Can we please get over the mentality that tropes are the devil?

I write a lot of YA and the YA community online is so full of people declaring that you’re never allowed to use certain tropes.

And I talk about tropes a lot on here, (if you’re confused because you don’t feel that I have, it’s probably because I’ve not yet finished moving the archives over from myautisticpov.com) and I try to give alternatives and make it clear that I’m not saying that the trope should never be used ever but sometimes things get lost, so I thought I would do a whole post just about tropes in general.

I’m going to be very upfront in saying that when dealing with any minority group, there will be tropes that are hands-down terrible and should always be avoided (unless you’re subverting them and even then, take a look at the hate John Green gets for writing Manic Pixie Dream Girls before you commit to that path).

With autism, these include cure stories and stories where we’re framed as a tragedy. Also, stories where a lack of empathy results in criminal behaviour (not that these two can’t co-exist, but there’s a difference between co-existence and causation).

Others you don’t have to subvert, you just have to appreciate why people are tired.

For example, I’m mathematically minded and my IQ is in the “superior” range, and my General Ability Index is in the “very superior” range. But I am sick to death of the “autistic genius” trope.

You know why?

Because they’re all cis, straight/ace, middle-class, white dudes.

Give me a confirmed autistic Felicity Smoak or Curtis Holt (this is an Arrow reference, for those who don’t watch) and I will love you forever!

Or hell, give me a cis, straight/ace, middle-class, white dude with a gender-nonconforming special interest!

Just give me something a little different.

More Abed, less Sheldon.


L.C. Mawson is currently trying her best to learn that throwing her book at people while yelling “BOOK MOTHERFUCKER!” isn’t an effective marketing strategy. For the sake of all of the randomers she meets, please check it out here.

If you’d like to make sure you don’t miss her weekly advice on how to write autistic characters, she also has a weekly newsletter to keep you up to date.

Even if you’re fairly new to certain kind of media critique, you probably know the phrase “queer-baiting”.

*Cough*Destiel*Cough*

The idea is that they spend a large amount of time hinting that two characters of the same gender are into each other, but the creators insist that they’re straight and “just bros”, and nothing ever comes of it.

This is also becoming a common tactic with autism.

*Cough*SheldonCooper*Cough*

Obviously, with autism they don’t use relationships with other character so much as they use coding.

Autism-coding is where a character is given autistic traits that are obvious to autistic people, or people with a lot of experience around autistic adults.

This, much like real life autistic people, tends to be missed by everyone else.

“But, L.C., surely that’s just an accident, right?”

There is an argument to be made that the bumbling, socially-awkward scientist archetype originally came out of observations of undiagnosed autistic people.

Hell, Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person who everyone pretty much agrees must have been autistic.

But, here’s the thing: we know better now.

And I don’t mean that the autistic community knows better, but no one else does. I first heard about the “socially awkward scientist being based on autism” thing from a Movie Bob video.

And yet, Sherlock is never called “autistic”. Neither is anyone else.

The way I see it, something might start as accidental coding, but anything that goes on like this for more than half a season (or a single instalment in a book/film series) is pretty deliberate. It’s the creators trying to have the best of both worlds.

In the case of autism, they want autistic people watching and identifying with the character, because it creates enthusiastic fans, (or, if we’re assuming the worst, they want to make fun of autistic people) but they don’t want the liability that comes with the label.

In the case of queer-baiting, they don’t want to lose the middle-America viewers. In the case of autism-baiting, they don’t want to lose the viewers who have a mental block, preventing them from thinking of autistic people as, well, people.

This is a common problem with disability in Hollywood. People don’t believe that disabled people are capable, which leads to disabled people having to be portrayed in an over-exaggerated way (listen here if you want more on that).

“So, let them do it. Best of both worlds.”

Except, as I covered in last week’s post, it pushes these characters into the realm of headcanon, and if you hadn’t seen it, you wouldn’t believe the vitriol allistics sometimes throw at us for those headcanons.

It also makes this problem worse. Having coded characters without a diagnosis reinforces the idea that autistic people who pass as neurotypical can’t really be autistic. They’re just quirky.

