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?
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.
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.