As awareness of autism grows, so does its prevalence in popular culture. People on all parts of the autism spectrum are starring in mainstream television shows, movies and novels.
One of the latest is an adventure story about a boy with autism, which is made its appearance in a popular comic book.
DC Comics released Batman 80-Page Giant 2011, a book of short stories about the infamous dark knight. In one of them, a young boy with autism reaches a developmental milestone after reading his comic book (and helping Batman spar with a zombie super villain).
“One Lock, Many Keys” focuses on a child with autism named “Lucas” immersed in the pages of his comics as his parents argue over whether or not he should be reading them. As they leave his room Lucas claps his hands and mutters to himself, a reaction recognizable as autistic.
He crawls into bed just as something rushes past his window. Climbing onto the fire escape, he gets caught in a battle between the Batman and the hulking, zombie super villain Solomon Grundy.
Caramagna (writer) leaves the ending open to interpretation as to whether the encounter was real or played out in Lucas’ imagination, but in the final panels of the comic, the boy’s parents are delighted when he has achieved a new developmental milestone.
Many boys, at one point or another, get obsessed with a comic book series (as the big blockbuster movies from the last couple of years attest). The story’s author, Joe Caramagna, has a family member with autism and told a reporter that comics can encourage creativity, especially in children with the disorder.
Many people with autism say they learn best through visual storytelling, and some scientific reports make the controversial claim that the disorder leads to enhanced visual perception. The graphic format of a comic book, then, might be especially appealing for a child with autism.
The way comics strip down complicated emotions into discrete blocks and simple, direct language (“Holy Smokes, Batman!” “KA-POW!”) may also help children who struggle to understand social situations.
Without knowing that cartooning is already widely used to help children on the spectrum learn about emotions, Mr. Caramagna has created a sensitive, inspiring and thrilling story involving autism. This is the first time a Batman story has dealt with autism since the inception of the series in 1939.