Like Sheldon.

Or Sherlock.

This idea is why they’re never diagnosed on screen, but the fact that they’re never diagnosed on screen reinforces the idea.

Something has got to give.

The point, dear reader, is that, even with the best of intentions, not being explicit with your character’s neurotype is harmful.

It doesn’t count if you don’t make it clear that you intend for them to be read as autistic.


L.C. Mawson’s YA paranormal novel with an autistic protagonist, Hunt, is available now.

You’re probably aware of headcanons, right? Things which aren’t explicitly stated one way or the other in media, and so the audience must draw their own conclusions.

“Steve Rodgers is bi,” for example.

There’s never been a point in the MCU where he has expressly stated that he’s not bi.

(He’s totally bi…)

So the only argument that he’s not is heteronormativity.

Autistic headcanons, much in the same way, are rarely ever outright refuted in media.

(The exception being Sheldon Cooper, who constantly exclaims “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested!” but even within the canon of the show, if you take into account his age, it’s not surprising that he would have flown under the radar for autism as a child.)

It’s just assumed that all characters are allistic.

Strangely enough, I’ve often found that characters who are never expressly stated as autistic (just coded as it) tend to be better written and more accurate than those who are given an on-screen diagnosis, though their lack of a label can often be used as a way to make fun of them without the backlash (again, Sheldon Cooper).

So, if you want to learn by example, autistic headcanons might just be the way to go.

Though, before you go scurrying off, I have a one more bit of advice.

Autistic headcanons are often… controversial.

Now, this could be a good thing for you. Polite discussions about whether or not certain traits are enough to consider the character autistic, could be educational.

But this is the internet. Polite discussion does not exist.

And, while two autistic people debating the veracity of a headcanon could be informative, an allistic person telling off an autistic person for their headcanon won’t be.

I go into the whole politics aspect in the video below.


So, as long as you’re mindful, here are some good places to start:

The Autistic Headcanons tag on Tumblr.

Actually Autistic Headcanons

Autistic Character of the Day

Autistic Exchange

My Autistic Headcanon tag over at MyAutisticPoV.com

My Top 15 Autistic Headcanons Video

It occurs to me that many of you probably haven’t had much contact with the autistic community before this point. You might have already done in-depth research before reaching this point, or this blog might be your first port of call. In order to make things easy for you, I’ve decided to compile a list of words and phrases used within the autistic community, as well as within this blog.

Most of these words and phrases are for topics that I have already covered, or plan to cover in the future. This guide is meant as a quick way for you to understand autism-focused blogs during your research, as well as terms I might use on this blog.

Allistic: Someone who is not Autistic.

Neurotypical: Someone who has no intellectual disabilities, learning difficulties, developmental disorders, mental illness, etc.

Note on Allistic and Neurotypical: In some areas, the use of “neurotypical” is up for debate. The word arose from a need to refer to people without autism as something other than “normal”. It’s as important of a label when talking about autism as “straight” is when talking about sexuality. Some neurotypicals see this as an insult, though this mostly stems from them being annoyed at autistic people who are venting their frustrations, much in the same way that someone might say “white people are the worst” or “urgh, men are pigs”.

They’re not attacking every individual neurotypical personally (#NotAllNeurotypicals!) but they are using it as shorthand to refer to the ableist neurotypicals who do attack them, the ignorant neurotypicals who unintentionally hurt them or spread harmful misinformation, and the systems of oppression upheld by neurotypicals. Suffice it to say, I have little patience for neurotypicals who dislike being “labelled”. Really. I can’t possibly imagine what that must feel like. /sarcasm

Within the community, there are those who use “neurotypical” to mean “allistic”. The word originated in autism communities, and many people dislike the words “allism” and “autism” because “autism” comes from the root “auto”, meaning “self”, and is meant to describe “morbid self-absorption”. “Allism” comes from the opposite root.

To the first point, that “neurotypical” originated in autistic communities, the person who coined the phrase has backed the definition I have given above. It also just makes sense from the way the word is made up, and it’s important to have a word with that specific meaning in order to build solidarity between neurodivergent groups (see below for definition).

