So, you’re thinking about writing an autistic character and you’re starting off your research. You think to yourself, “Hmm, I should look at all of the books with autistic characters that have been critically acclaimed.”

If you are thinking that, I’ll assume that this is the first post of mine you’re reading. Or, if not, that I have been far less vitriolic towards mainstream media than I feel like I’ve been.

So, here’s the thing – as writers, we’re always told to read. Reading is our best tool. It can give us ideas and it teaches us about structure and archetypes.

The problem is that it also teaches us about stereotypes and problematic tropes.

I’m a paranormal YA author. Have you read paranormal YA? If you’re not familiar with the genre, let me break down about 90% of everything in it:

-Blank slate/lego brick girl has slightly special gift
-Boy who is some kind of paranormal creature in disguise arrives at school
-He turns out to be dangerous
-She doesn’t care
-They start dating despite him being very controlling and scary
-She helps him to fulfil a prophecy/stop the bad guys/saves him from himself/whatever through the power of her love for him

“That’s just Twilight,” I hear you say.

Yes. Yes it is. It’s also, like, five other best-selling books I’ve read this month.

(If you want a really funny take on this trope, go watch Booze Your Own Adventure.)

“But everyone knows they’re terrible.”

Yeah, but you know who first talked about how terrible this trend was?

Well, actually, it was probably middle-aged men who were shitting on it mostly because teenage girls liked it. But they were just saying how terrible it was that the focus was on romance.

But do you know who the second wave of people criticising this trope was?

Feminists.

They saw a troubling trope which romanticised abusive relationships and they criticised it. Eventually, that criticism became common knowledge and most people are now on board with it.

The same thing happens all the time with autistic characters. Harmful tropes and stereotypes are common-place in both popular and critically-acclaimed fiction.

So, where are the autistic equivalent of feminist critics?

We’re out there, definitely, but the numbers are small. Especially when compared to how many NT critics are out there.

Your best bet for criticism is Disability in Kidlit and I do reviews over on my YouTube channel.

But I’m at a lack for formal review sources otherwise. (If anyone else reviews autistic characters from a Neurodiversity standpoint, let me know and I’ll add you to this post.)

But the Autistic community is nothing if not vocal online, and any new Autistic character introduced is more than likely to produce a reaction from us.

So, take reviews where you can find them. Listen. The fact that there are few out there make them all the more relevant to your writing.


L.C. Mawson is currently doing two giveaways of her novel Hunt one on YouTube (for ebook copies) and one on Goodreads (for paperback copies).

Guess what I’m reviewing on Monday?

We all remember those episodes of the various Disney Channel shows we watched growing up, where the plot would revolve around a character from a minority background, who was never seen or heard from again. The “special” episodes, that were more about teaching acceptance than plot, making them the most boring. Though they’re not actually that good at teaching acceptance either.

Many other writers from many different minority groups have spoken before about the special episode and its problems, but as autism moves to the forefront of the public consciousness, I feel I need to reiterate some points.

This post will focus on television, specifically children’s television, but some of the points may be relevant across all forms of media.

So, onto the problems.

1) Too Little Time

Autism is complex. This entire blog series exists because of how complex autism is. Most shows have just over twenty minutes without adverts, which is far from enough time to give a crash course on autism, especially once you work it around enough plot and jokes to keep it interesting.

You could give a list of autistic traits, but what about reinforcing that not all autistic people have the same traits? Addressing that autism looks different in women?

You could focus on acceptance, but your character arcs regarding that acceptance have to be solid. Could you pull that off in less than twenty minutes without throwing mentally ill people or people with intellectual disabilities under the bus? (”We’re not like *that* kind of crazy!”) Could you do it without functioning labels or “Asperger’s”? (”It’s okay – it’s not the *bad* kind of autism!”)

If the autistic character is part of the main cast, then it’s easier to take your time. Even if they show up semi-regularly, it can work, if you’re careful with that first episode, which means covering enough so that you don’t come across as ableist, while not trying to shove everything in twenty minutes. It’s a tough balance to strike.

2) We Become Props

Using us as props to teach other kids to treat us right, is still using us as props. It perpetuates the idea of disabled people existing for the sole purpose of inspiring or educating the abled. This is a problem disabled people have to deal with constantly out in the real world, so we’re not exactly happy about it being perpetuated in fiction.

