Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Photons (And Aspies) Be Free: What Star Trek: Voyager's EMH Can Teach Us About Neurodiversity

So I’ve been re-watching Star Trek: Voyager lately, and something occurred to me; I Identify with the Emergency Medical Hologram. Also known as the EMH, or “The Doctor” and played by the talented Robert Picardo, the Doctor’s character functioned primarily as ‘the other’: the one looking in, aspiring to be more than the sum of his programming, but struggling against everyone’s preconceived notions of what a hologram can and can’t do. He also dealt with his crewmates’ well-intentioned-yet-misguided attempts to “repair” anything they deemed wrong with his program…at least at first. As an Aspie, I'm sure I don't have to spell out how relateable this is on so many levels…something I never realized as a kid watching the show for the first time.

Much like those of us on the Autism Spectrum, the Doctor needed to fight for his right to exist as he was on numerous occasions. Once, for example, when his program encountered the digital version of a depressive episode after he failed to save a crew member, Captain Janeway thought nothing of erasing those memories from his database. Except she didn’t…not perfectly anyway. The Doctor spent the rest of the episode recovering his memories and making the argument that for good or ill, he had the right to his memories, his hurt, his feelings. On yet another episode, after encountering a group of fellow sentient holograms fighting for their rights, he disobeyed Janeway’s direct order that he not get involved and joined in their struggle when it became clear that no one truly valued their existence as individuals. Naturally, the parallels for us spectrum-dwellers are clear. After all, what is the desire to cure autism other than the complete erasure of who someone is and their replacement with someone deemed “more normal?” What right does anyone have to talk about how much we suffer when they don't walk in our shoes? How many of us face being underestimated on a daily basis simply due to our ASD diagnoses? In these ways, with that kind of pressure, it’s only natural that we identify with a character like The Doctor. After all, in many ways, we’ve each been in his shoes at some point.

Part of the brilliance of Star Trek has always been its exploration of what it means to be human, especially from the perspective of characters who aren’t a member of that group. While Voyager draws the ire of fans for many reasons, one thing the show did wonderfully was the growth of The Doctor as a character. Here was someone who was nothing more than a computer generated projection of light and photons on first glance, but who was actually far more than that. The Doctor was single-minded in his duty at first, and didn’t know how to relate politely and amicably with his crew. He was an arrogant genius lacking social graces, who through the understanding of his friends, was allowed to grow and develop in his own way. If this sounds familiar to any of you fellow Aspies it should; this is what a truly understanding society could do for us too if only it existed. Rather than trying to cure Autism and make people fit into neat little boxes, we all need to learn from the Doctor’s story; show kindness to those who are different and allow them to grow into the perfect versions of themselves.

Only then, in the words of Spock, will we all “live long and prosper.”

Yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

No comments:

Post a Comment