To the second point, about autism and allism as words, that ship has sailed. In fact, Asperger’s Syndrome was originally coined as an alternative diagnosis to get rid of the stigma of “autism” and we’ve reached a point where it’s agreed that, as much as it helped to broaden the criteria for autism, it fed into the idea of “good” and “bad” autism that persists today. As long as we’re stuck with autism, allism makes sense as a counter.

I will personally tend towards using allistic when talking about issues solely surrounding autism, especially in these blog posts. This is because someone with depression/an anxiety disorder/etc. may have a better understanding of some issues surrounding autism (for example, they may experience executive dysfunction as part of their condition) but they will never understand it to the same degree as an autistic person, and they may still perpetuate ableism against autistic people.

Neurodivergent: Someone who is not neurotypical, due to intellectual disabilities, learning difficulties, developmental disorders, mental illness, etc.

Neuroatypical: Someone who is not neurotypical, due to intellectual disabilities, learning difficulties, developmental disorders, mental illness, etc.

Neurotypical Passing: An autistic person who is indistinguishable from their allistic peers to a layperson. This usually requires a lot of energy and the need to be NT passing most likely contributes to the high instances of anxiety disorders, etc. among autistic people. For example, a large number of teenage girls are only diagnosed after being referred to mental health services for eating disorders.

NT: An abbreviation of neurotypical.

Neurotipic: An abbreviation of neurotypical.

Neurodiversity: A movement that believes that having diverse neurotypes is as essential to humanity as biodiversity is to nature. There is nothing inherently wrong with people with autism or ADHD, etc., we’re just outnumbered.

Asperger’s Syndrome: A diagnosis coined in the days when autism was still largely believed to have been caused by “refrigerator mothers” to encourage parents to accept a diagnosis for their child, without facing the stigma of having caused the condition. It was named for one of the first researchers to identify autism, Hans Asperger, though due to his working out of the University of Vienna during the rise of Nazi Germany, his work was lost to history for more than a few decades. Due to the fact that Asperger was very much aware that the children he worked with would be euthanised under the Nazi regime if he wasn’t careful, he strategically highlighted cases of extreme intelligence or children with extraordinary abilities. These factors have lead to Asperger’s Syndrome being seen as the socially-inept genius archetype, rather than the “true horror” of “real” autism.

Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer a diagnosis in DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which is currently used in the United States. Instead, people who would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s are now diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is graded in levels, though whether these levels are helpful in determining the level of services someone needs, or are just more detailed functioning labels (see below) is a question that is perhaps better asked of American autistics.

The ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases) is currently used in many other countries (including the UK) and Asperger’s is still included as a diagnosis. It is currently being revised, however, into the ICD-11, which appears to be an online system which accepts contributions from around the world. This will probably lead to Asperger’s being absorbed by the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis there as well.

Aspie: An abbreviation for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. This originated from within the community and can often be preferred by aspies for its less pathologised-sounding nature.

PDD-NOS: Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. The “not-autism” of autism diagnosis. This was also absorbed into Autism Spectrum Disorder in the DSM V.

ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Functioning Labels: This is when someone refers to an autistic person as being either “high” or “low” functioning.

There is debate around whether these labels are actually any good at describing autistic people. Autistic people themselves generally think not. Areas of ability and difficulty are so varied among autistic people, one label cannot adequately convey them. What usually ends up happening is that “low functioning” people are trotted out by allistic family members as a bogeyman trump-card to win any argument about autism. (”Family members shouldn’t talk over autistic people!” “You’re not like my child! They’re ~low functioning~! Only I can speak for them!”)

“High functioning” is also used to silence autistic people, usually by allistic family members telling them that they can’t ever truly understand their child. Apparently the chain of people who understand autism goes: high-functioning autistic < allistic family member < doctors/anti-vax pushers/that shady guy who sold me some poisonous herbs to cure my child < low-functioning autistics, if they could ever possibly communicate, but they can’t, and if they can then they’re clearly high functioning. /sarcasm

/sarcasm: A way to communicate sarcasm in text-based communication, as autistic people may struggle to identify it. Also, as an autistic person, my sarcasm can often be more subtle than that which NTs use, making it a useful identifier for them too.

