Call the banker who fixed the Libor rate whatever you want – but please don't call him 'Rain Man'

The media's obsession with fictional characters proves that it just doesn't get autism

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The Independent Online

If you looked at the front pages of Tuesday's newspapers you may have noticed that someone has finally been convicted for fixing the Libor rate. ''14 years for the Rain Man Trader'', one headline reads, and many run along similar lines. Seeing them all, you may be confused. Has a banker with supernatural weather-changing powers has been arrested? No, although that would make for a better story. The media's widespread use of "Rain Man" actually refers to the fact that Tom Hayes has mild asperger's, which apparently makes him just like Dustin Hoffman's character in the 1988 film of the same name.

Sadly, in the media it's quite rare to see someone with autism on the front page news of a newspaper. So when they finally are, it's hardly reassuring for someone like myself, who lives with the condition, to see them painted as a ''shady'' banker whose condition is for some reason inseparable from his identity as a criminal.

Autism is a complex issue, and this complexity brings numerous challenges. First of all is society's penchant for simplifying the complex spider webs of human existence into simple concepts. The experience of autism can differ wildly depending on the person. Some need care to do simple things such as eating, and cannot live independently, while others can live a quite normal life albeit with some social or neurological challenges.

It's a very silly (but recurring) myth to say that everybody with autism is a math genius or is obsessed about numbers. It's true that many people with autism have singular passions, but to equate this to some kind of fixation with numbers or maths is simply not true.

The other issue is mental health. Considering the vast majority of people with autism experience mental health issues, it's hardly a great thing for them to be associated with criminality, or someone who uses their condition to cheat the system. The level of positive autism coverage is currently unprecedented – we're making real progress. But to use these lazy ''shortcuts'' only takes us back to the days when people didn't care about those with autism, and it has a real impact on those having to deal with it.

Rain Man is an interesting movie; it was one of the first Hollywood productions to have an autistic main character, and you can tell that Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman really got into their characters. But for the media to use this movie as a sort of all-purpose reference whenever anyone with autism hits the news is the same as associating all LBGT people with the cast of the seventies musical La Cage aux Folles.

This isn't to say that all Rain Man references should be banned – newspapers are free to write what they like. But to use this reference to apply it to everyone with autism, regardless of whether they are a chef or a criminal is stupid, misguided and lazy. We may have one very broad thing in common with Dustin Hoffman's fictional character, but in reality we are much more complex, much more real, and actually human.

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