At the end of the day, it’s dehumanising. We’re not people with our own stories and plot arcs (which should really be the message you’re trying to get across, if any), we’re educational tools to be pulled out and gawked at for twenty minutes, and then we’re never to be seen or heard from again. It’s alienating and it works against the idea of acceptance that I assume you’re trying to preach.

So, in conclusion, special episodes are not a good idea. It’s much better to introduce a recurring autistic character, who has plot arcs and their own personality which is separate from their autism.


Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 19/9/15.

TV Tropes Page.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across an Autistic character who is considered to be on the part of the spectrum commonly referred to as “Asperger’s” who doesn’t embody this trope.

That’s a problem.

The problem with tropes is that they can sometimes be true.

Look, I’m usually “smarter” (depending on meaning because, seriously, we do not have a uniform meaning) than the other people in any given room.

I never learned methods in maths. I never had to. I could figure out the method and solve the problem within the limits of the exams. (At least until A-level…)

I have rarely met a problem that I couldn’t solve. I can boil most things down to maths and figure them out.

I fixed a sewing machine with a chop stick last week. I’ve boiled fiction writing (actually, any kind of writing, or language-based work) down to formulas that don’t often steer me wrong.

I can memorise whole paragraphs within seconds. Give me script and I’m off it by the end of rehearsal.

I am frequently given praise for what I think is the bare minimum of talent.

But put me in front of a person and I have no idea what I’m doing.

I can’t keep track of how often I should be making eye contact and how often I’m allowed to make the same agreement noise before it sounds like I’m not listening and how to inflect so that the person knows I’m joking and when not to mimic their tone.

That’s too much. My brain can’t keep up and it’s all too tempting to give up. Or just be a jackass. Especially when no one will listen because you’re not making the right amount of eye contact.

And it’s all too easy for me to over or under estimate someone’s knowledge in an area, which means I can often go over their heads or sound condescending.

So yes, there’s a reason for the trope.

It still annoys the hell out of me for a couple of reasons.

Smart or Worthless

I was good at school until I wasn’t. I was the kid who got full marks and read under the table.

Until my A-Levels. Then I was the wtf?! kid. The kid whose tutors didn’t understand why she needed one, but still couldn’t do the exams. The kid who scored high in lab practicals and the hardest questions on the tests, but fumbled with the 1 mark questions (which can knock you from an A to a C).

I’m happier than I would have been if I had taken the chemistry place I was offered in clearing. I have no doubt about that. I was always good at maths and science, but it was never a passion in the same way that sociology is. And I’m better with coursework than exams. I always have been.

But it’s often a struggle to remind myself of that.

When the only positive Autistic characters you see are the exceptional minds in STEM fields, what happens when you don’t fit the bill?

This is why I love Abed from Community. It was the first time I didn’t feel completely worthless for abandoning STEM fields.

We’re All Arseholes And Never Learn

Here’s the deal, I’m sure my whole “Look at me, I know maths” thing at the beginning came off as egotistical. I struggle with that. The fake humility thing. Lying about my abilities never sat well with me.

Of course, I do it compulsively now irl because other children taught me to with emotional trauma.

Maybe it’s different for the white, cishet, male Autistics of the world, but I quickly learned to just never speak for fear of being branded a bitch.

I corrected someone’s spelling once in a group project and she reduced me to tears, saying that I was a bully who picked on kids for not being as smart.

All I said was that “meter” was slightly misspelled, though it was understandable as it was an Americanisation. (I still feel like that was the right way to word that…)

Here’s the thing, in fiction, this creates conflict. Writers like conflict. So the characters remain friends, though they will sometimes question why.

Yeah, irl, people just leave.

Or you learn.

You learn never to open your mouth and, when you do, you still slip up. But you don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over while people just put up with it time after time.

At the end of the day, this part of autism has been done to death. We don’t need to see another example.

And I am saying this as an Actual Insufferable Genius.


Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 22/8/15.

Welcome to another round of “LC gets into an argument about diversity in fiction and writes a Writing Autistic about it…”

So, you’ve got a large ensemble cast. And making them all white, cishet, able-bodied, neurotypical men is unrealistic. Not to mention, you’re not an arsehole. So, you write a bunch of different characters. Some based on people you know (the Autistic bisexual with anxiety issues) and some you don’t (the ace/aro, flirty PoC).