Anti-vaxxers: People who believe that vaccinations cause autism. They don’t. The guy who said that they did turned out to be a fraud. They have conducted numerous studies which debunk his. They even removed the elements he said were harmful from most Western vaccines. They were preserving agents, not so important for those of us with fridges everywhere.

They also believe that the risk of deadly disease is better than risking autism, which no one who argues with them really addresses outside of the autistic community.

Vaccinate your damn kids, whether it might cause them autism or not. Autism is still preferable to death.

Cure Culture: The cultural belief that autistic people would be better off if they were “cured”, leading to a large majority of research money looking for cures and causes, rather than services. The search for a cure is unlikely to lead to results, and at this point is mostly concentrated around looking for genetic factors. The end goal of finding these genetic factors is a prenatal genetic test, so that parents can be given the option to abort their autistic child. This isn’t popular with autistic people, for reasons that should be obvious. Especially when the money being poured into looking for the genes behind autism could be better spent improving the lives of autistic people, removing any argument for the genetic test in the first place.

Ableism/Disableism: Ableism and disableism are the terms for discrimination against disabled people. “Ableism” is largely used in the United States, whereas “disableism” is often used in the UK.

Medical Model of Disability: The medical model of disability views disability as a problem with the disabled person to be fixed with a cure.

Social Model of Disability: The social model of disability views disability as a problem with society. If the world was built specifically for people in wheelchairs, for example, tall people might suddenly find themselves disabled. Why would doorways be built tall enough for them? Who are tall people to ask for special treatment? Do you know how much doorways cost?

Person First Language: Person first language would be saying “person with disability” or “person with autism”. This is popular within most American disability communities, as it doesn’t define the person by their disability. The two most notable exceptions to this are the Deaf and Autistic communities. These two communities subscribe to the social model of disability and see their disability as an integral part of their identity. The social model of disability originated in the UK, so most disabled people in the UK also reject person first language. I am Autistic and British, so I will not be using person first language.

IRL, it’s always polite to use the language the person you’re referring to prefers. If someone prefers “person with autism” or “autistic person” it’s not an allistic’s place to correct them. A fellow autistic person may ask them about their choice, but it is a personal decision and it is theirs to make.

A$: An abbreviation of the controversial charity Autism Speaks. More on them here.

ABA: Applied Behavioural Analysis. This is the only form of treatment/therapy that medical insurers have to provide in the United States. Because of this, many therapies for autistic people in the US call themselves ABA for insurance purposes even though they aren’t. True ABA has the same roots as gay conversion therapies and is largely considered abusive by the autistic community. More on it here.

Spoon Theory: Link to the full thing here. It’s basically the idea that everything in life, from showers to making food, costs “spoons”. Disabled people start the day with a limited number, and so must factor in things abled people would never think twice about, like showering, into their daily spoon allowance. When someone refers to being “low on spoons”, this is what they are referring to.

Stimming: Engaging in self-stimulatory behaviour. I mean, it’s basically fidgeting. It does the same thing, though stimming is more conspicuous, and is more necessary to an autistic person’s mental health. Stimming can improve concentration and prevent meltdowns (see below).

Stim Toys: Any object which is used for stimming. Some can bought from shops, such as chewable jewellery, while other people make do with DIY stim toys like glitter jars or a toy with soft fabric (I have a soft Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man on my backpack).

Special Interest: A topic which fascinates an autistic person, usually to the point of obsession. Many autistic adults pursue careers around their special interests, though not all special interests are long-lasting or life-long, with some only lasting a few weeks. They also aren’t always socially acceptable or pleasant. The horror game Five Nights at Freddy’s was my special interest for a few months and I had nightmares the entire time. I don’t even like horror games. I drew the line at Bioshock. That’s how much I don’t like horror games.

Speccing: Engaging in activities related to a special interest. (This isn’t in wide use, but has been catching on lately.)

