So, I’m doing a thing this summer. In September/October, I’ll be (probably?) starting down my postgrad path. Fun for me, but it will probably leave little time for writing. So, I’m trying to get all of the Freya Snow books until next summer written now.
It’s actually been going pretty well. I’m should have the fifth book finished by the end of the week, meaning that all of 2016’s books will have been written.
The thing about book five is that it largely centres around Sarah, a character who briefly appeared in the third book. This meant a whole lot of research since, as people who have read the third book probably remember, she’s Deaf.
So I went about collecting resources so that I could be as well-read as possible on the subject, but I realised about half way through the process that I was filtering the resources based on my own knowledge of resources for writing autistic characters. Many of the red flags were the same, and I imagine they remain consistent regardless of which disability you’re trying to write.
But it occurred to me that people might be reading the bad resources in good faith, simply because they don’t know what makes a good or bad resource.
So, here are my tips for avoid bad resources.
Not Written By an Autistic Person
Seriously, this one’s important. If you’re looking for writing resources specifically, you will come across a lot of writing blogs that were asked about writing autistic characters.
If their response is to put together a masterpost of other resources, then that’s fine. You can judge each of those resources on their own merits.
However, I’ve seen a lot of responses that are “Well, I don’t have X disability, but here are a bunch of stereotypes and technical advice on how to adhere to these stereotypes in your writing”. If they start with “I don’t have autism” and then attempt to give advice on writing autistic characters regardless, my advice is to run. Run far away. They will be perpetuating things that they have picked up through reading popular but deeply offensive works. *Cough*TheCuriousIncidentoftheDogintheNighttime*Cough*
No, Seriously, Even if they Know an Autistic Person or are the Parent of an Autistic Person
Look, the parental posts are usually well-meaning. Often parents get frustrated at being unable to find books for their kids with people like them in them, so they write blog posts for writers to help them understand their child.
And there are some really good parent blogs out there. But for every good one, there are a thousand terrible ones. And if you haven’t grown up with a disability, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two. There is a very specific way parents of disabled children sometimes talk that looks sweet and well-meaning from the outside, but is actually incredibly icky and awkward for their child. It’s a weird self-congratulatory way of talking about how they “deal” with their child’s disability that often seeks to erase the disability as an important part of their life.
If you haven’t experienced it, you probably can’t tell the difference, so don’t rely on being able to. Just set the resource aside and move on.
To Be Treated With Caution: “I’m Autistic, but I am Not Part of and Don’t Agree With the Community at Large” or “I’m Autistic and Hate my Autism”
Look, there are people out their who hate the fact that they have autism. Who would take a cure tomorrow if you presented them with one. I’m not going to pretend that that’s not true.
But any allistic writer should stay a million miles away from that narrative. Seriously, just stay far far away from it.
The thing is, any outsider writing a minority character who has issues with self-loathing will always come across as loathing that minority themselves.
It all ties into the idea that you can write about minority characters, but you cannot write about the experience of belonging to a minority that you’re not a part of.
So resources where the autistic writer disparages the autistic community or disagrees with autistic pride should be taken with a grain of salt, and definitely should only be a minor fraction of your list of resources.
They can be informative, I am in no way denying that. They can often have a lot of useful information about the exact difficulties people with autism face in the world without sugar coating, but you are very likely to pick up some things they’ve said that are heavily tinged with internalised ableism. On the page, it will just look like you are being ableist.
If you want a safe starting point, here’s one list of resources that should all be fine.