But they’re not your main character. You know that filling the world with characters who are all white, cishet, able-bodied, neurotypical men is wrong because it doesn’t reflect the world you live in.

But you don’t want to be accused of tokenism.

Bonus points if it’s a fantasy/sci-fi world where your characters don’t face what they’d face in a contemporary drama because… well, they just don’t.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want my sci-fi/fantasy to feature ableism. I don’t want my characters to face sexism in the future. I don’t want my bisexual/aromantic dragon rider to have to fight for her right to have a woman as a lover.

We get to create any world we want – why not a better one?

Contemporary fiction is harder. Do I want an Autistic character whose family is super supportive and who has never experienced ableism? Or do I want one who has been abused by the system and has nowhere to turn?

I don’t know. Both, ideally, I guess. But that doesn’t answer what you, with your one book, should do.

If you write a bisexual woman who has only ever dated men, where is the distinction? Other than her commenting on a woman/non-binary person being hot, where is the point in the story where she’s not just another character you’ve just called “bisexual”? And what does having her prove her sexuality to the reader by being with multiple genders within the story say to bisexual women who have only ever been with one gender?

And then there’s autism, which is arguably a bigger part of my life than my sexuality (which is top-secret information, anyone who is inferring anything from this post). It’s pervasive. It colours everything I say/do.

If your Autistic character is in the story enough, it’ll look weird if you don’t have them “act the part”.

But what about if they’re not in the story enough? What if they’re a secondary character among a sea of other secondary characters?

Is saying “Oh yeah, they’re Autistic” and then mentioning that one meltdown they had a while back enough?

I’m honestly going to be super unhelpful here and say, “I don’t know.”

I mean, yeah, sometimes we will be NPCs. Sometimes we will be secondary characters, without enough development to go into our precise sensory issues.

And, in all honesty, I don’t want Allistics writing stories about Autistic characters where they weigh in on issues within our community.

If you have an Autistic character with limited page/screen time, I think I’d prefer to learn that they’re a good sister, instead of learning that their auditory processing makes learning languages difficult.

I’d rather they be human than an educational tool.

But then, I recently got told that this approach was tokenism.

I was told that I was being offensive because I had a minority character and the story didn’t cover issues that minority faces in present day (in my book, set in 2200, where the main plot focuses on killing alien monsters) and that it was therefore tokenism.

And they told me that I should remove the character altogether.

And I thought, well, what if someone said that to an Allistic writer about an Autistic character?

What if a conversation went:

“Yeah, one of the ship’s crew is Autistic.”

“Do they face ableism?”

“Well, no… It’s the future. I’d like to think that we’re more accepting.”

“How do you deal with the issues Autistic people face?”

“Everyone’s accepting and gives them the accommodations they ask for, so there are no issues. It’s not a big deal, so there’s no reason to bring it up. Their main role in the story is to be the ship’s weapon expert.”

“So how often does their autism come up?”

“Two, maybe three, times. I mention they’re Autistic, and then related issues come up in conversation, like, twice. Plus, it’s a big crew. I don’t have time to go into everyone’s daddy issues. This isn’t a BioWare game.”

“Then it’s tokenism. Just remove the fact that they’re Autistic. It doesn’t serve the story.”

Here’s the thing.

I don’t want it to serve the story. I want the NPC who is a badass, but only around for one mission, to be Autistic (without mission dialogue where the exposit about how difficult being Autistic is). I want that mother figure to be Autistic, but not complain about her issues because she’s the mother figure. I want the merchant near the home-base to be Autistic, but for the story not to really go into it, because why would it?!

I want to be a normal part of the narrative, without it becoming about the evils of ABA or cure culture.

I don’t want people acknowledging and accommodating my needs to be hammered home. I want it to drift into the background and to be considered normal.

Want to avoid tokenism? Avoid stereotypes. Make them a well-rounded person. Have them sometimes make mistakes, while sometimes being right.

And I’m sure not everyone will agree on this point, but here it is anyway – the Smurfette principle makes sense because women make up 50% of the population. Having one in a group of eight makes no sense. The same could be said for ethnic minorities, which make up 25% of the English population.