Sensory Processing Disorder: A condition comorbid with autism. Can you feel your socks right now? I bet you couldn’t until I mentioned it. Our brain filters out tons of sensory information all of the time. For someone with SPD (Power Rangers to the rescue! I will not apologise for my echolalia – see below) their brain either focuses too much or too little. It can vary depending on the time of day, or which sense is being used, and it often varies from person to person.

Comorbid Condition: When a condition exists alongside another condition in a person.

Sensory Overload: You know in Man of Steel, where there’s that scene of a young Clark unable to control his super-hearing and he has to hide in the cupboard? It’s basically that.

Meltdown: A point at which an autistic person essentially experiences a system crash and the attempt to recover can be seen outwardly (excessive stimming, self-injurious behaviour, sudden crying, etc.). This is often caused by sensory overload.

Shutdown: A point at which an autistic person essentially experiences a system crash and the attempt to recover causes them to withdraw into themselves. This can often involve being non-verbal, unable to more, or unable to process sensory information around them. This is often caused by sensory overload.

Non-verbal: When an autistic person has no/limited ability to speak. Some autistic people are permanently non-verbal and others vary. Some will never have a non-verbal episode, and some will only have them every few years, or if they experience burnout.

Autistic Burnout: This is sometimes referred to as “autistic regression” but the autistic community tends to prefer “burnout”. It refers to an increase in meltdowns, non-verbal episodes, visible stimming, echolalia, executive dysfunction, and other autistic traits that many neurotypical passing individuals suppress. This usually follows a period of high stress in the autistic person’s life, when they have been unable to look after their needs. It can often resemble depression.

Echolalia: Using repeated phrases to communicate, often taken from TV, though it can also be an autistic person repeating a question back to answer it. This is sometimes mistaken as being meaningless. Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t make it not communication. I don’t speak Mandarin. It doesn’t mean that those who do aren’t communicating when they use it.

Echopraxia: Using repeated body language or facial expressions to communicate. It’s essentially the body language equivalent of echolalia.

Specific Learning Difficulties: The term used in the UK for conditions which only affect a specific area of learning ability. A few are listed below but I only give a VERY brief overview of the main difficulty caused by each – you’ll have to research them individually to know more.

Dyslexia: A specific learning difficulty which affects the ability to read and write (usually a difficulty spelling).

Dyspraxia: A specific learning difficulty which affects fine and/or gross motor skills.

Dyscalculia: A specific learning difficulty which affects mathematic ability.

Dysgraphia: A specific learning difficulty which affects the ability to write.

ADHD/ADD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/Attention Deficit Disorder. Specific learning difficulties which affect the ability to concentrate.

A Note of my use of autistic vs. Autistic – I’ll admit, I’m often sporadic over whether I capitalise the A or not. I, personally, like it, so I will usually capitalise it when referring to myself. When referring to autistic people in general, I tend not to. Why? Who knows. Because different people have different opinions, mostly, and because there’s no real consensus on the capital A.

A Note on These Terms – Language evolves and changes. As of September 2015, these are the terms which are most commonly used within the community. I will probably update this post if anything drastic changes, and I will indicate the date of the change, but, seriously, potential readers from the future, pay attention to the changes in language. Especially if one of these terms falls out of use or is abused by allistics to the point of being considered offensive.


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So, you’ve written a Mary-Sue. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.

But now you’re looking for a character flaw to give them. Something to overcome.

They’re a genius, so you decide to take away their social skills.

And, hey, Autistic characters are pretty popular right now.

Why not go the whole hog?

Nope, stop. I’m here to tell you why you can’t just do that.

I mean, maybe this isn’t your exact situation, but let’s face it, as an Allistic writer, you’re probably viewing autism as a character flaw. Something that your character will overcome by the end of their arc.

Even if you’re not going into your story with the view of your Autistic character growing out of their autism, you’re probably going to find your story going in that direction. Especially if you’re treating it as a character flaw.

But that’s fine. You don’t know any better. That’s what these blog posts are for.

But L.C., you say, it’s a disorder. Surely that makes it something to overcome?

Okay, so, as Cheryl Klein says in this episode of the Narrative Breakdown, autism is a value-neutral trait. (Hey, fellow Autistic readers. First of all, how are you doing? I hope you’re enjoying this series and feel that I’m doing the subject justice. If you think I’m missing anything, just let me know. I’m more than happy to revisit older topics. Secondly, you probably don’t want to follow the link. I mean, no one’s outright malicious, but it is three people who (I assume) have no personal experience with autism discussing its use as a character flaw. It can get icky.) Actually, Allistic readers too, the Narrative Breakdown is a good writing podcast and I highly recommend it (along with I Should Be Writing, Writing Excuses and Ditch Diggers, as long as I’m recommending stuff), but some of the discussion of autism in that episode is misinformed, so I’m not recommending it as an overall source of how to write an Autistic character, but I felt it was important to reference since I first heard “autism is a value-neutral trait” there and I’m just agreeing with that single point.

So, what does that mean? Basically, it’s not positive or negative. It’s just different.

It’s not something to be overcome.

Partially because it will give your character (if you’re writing it properly) strengths as well as weaknesses. You can’t have one without the other.

And partially because it can’t be overcome.

There is no cure for autism. (And many of us believe that there shouldn’t be – I’m looking at you SF/F writers.)

There is no sudden, tidy epiphany that an Autistic person can come at the end of the book to magically make then Allistic.

There are no therapies which get rid of autism. Many, such as ABA, focus on making Autistic people act Allistic and that’s its own set of problems.

Okay, I see you walking away from the idea as you realise it’s not the quick-fix you were hoping for. But fear not! I have a list of autism-related things you can use as flaws/obstacles for your character.

But L.C. I didn’t write it as just a character flaw. It’s the whole plot. It’s an inspirational story about a young boy who bravely struggles with autism and by the end, he overcomes it, and finally hugs people, and it’s beautiful, and it will make you cry and win me awards.

BURN IT!

Kill it with fire.

Take your laptop, build a pyre, and set that thing alight.

Okay, you done?

Good. Now I can tell the assassin to stand down.

For now.

I will also cover external autism-related things to overcome in case you are incapable of leaving autism alone.

Anxiety

Now, this one gets tricky. I’ve used it myself in a fanfiction (which I wrote 3 years ago and so it’s not my best work), but I am both Autistic and have anxiety, so it was easy for me to make a realistic portrayal of learning to overcome anxiety. Anxiety can be overcome on its own, but that usually takes a long time and a change of circumstance. Usually it requires therapy, possibly something like CBT (this can sometimes be tricky for Autistic people and can require programs specifically designed for us), and possibly medication. And sometimes learning to live with it and minimise its effect on our lives is the best we can do.

But L.C., everybody can have anxiety, I hear you say.

I nod, sagely, taking a puff from my bubble-pipe.

Here are a couple of examples of how anxiety can be specifically autism related:

Social Anxiety – Turns out, if your social responses are atypical, you get bullied. Who knew, right? And, it turns out, if you get bullied, you might develop a fear of socialising. This fear is particularly difficult to overcome because it’s not irrational. You could majorly mess up and people could shun you. The trick is learning not to care.

Exam/Test Anxiety – If questions on exams/tests are too ambiguous, Autistic people might struggle with them. If not given appropriate guidance on how to approach these questions, exams/tests might become a source of anxiety.

Any situation which causes sensory difficulty – If crowds are a deeply unpleasant sensory experience for the Autistic person in question, over time they might develop a fear of crowds. Any unpleasant sensory experience can cause this issue over time, especially if the Autistic person is given no choice but to do it. Again, don’t magically have your character get over their sensory issues. But you can have them learn to manage them, like having them wear headphones in noisy places, and then they can work to overcome their anxiety.

Self-Esteem Issues

Again, something I touched on in that fanfic, and something which ties into social anxiety. If you’re constantly exposed to the idea that you’re “broken” through ableist/disablist ideas about autism, or you’re not diagnosed and so are bullied with no idea of why you can’t communicate properly with your peers, it’s possible that you would develop self-esteem issues.

A character with self-esteem issues might struggle to take the initiative and might rely on others to take the lead, or only take the lead for as long as necessary before withdrawing. This flaw can be tricky to write, however, without making your character annoying.

