Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

We only use strictly necessary cookies for this website. Please see the privacy policy for more information.   

PRC-Saltillo Logo
PRC Logo
Saltillo Logo
Realize Language Logo
ExploreAAC Logo
AAC Language Lab Logo
AAC And Autism Logo
ALP for AAC Logo
Touch Chat App Logo
LAMP Words for Life Logo
Dialogue AAC App
AAC Funding
AAC Learning Journey
AAC Group Coaching
PRC-Saltillo Store
Minspeak Academy Create New Account

Autism Representation In Star Trek

Posted Jul 27, 2023 - 12:16pm

By: Cat Vrana, PRC-Saltillo Blogger

“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”

-Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek

Hello! I start basically every written interaction I have with “hello.” You may not think that’s so strange- it’s a common greeting. However, in my case:

- I mean literally every written interaction.

- Saying “hello”, while polite, is meaningless to me.

I’m autistic. Whoop, there it is.

So, what even is autism?

Having autism means that my brain is “wired” differently from people who don’t have autism. People on the autism spectrum have repetitive behavior and differences in social understanding and communication. Autism is a spectrum disorder, so everyone with ASD shows those characteristics in a variety of ways with differing levels of severity.

Always saying “hello” is one way autism affects me. I understand through observation that saying “hello” is a greeting. It’s also meaningless to me because there’s no exchange of information, and that’s what my brain considers to be the function of socialization. I never change what I say to start a written conversation because of my repetitive behavior- I find comfort in doing the same thing the same way every time. (Sorry to all the people I email regularly, lol).

Autism can sometimes feel like you've been flung half-way across the galaxy into the unknown. Far from home, you’re unfamiliar with the customs of the alien inhabitants. Nothing makes sense and everything is overwhelming.

Autism has been portrayed in the media several times. Sometimes well. Sometimes not. I think it’s hard for people to pin down a good representation of ASD because everyone with ASD is so different. I think representation is done best indirectly.

Star Trek. Yup.

Star Trek has had characters with autistic traits from its inception in the 60’s. From Spok (original series) to Data (The Next Generation) to several characters in Voyager: Seven of Nine, Tuvok, and The Doctor.

My favorite Star Trek series is Voyager. In Voyager, the crew of the namesake starship are flung across the galaxy into the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 lightyears from earth. Nothing makes sense. Everything is unfamiliar.

The way Star Trek, especially Voyager, handles diversity of thought and personality is so refreshing. B’Lana has anger issues. Nelix is hyperactive. Even though Seven of Nine, Tuvok and The Doctor all share autistic traits, their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses are incredibly unique to their person.

In Star Trek: Voyager, the crew works together. Not despite their differences. Not because of them. Differences of thought aren’t treated as burdens or superpowers. Whether Klingon, Talixian, Borg, Vulcan, or computer software, the essence of their worth is their humanity; their willingness to contribute to a cause greater than themselves. To explore not only the galaxy, but to discover what it means to exist.

But, to illustrate my point with a more self-contained example, I’d like to talk about the episode entitled, The Measure of a Man from The Next Generation. An engineer wants to take Data apart to see how he works, and produce more of him. (Data is an android.) Data doesn’t want to be taken apart. Through several trials, Captain Picard argues on behalf of Data; that he is an autonomous being, not just a machine.

Do you know what makes Data human? His paintings. His love for his cat. (Data’s Day is a great portrayal of his humanity) His ability to choose autonomy, not slavery. These themes are expanded in the Doctor’s arc in Voyager.

Both Data and the Doctor are dehumanized at times, by other characters in their respective shows. Star Trek shows the optimal outcome brought about by mutual respect and acceptance of differences, but also what comes about from lack of it.

These kinds of experiences are familiar to me as someone with significant disabilities, especially because my repetitive behavior and movements can make people underestimate my abilities. Seeing Star Trek as a child ingrained in me deeply that life is inherently interesting, diverse, and to be respected. This message affected how I perceive not only others, but myself too.

There are no comments yet. Be the first to post!

You must be logged in to post.

Communicators In Action   -    autism in entertainment, inclusion in media