Autistic people make up 1-2% of the population. Yes, having two Autistic people in your story is possibly the best way to avoid any problems, but I’m not going to be offended if there’s only one, especially if your story has a small cast.

And even with that one character, you don’t have to delve into issues like employers not accommodating sensory issues.

And, in all honesty, I’d prefer that you didn’t. Allistic writers will mess up if they delve too far into community issues.

Beyond real world examples (e.g. someone being asked to speak at a panel to be the sole representative of their minority group), I think tokenism is often used as a cop-out.

“Don’t have too many minorities – you might end up looking like a bad 90′s cartoon!”

I’m not saying it’s always perfect. I’m just saying that it’s better than nothing.

And if you write the Autistic merchant who appears in one chapter, and someone else writes the Autistic weapons expert who never really delves into their issues, and a third person writes the Autistic mother figure…

Then we’d be a million steps up from where we are now.

I want to be the arse-kicking main character, but I also want to be the NPC when the main character is someone else, instead of nowhere to be seen.

I don’t want people to fear that their writing is too diverse. I definitely don’t want them to fear those criticisms from the community (because I know for a fact the “I don’t want too diverse media” crowd will hijack that argument).

I’m not going to pretend that the line between “this character didn’t seem Autistic at all” and “goddamn Allistic writers speaking over our issues” isn’t a thin one. Hell, I’ve even talked before about how it’s a difficult balance (even for me as an Autistic writer) to find with the main character.

With a secondary character, the balance is even trickier, since there’s less screen/page-time.

So, no, I don’t have all the answers here. But I would rather someone tried and failed than not try at all.

tl;dr – Arguments about always being a side-character are about media as a whole, not your story. It doesn’t mean that it’s better to not include an Autistic character at all. It doesn’t mean that you, as an Allistic writer, should only feel it’s acceptable to write us when we’re “dealing with autism issues”. We’re people who exist in every kind of story, and we have lives outside of our neurotype. If you really care, then boost Autistic voices within writing.


Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 17/8/15.

TV Tropes page.

“A real-world atypical neurological condition, most often autism or schizophrenia, is presented as the result of or the presence of something supernatural. Bonus points if it doesn’t occur naturally at all in the fictional universe.”

Someone was asking about stuff similar to this over on Tumblr, so I decided to move it up the list.

Whenever a writer has an Autistic character with supernatural abilities, this trope is always dangerously close by. There are variations, such as the supernatural being a result of the autism, and not the other way around, but they all present danger zones, which most sci-fi/fantasy authors fall into.

Many of these dangers also apply to writing characters as savants (I’m looking at you, sci-fi writers).

The Danger Zones

The Weapon/Tool

This character is usually a child and/or non-verbal. They’re not the main character, usually just a side-character, and don’t get any (or barely any) characterisation of their own. They’re nothing more than a McGuffin. A tool or object to aid the main character in their quest.

Don’t make your autistic characters McGuffins. Just don’t. No character should ever be treated as an object, autistic or otherwise.

Examples of this include the video game Amy, the Philip K. Dick book Martian Time-Slip, and the TV shows (A Town Called) Eureka and Touch.

Don’t Worry! My Power Makes Me Worthwhile!

This character leads a terrible life, where they are a burden to those around them. But don’t worry! They find that they have a special power which makes them worthy of love and respect.

This can be quite subtle, but still insidious. Mostly because it ties into a lot of real-world issues.

Quick answer for why this is bad: Supernatural powers aren’t real. If your character is portrayed as burdensome without their powers, then you’re telling autistic people that they’re burdensome and the only way for them to be worthwhile is to have fictional abilities.

Long answer: Above, but also the fact that people try to fight the stigma autistic people face by saying that we have some kind of special powers/abilities (see indigo children) or that we have some kind of unique intelligence. The problem here is that autistic people are not magic. At all. Saying that we are is super dehumanising, even if it’s meant positively. And we’re so varied in what we’re good at that any claims of “well autistic people are worthwhile because they can do this specific thing” will never be true for all autistic people. It just divides us into “worthwhile” and “not worthwhile” autistics. Which is awful. Also, it becomes a case of positive discrimination which too big of a topic for me to tackle here.

Examples of this include the book Mass Effect: Ascension, the Philip K. Dick book Martian Time-Slip, and the TV show (A Town Called) Eureka.

Balancing an OP Character

I mostly covered this in my Autism is Not a Character Flaw post, but I didn’t talk about the supernatural element. Which basically just boils down to – autism is not kryptonite. It’s not a clever way to balance your OP character. Don’t use it as such.

Power is Relative to Disability

This is where you have multiple characters with the same power(s), and the ones who are disabled are better with their power. And the more disabled they are, the more gifted they are. It’s this idea of a cosmic trade-off, along the lines of “the more tragic someone’s life is, the more saintly they must be.” It’s ridiculous, not true, and it’s more positive discrimination.

An example of this is the book Mass Effect: Ascension.

Supernatural Cure

This is where an autistic character, at the end of their quest, is cured through supernatural means. Sometimes as a reward.

Again, I covered this a bit in my Autism in Not a Character Flaw post, but curing autism is not a “happy” ending. It sucks. Autism has no cure and, even if it did, a lot of autistic people wouldn’t take it. Curing a character is basically saying that autism is bad and needs to be eradicated.

An example of this is the TV show (A Town Called) Eureka.

Ways to Avoid Danger

Both Autistics and Allistics With Powers

The fastest way to show that autism isn’t tied to the power is to have your autistic character not be the only one with that power. If allistics have it too, then it’s not tied to their autism. This can get tricky though if your character is the strongest.

Not All Autistics

Another way is to have another autistic character who doesn’t have any supernatural powers, but who isn’t seen as lesser for that lack.

Autism Can Affect Their Power, But Complexly

It’s logical that autism would affect the way a power presents. The problem with that is when you position it so that autism is only positive or negative. If autism affects how they use their power, the best way to do that is to make the effect neutral, or to have both positive and negative aspects to it.

Be Able to Back Up Your Writing With Science

I would not recommend this unless you are ready to do some hard research (and be able to sort the crap from the decent stuff) and have a complex and well-explained magic system. For example, some autistic people are pattern thinkers (not all – some are visual thinkers, etc.) so if you have a magic system which involves tracking patterns in nature or something, then it would make sense that they might show skill, in the same way that they might show skill in programming. This will bring you closer to the danger zones, but you can balance it by showing other autistics who don’t have the same abilities and having some areas of magic harder for them to learn than for allistics.


Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 9/8/15.

So, this has been something I’ve been thinking about recently. It’s not even a problem I’d really thought about before, but it’s definitely something that I think needs to be talked about.

I’ve talked about this before, but I’m working on a novel with an Autistic character (well, technically, several) and it’s strange. The novel isn’t about autism. It’s not about the fact that the character is Autistic. In fact, that’s not a central plot point at all.

Here’s the thing – books with Autistic characters are often autism books.

You know the ones. The stories which are intrinsically about the experience of being Autistic (and are, paradoxically, often written by Allistics).

Viral Nation is about as far away from that as you get, and even then the main character being Autistic is a central plot point.

So, what about a book that’s not about autism? What’s the balance?

This is a particularly annoying puzzle for me. I got the balance right once. Before I knew I was Autistic.

Now I obsess over it.

Are my characters stimming too much or not enough?

Would they be able to detect an emotion in another character or would it not be clear enough?

Have I gone too many chapters without mentioning anything autism specific?

Have I mentioned autism-specific stuff too many times in the last chapter?

It’s tricky because my default writing for a character is somewhere in the middle.

It’s me passing as NT.

There’s no stimming and special interests are played down.

But there are some reactions to situations that have Allistic readers saying “What? Why would someone do that?”

I’m pretty sure that this is tied with my struggle to unlearn all of my NT passing behaviours.

So, what does that mean? That I’m writing an advice blog for writers when I don’t have answers?

Okay, well, I never said I had all of the answers. I just said that I was an Autistic writer, which means I have more answers than Allistic writers.

Also, I do have some strategies which have been helping.

Mostly, consistency. Figure out how your character would react to situations and then keep those reactions specific. Don’t change your plot around things. If you keep the reactions consistent and in-line with the things I’ve talked about in my other posts, then you shouldn’t have to think about this balance.

So don’t.

If you’re doing it right, the balance should find itself.

If it’s not, then there’s something else wrong.

Or, at least, that’s been my experience.


Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 26/7/15.

It seems like a lot of writers treat autism, being an introvert, being socially anxious, and hating other people as a package deal.

Sometimes, they choose between the last two, but the first two are a must.

But these things are all separate parts of someone’s make-up and so need to be treated differently.

So, what’s the difference between them and how do they influence how someone chooses to interact with people?

Autistic

Being Autistic does not have the same effect as being an introvert, but a lot of people write it like it does. Being around people doesn’t necessarily drain your batteries, acting neurotypical does. An Autistic person who doesn’t feel the need to act neurotypical around someone, won’t be drained around that person due to their autism.

Autistic people probably won’t often enjoy, and might avoid, situations where they have to act neurotypical.

Introverts/Extroverts

Being an introvert means that your social batteries are drained by being around other people, and you have to be alone to recharge.

Being an extrovert means that your social batteries recharge around other people, and being alone will drain them.

Some Autistics are introverts, and some are extroverts, though extroverted Autistics will still be drained by having to act neurotypical.

Introverts might not linger in social situations, or might avoid them altogether, if their social batteries are low.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is when you experience fear in social situations, along with worries of being judged or evaluated by others.

Many Autistic people have this, because they have been judged in the past due to their autism, and so fear it happening again.

However, this is not synonymous with autism. Some Autistics are perfectly confident in social situations.

People with social anxiety are likely to be terrified in social situations and might try to avoid them if possible.

Hating People

People are the worst and people who hate people know it. Other people get on their nerves and they are not a fan.

Anyone can hate other people. Autistic people might get to that point if they’re surrounded by non-understanding neurotypicals all the time.

BUT NOT ALL OF US HATE PEOPLE.

I do. I embody all of these things, but then, I’m a hate monster from the bottom of the ocean who just wears the skin of a nice young woman.

And that’s pretty unusual.


Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 18/7/15.

So, I’ve been doing the writing thing for a good few years now and I’ve become pretty agnostic on the topic of beta readers for checking structure and character arcs, etc.

Beta readers were immensely helpful when I first started writing, but on the last couple of projects, I’ve been able to predict what they would say before they said it. I’ve mostly been using them to test if problems really are problems, or if I’m just overthinking it.

I’ve learned that I’m never overthinking it. And when I trust that instinct, there’s little left to correct.

But there is another reason, beyond structure and characterisation, why I use beta readers for my writing.

When I’m writing a character who belongs to a minority group that I am not a part of, I have someone from that group beta.

My most recent novel, Love/Hate, has an ensemble cast mostly made up of PoC and LGBTQ+ folks. And the beta process has been long and lengthy to make sure that my trans, aromantic, ADHD, mixed race, etc. characters were accurately portrayed.

For the second Freya Snow book, I will probably run it by a wheelchair user, because I introduce one in the book.

Even when it comes to writing autistic characters, I can speak to my own experience of autism, but when I write beyond that (like in Love/Hate), I like to have a couple of other autistic people look at it to make sure that my internalised ableism didn’t get the best of me.

So, allistic writer, even if you read every one of my blog posts, and ask me and other autism blogs specific questions about your characters, and you know autistic people irl, chances are that you will still slip-up.

Editors probably won’t catch these slip-ups if they’re also allistic. Your book could end up praised by critics and selling well in book shops and still be offensive.

Have an autistic person (or, better yet, a couple of us!) look through your work and mnake sure it’s okay. It’s the best way to avoid messing up.


L.C. Mawson’s novel Hunt is available now.

There is a newsletter if you don’t want to miss upcoming posts, and anyone who signs up gets a free copy of L.C.’s short story Ghosts.

(Apologies in advance for talking in gender binary terms. All of the information here is from studies on cis women on the spectrum. When I say “women” I’m including trans women (because obviously) but I don’t go specifically into trans experiences because how autism intersects with trans and nb experiences is a post all its own.)

So, there’s a problem with people assuming that all Autistic people are men.

It’s generally thought of as a disorder that men have.

This could be because the number of men and boys diagnosed is much higher than the number of girls and women.

But does that mean that there are actually more men with ASDs than women?

Well, a lot of research suggests not.

It seems as if women and girls are being under and misdiagnosed.

For a while, autism was even thought of as having an “extreme male brain”. Which is ridiculous and makes me want to bang my head on my desk.

So, what’s going on?

Well, there are two reasons why girls and women are often misdiagnosed.

1) Atypical Traits

Here is a list of atypical autistic traits.

Short version:

– Imitating social skills.
– Participating in social play, but being led by their peers.
– Has just one close friend, instead of many.
– Misunderstanding social hierarchies, leading to trouble with teachers.
– Having vivid imaginary worlds, often with imaginary friends, and escaping into fiction.
– Non-stereotypical (including feminine) special interests.

These traits aren’t included in many of the diagnostic criteria used by doctors, or many of the ones you might find in your research.

Any Autistic person may have any of these traits, but the ratio of these traits to the typical ones tends to be more heavily weighted towards the atypical traits in women than in men.

2) Gender Stereotypes

Sometimes gender stereotypes mean that the same behaviour in boys and girls isn’t treated the same.

If a boy is quiet, it’s considered more unusual than if a girl is, because girls are socialised to be quiet anyway, so it’s only considered a red flag for the boy.

If a boy spins, it’s a red flag. If a girl does it, it’s cute.

If a boy gets obsessed with trains or comic books (stereotypically masculine interests) it’s a red flag. If a girl is obsessed with make-up or celebrities (stereotypically feminine interests), it just feeds into the vapid young girl stereotype.

This can lead to traits not being picked up on.

Both of these factors, as well as the perception that only men can have autism (which has stemmed from these factors chicken-and-egg style), mean that women and girls are either not diagnosed at all, or misdiagnosed with personality disorders.

So, am I saying that writing a female autistic character would be unrealistic? No. Of course not. In fact, I want more of them.

But there are other things to take into account, which are unique to the experiences of autistic women.

Girls with autism also experience unique difficulties such as the double-glass ceiling effect, where the glass ceiling women normally face in the workplace is made even more impenetrable by the fact that autistic women may struggle with the social minefield of being a woman in a professional environment (for example, being perceived as too bossy, or emasculating male co-workers by being unapologetically good at your job).

There is also the issue of performing gender. This affects all genders, but it’s different for all of them. There’s an expectation on women to be feminine and “pretty” at all times. A large number of disabilities, including autism, can make this performance of gender more difficult.

Touch sensitivities can make wearing make-up difficult, which is a *serious* problem when many jobs have make-up as part of their dress code and you can be fired for not wearing it.

It can also make shorter hair more preferable, and most “feminine” shorter hair-dos require more effort, which might be impossible for some of us.

Wearing feminine clothing can be difficult.

Women are expected to be social and amicable, no matter what. They’re expected to smile at the right times and if a social interaction fails, it is often considered their fault for not accurately anticipating the social needs of the other person they were interacting with.

These are all things to take into account with your female autistic characters.


Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 12/8/15

TV Tropes Pages

Hollywood Autism

Ambiguous Disorder

Short version

Don’t do either of these.

Long Version

Oh boy, okay, here we go…

Hollywood Autism

Basically, it’s a massively over-simplified version of autism. Usually either a genius with Autism Lite (just awkward around people, with no SPD issues or any stimming) or someone who has debilitating issues, but is a savant.

Why is This Bad?

Because autism is not that simple. It’s not just being slightly quirky or Rain Man. And I don’t mean that in an Autism Mom “My child needs constant looking after and they’re not even a savant to make up for it!” way (which is an incredibly toxic mindset). I mean that it’s not so black and white. There are thousands (if not millions) of different ways to be Autistic. Hollywood Autism is limiting.

Hollywood Autism also rarely shows the Autistic person being happy with their lives. That’s just inaccurate. Also, super offensive.

How Do I Avoid It?

Erm, that’s pretty much what is blog series is about… Read the other Writing Autistic posts and listen to Actually Autistic people about what are live are like. Research is the ultimate solution to Hollywood Autism.

Ambiguous Disorder

This is essentially just “I want my character to have something but I don’t want to name it and then have to do a load of research on it.” While Ambiguous Disorder can be used to resemble other disorders, a lot of the time, characters with Ambiguous Disorder end up coded as Autistic.

Why is This Bad?

Because it takes away representation. There are so few Autistic characters to start with, Ambiguous Disorder is like saying “I want to write an Autistic character but I don’t respect Actually Autistic people enough to get it right.” It’s kind of a dick move.

How Do I Avoid It?

Just say the character is Autistic, and then see the bit about how to avoid Hollywood Autism.


Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 28/6/15.