Ableism/Disablism

So, remember that story I told you to burn? You actually probably could have just rewritten it.

My bad.

So, I spend my entire life being told that the way I think and act is wrong. That I am broken. Not to be all

I Hope it Doesn't Sound Arrogant When I Say

That I am the Greatest Man in the World

[gifs of Denholm saying “I hope it doesn’t sound arrogant when I say that I am the greatest man in the world!”]

but do you know how difficult that is? And do you know how even more difficult it is to face that, stare it down, and give it the finger?

So, yes, you can rework that story. Have your character change themselves to seem less Autistic. But don’t let that be the end of the story. Let that be the second act, where they’re broken and defeated. Then have them pick themselves up and dust themselves off and have them flap their hands and make chirping noises in the face of it all!

There’s your tear-jerking inspiration.

(Also, if you rework it into a SF/F YA bloody revolution of some kind, you would probably make all the money. You can definitely have mine.)

Further Reading.

[I am currently moving all of my Writing Autistic posts over from My Autistic PoV. This is one of those posts.]

So, one thing that keeps happening since I got my autism diagnosis is being told that I should watch a show because it has an Autistic character. Don’t get me wrong – I want to see Autistic characters. I have wanted that since before I had a word for what I wanted. It’s one of the things that made me want to be a writer.

But I rarely see it done well. I see an “autistic” character and I don’t see me. I see some weird, funhouse mirror image. Bizzaro Caroline.

One show people keep telling me to watch is The Bridge.

There are several different iterations of the show. There’s a British/French version called The Tunnel and an American/Mexican version, also called The Bridge. The one I’m talking about here is the original Scandinavian version that my mum and housemate watched.

The show revolves around a dead body being found on a bridge between Sweden and Denmark, meaning that the two police departments have to work together. The Swedish detective, Saga, has Asperger’s.

I will readily admit now that I have not seen the show. This is not a critique of the show, because I haven’t seen it. I wanted to talk about why I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.

When my mum was trying to get me to watch it, she described a specific scene which she felt epitomised Saga’s Asperger’s.

There’s a man and a bomb. It looks as if they might not be able to disable the bomb, in which case the man will die. The man is, understandably, distraught and Saga has to try to get him to calm down. And she asks him why he’s upset. She tells him that if the bomb explodes, he will feel no pain. So he shouldn’t be frightened. She has zero sympathy or empathy with him.

I’m sorry, what?

Now, this might not be doing the scene justice. This is me reiterating something my mother described to me.

But the basic implication behind this scene seems to be that Saga, due to her Asperger’s, doesn’t understand why someone would fear death.

Excuse me while I face-palm for a few moments before deconstructing the issues here.

Because, while this scene may not have gone down like this, I’ve seen many that have.

And it all comes down to empathy.

But first, just a clarification – Autistic people still fear death.

Of all of the things we might not have in common with Allistics, this is at the bottom of the list as far as I’m concerned.

This feeds into the problem of empathy in Autistic characters.

As in, they’re shown to have none.

We’re shown to not be able to understand even the most basic of emotions.

Now, it’s easy to see where this problem comes from, but in media you often get the Bizzaro image of a real problem people with autism have.

So, let’s break down what’s happening scenarios like this.

Person 1 (Allistic) has an emotional response to a situation.

Person 2 (Autistic) responds atypically.

Person 1 is further upset/offended by the atypical response.

This happens in real life. It is actually one of the major hurdles in Autistic/Allistic interaction. The problem is that what’s happening from the point of view of the two people is very different.

Allistic people often put the atypical response down to a pure lack of empathy.

Which is weird because empathy is an ambiguous concept to start with.

But Autistic people are often portrayed as being unable to understand that Allistics experience emotion. At all. Even when they’re being told, straight up, how someone is feeling and why.

This is untrue and narratively lazy.

There are many reasons why Autistic people would have an atypical response, and none of them are that we have no functional understanding of human emotion.

