to undermine Young-woo, the show never attempts to challenge where that ableism comes from or how Hanbada is secretly encouraging it by withholding sympathy.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo demonstrates what moving through a (often hostile) world with autism can be like. I felt very represented, according to Haley Moss, an autistic attorney and neurodiversity advocate. But a lot of the time, they offer unwanted and unneeded help that makes me (and everyone else) uncomfortable.

So is the show relatable for Stephanie Bethany, an autistic content creator who felt a special connection with Young-woos' mannerisms and narrative.

Attorney Woo performs finger and hand stims like I do, writes in an email, wears headphones when needed and not 24/7 like I do, engages in occasional echolalia and hits her head/ears when things get escalated, dangerous, and loud like I do.

Kwon Min-woo's in an email demonstrates how his frustration with Young-woos accommodations drives him from simply undermining her to actively trying to retaliate against her. This has definitely been my lived experience.

I want to live in the fantasy where everyone is always accepting and supportive, as Haley warns me!

Extraordinary Attorney Woo has found a following among the disabled community when they were so used to being chronically underrepresented. I initially felt positive viewing her portrayal of diversity rather than an instant change, and the warmth she receives from her colleagues. I wonder if she was not sometimes guilty of relating to what we want to see.

The best of intentions

Representation isnt a difficult task, nor is it the only means of influencing change for underrepresented groups in the media. It's unrealistic to expect one character or series to fully represent the whole scope of a disability. And even shows that are attempting to do good might fall short.

The producers of the program aim to increase awareness of autism in Korea. But the show has an ableist undertone, starting with the title before it was modified for Western viewers. The Korean title,, is most accurately translated as Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo.

There is some debate on the appropriate translation of. However, each translation appears to be synonymous, whether it's weird, strange, or odd. Speaking to autistic Korean speakers about the title, they confirm it is Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo, a derivation of weird that has been used as a pejorative against them.

Its easy to appreciate what the program is attempting to accomplish: highlight a perceived otherness that might ultimately be dispelled for some viewers. Instead, it seems like the program is starting from an ableist, allistic place rather than invoking genuine support for autistic people. The fact that the show has since introduced a Woo Young-woo NFT collection hasnt helped the series appear to be heavily based on altruistic motives.

To counteract the ingrained ableism that leads to titles like Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo, it is important to involve handicapped people into the production (which would also help to combat the staggeringly low employment rates of autistic and disabled persons in Korea) and to hire disabled actors to lend their experiences to their own roles.

Moon Ji-won, a writer, reportedly spent a year consulting with an early childhood special education teacher to ensure accuracy. Research is fine, but how you use it is even more important. And Moon's portrayal of Young-woo as a genius genius is particularly telling, in contrast to so many stereotypical autism descriptions that refuse to dissipate.

Rain Man is older than me and I still have to talk about it! Moss says, exasperated. Savant syndrome is a rare and hyper-specific point on the autism spectrum. Experts estimate that savant-like behaviors occur in 2-10% of the autistic population. The way Young-woo is described, as a genius savant (known as the prodigious savant), represents less than 75 people in the world.

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Sarah Audley's 2020 paper on autistic representation in television is concerned for two reasons: the absence of genuine autistic representation and the spread of autism misinformation that may be perpetuated by the prevalence of autism stereotypes in the entertainment industry.

It's depressing, because the many perspectives on disability are intrinsically human stories that need more than stereotypical representation, rather than molding us into something palatable and misleading for non-disabled viewers. This is what defines Young-woo at Hanbada, not who she is, but rather that she can solve problems that other people can't.

Da-eun tells me Extraordinary Attorney Woo stripping some of the stigma and shame that autism is caused by the humanizing of Young-woo, even though the program does perpetuate a few common misconceptions about autism's nature and treatment.

The fact that the vast majority of autism characters are portrayed as having a superpower or that autism is really a blessing in disguise muddys the waters and can confuse the public about what autism is.

The effect of that reinforcement is already being felt in Korea. Allistic content creators are imitating Young-woos voice patterns and mannerisms for their opinions on TikTok and YouTube, driven by the decision to exaggerate many Young-woos mannerisms that might be considered cute or quirky.

Lydia Netzer describes cute autism as a way to dissect habits that might be off-putting or annoying in order to create an image that is as close to neurotypicality as possible.

Korean schoolchildren are reportedly insulating each other by asking, Are you Woo Young-woo? Autistic content creators make comments expressing their displeasure that theyre not like Young-woo, while receiving retaliation for their criticism of the series.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo may be a dismal representation, but that doesnt imply there isnt a possibility for better decisions. Tom Purser, director of the National Autistic Society's guidance, volunteering, and campaigns, talks about the power the media can exert on autism.

According to him, the stories we see on screen must reflect the whole autism spectrum. Many individuals learn about living with autism through films and television programs. It's important that these depictions of autism are accurate so that people may fully understand the difficulties autistic individuals face, as well as the enormous contributions they make to our society.

Extraordinary Attorney Woos' stated intention to increase awareness about autism in a country that disproportionately stigmatizes it is admirable, but we must also acknowledge that its stereotypical portrayal of autism and disability is generating more narrow-mindedness. That the lesson the show is teaching its allistic, non-disabled audience is just more ableism.

Vielleicht bin ich an optimist, but I believe that some people will see Extraordinary Attorney Woo and begin to think differently about autism and disability.

The facade is weak, but it's easy to peel off. The ableism that pervades Korea and, let's get real, that pervades the world has penetrated into the making of Extraordinary Attorney Woo. Not only does the program omit information beyond legal jargon or address a status quo responsible for so much discrimination, it also removes what might have been one of the most important disabled actors in the media of her voice and agency.

Im happy for those who relate to the show on an individual basis. That's important, but it's equally important to remember that this is only one of many very narrow and often identical avenues into autism in media, which weren't created by monoliths as Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo.