We need to listen to autistic people's critiques of their portrayal in Sia's 'Music'

When the trailer for Sia's directorial debut movie "Music" was released in November, the Australian singer faced intense backlash from people in the autistic community who felt that the portrayal of an autistic character played by Maddie Ziegler (who is not autistic) was problematic. Advocates also expressed concern about the use of harmful restraint techniques shown in the trailer.

At the time, Sia engaged in heated public debate with her critics on social media, ultimately ending with the statement, "I really hope you see the movie (s)o you can be less angry."

Now the movie is out, and autistic people are commenting on the full film—and they are definitely not any less upset.

The Autisticats is a group of autistic young people who share their experiences with being autistic (among other things) online. On their Twitter account, one of them offered a "detailed & chronological review" of the film.


First they shared images and a clip from the film that show the exaggerated mannerisms of the autistic main character, in addition to a scene with strobing lights and overwhelming visuals that would be difficult for many autistic people to sit through.


Their explanation of what was problematic continued in the thread:

"This performance is a caricature of autistic body language. It's unsettling, and insincere. And it is deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms non-autistic people often employ when bullying autistic & developmentally disabled people for the ways we move.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ways autistic people move, or the ways we make facial expressions. Some of us roll our eyes and put our teeth over our lips as a stim or just because it's comfortable. But we do those things naturally. Maddie Ziegler does not.

The fact that Ziegler is not autistic, and the fact that her performance is so heavily exaggerated, turns the entire movie into one long display of mockery. I know that 'wasn't Sia's intention.' But it doesn't make things any easier to stomach.

Two other things I want to touch on: 1. The strobing lights and colors in the dance scenes are extremely overstimulating, and could cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy (common in autistic people) 2. The restraint scenes are still there, without a warning.

I was under the impression, according to Sia's apology and accompanying promise, that: A. There would be a warning at the beginning of the movie regarding the danger of restraint, or B. That the restraint scenes would be removed from the film entirely. That isn't true so far.

If this thread prevents just 5 other people from watching this movie, it will have been worth it. I know people are curious. And I also know it's not my responsibility to bear the burden of watching this film for the community. But I want to serve the greater good.

I want to be able to provide my perspective from as informed a position as possible, and I couldn't do that without actually watching the film. I'll be writing my review and posting it when it's done. I don't know if this was a good idea. I just want it to be worth something."

With the film receiving two Golden Globe nominations—one for best motion picture, musical or comedy, and one for best actress in a musical or comedy (for Kate Hudson's performance)—the controversy is extra heightened, and many people from the autistic and disabled community are weighing in. A petition requesting the Golden Globes to rescind the nominations due to the movie being "severely ableist" and contributing to "harmful stereotypes of autistic people" has been signed by nearly 50,000 people so far.

According to Vanity Fair, Sia has said that a disclaimer will be placed at the beginning of the film that reads: "MUSIC in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people. There are autistic occupational therapists that specialize in sensory processing who can be consulted to explain safe ways to provide proprioceptive, deep-pressure feedback to help w meltdown safety." She also said that future releases of the film will have the restraint scenes removed.

Though Sia has defended her good intentions in the casting and directing of the film, she has also apologized repeatedly for the film's portrayal of autism. "I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility," she wrote on Twitter, "my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough." She has since deleted her Twitter account.

More details about the making of the movie have come out that indicate there were some red flags even in the midst of filming. Sia said that Maddie Ziegler herself, who played the role at age 14, broke down crying one day and told Sia she was afraid people were going to think she was making fun of autistic people. Sia reassured her that she wouldn't let that happen.


What Sia should have done is seen the teen's discomfort as a sign that perhaps there was something problematic in the way the role was being played and sought more advocates in the autistic community to consult about it.

Though "Music" certainly isn't the first movie to have a neurotypical actor portraying a neurodivergent character, the issue has been brought up so many times following other films and society has become so much more aware that it's quite clear that the issues in this film could have been remedied with more meaningful inclusion of autistic people in the filmmaking process.

Grappling our way toward becoming a more accepting, respectful, and truly inclusive society is a messy process. Let's listen and learn from these responses and conversations so that harm to already stigmatized communities can be avoided in the future.

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We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

This sweet story is brought to you by Sumo Citrus®. This oversized mandarin is celebrated for its incredible taste and distinct looks. Sumo Citrus is super-sweet, enormous, easy-to-peel, seedless, and juicy without the mess. Fans of the fruit are obsessive, stocking up from January to April when Sumo Citrus is in stores. To learn more, visit sumocitrus.com and @sumocitrus.

Terence Power / TikTok

A video of a busker in Dublin, Ireland singing "You've Got a Friend in Me" to a young boy with autism is going viral because it's just so darn adorable. The video was filmed over a year ago by Terence Power, the co-host of the popular "Talking Bollox Podcast."

It was filmed before face masks were required, so you can see the boy's beautiful reaction to the song.

Power uploaded it to TikTok because he had just joined the platform and had no idea the number of lives it would touch. "The support on it is unbelievable. I posted it on my Instagram a while back and on Facebook and the support then was amazing," he told Dublin Live.

"But I recently made TikTok and said I'd share it on that and I'm so glad I did now!" he continued.

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True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

This sweet story is brought to you by Sumo Citrus®. This oversized mandarin is celebrated for its incredible taste and distinct looks. Sumo Citrus is super-sweet, enormous, easy-to-peel, seedless, and juicy without the mess. Fans of the fruit are obsessive, stocking up from January to April when Sumo Citrus is in stores. To learn more, visit sumocitrus.com and @sumocitrus.

A teacher's message has gone viral after he let his student sleep in class — for the kindest reason.

Teachers spend time preparing lesson plans and trying to engage students in learning. The least a kid can do is stay awake in class, right?

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via Ken Lund / Flickr

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The display was planned by a group of around 40 LGBT students to mark the one-year anniversary of the university sending out a letter clarifying its stance on homosexual behavior.

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