Here are just some of the reasons I could think of:

  • Person 1 (P1) didn’t express their emotions in a clear manner. I’m going to pick up on someone crying because that’s a well-known and visually obvious cue. I would also pick up on a sharp tone. I wouldn’t, however, easily pick up on subtle changes in facial expression or tone. Meaning that I might not realise someone is upset at all.
  • Person 2 (P2) wouldn’t be upset by the thing which upset P1. If P1 is crying, P2 isn’t going to completely disregard their feelings just because the incident wouldn’t upset them. However, if P1 isn’t being clear, then this is a reason why P2 wouldn’t pick up on it. And, even if they are crying, P2’s attempts to comfort them may be made clumsy by their confusion, but the effort would still be there. A flip side of this which you can use is P2 getting angry/upset on P1’s behalf over something which would bother them, but which doesn’t bother P1. Or P1 having a “lack of empathy” with something which upsets P2, which happens quite often.
  • P1 might misunderstand P2’s attempts to comfort them, but they’re still there. P2 might go for practical approaches. They might try to offer solutions, when all P1 wants is to vent. They might, after realising that there are no ways to fix the problem with words, offer P1 a physical comfort like food, or they might try to distract them with a fun activity, which could be seen as rudely changing the subject. Often in this situation, an Allistic would offer meaningless platitudes. An Autistic might do this, but it’s likely to be because they remember that it’s the social norm. This isn’t because Autistics don’t understand that Allistics receive comfort from them, but because they don’t and so when you run through ‘what makes me feel better?’ it doesn’t come up. You have to remember.
  • P2 might be hyper-empathetic. I personally struggle with this problem. I feel another persons’ emotions just as strongly, if not more so, than my own. This means that pushing through their emotions in order to be the calming presence can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Especially if it takes me close to being non-verbal, which feels like trying to swim while the water you’re in turns to treacle and, eventually, concrete.

“Lack of empathy” is something Allistics have observed and yet not a lot of thought has gone into why there’s this perceived lack. Hopefully this provides you with a better explanation in your writing than just a lack of understanding of basic emotion.

How did Girl Meets World do at tackling autism? I take a look at the recent special episode.

If any of you know me from myautisticpov.com, welcome!

To any of you who don’t, also welcome!

Quick FAQ:

Are you moving here permanently from MyAutisticPoV?

My Autistic PoV will always exist. And I don’t mean that in a metaphorical, “in your heart” kind of way. I love that site.

Then why build this one?

Because I didn’t want My Autistic PoV to change, which meant that I had to expand. This will be my main website, and it will focus on my work as an author, while My Autistic PoV will continue to focus on… Whatever the hell it is I do over there. Yeah, hopefully this site will be cleaner and easier for fans of my fiction to use.

But what about Writing Autistic? Why is that in the title?

Writing Autistic will be moving here. What does that mean for Tumblr users? Pretty much nothing. I’ll link the post back to My Autistic PoV as soon as it goes live every week, and you can continue to reblog and like from there.

Wait, I don’t know you from My Autistic PoV. What’s Writing Autistic?

Writing Autistic is my weekly blog series on how to accurately write autistic characters. I’m hoping this will make research easier and less daunting for other writers, leading to an increase in well-written autistic characters.

What about your YouTube videos?

They’ll stay on YouTube. I’ll link here and on Tumblr every time I make a new video.

Wait, what YouTube videos?

I have a YouTube channel that I currently post to twice a week. On Mondays, I post reviews of autism in media and vlogs. On Fridays, I do Let’s Plays of games with autistic characters. Right now, I’m playing To The Moon, and once that’s done, I’ll move onto the Mass Effect 2 Overlord DLC.

What’s this about an email list?

Simply, I want to be able to keep people who don’t regularly check their Tumblr updated on what has been going on. Every Tuesday, I’ll send out an email with links to that week’s Writing Autistic and YouTube video, along with any news on what’s going on with my fiction. Everyone on the list will be notified when Hunt releases, giving them an opportunity to pick it up in the first 48 hours, when it will be free. They will also get an exclusive, free Halloween short story, which will follow the events of Hunt.

Is that it?

That’s it.

Welcome to the site.