Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Tropes – Neurodiversity is Supernatural

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 on 9/8/15.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Too Autistic or Not Autistic Enough?

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 on 26/7/15.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Autistics, Introverts, Socially Anxious, and People Who Hate People – What’s the Difference?

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?


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.


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.


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 on 18/7/15.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Tools – Beta Readers

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.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Diversity on the Spectrum – Women

(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 on 12/8/15

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Tropes – Hollywood Autism and Ambiguous Disorder

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 on 28/6/15.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Perspective and POV – Foreshadowing With an Autistic Main Character

You know what makes me nervous?

Allistics using gimicky tricks to emphasise that their character is Autistic.

Like, only using certain types of camera angles or structuring sentences in a certain way.

I’m not saying it never works, but it always makes me nervous. Because, unless you’re consulting with an Actually Autistic person, you have no way of knowing whether it accurately conveys what it’s like to be Autistic.

At best, it could just be a little off, and at worst it could be completely othering, only driving home the point to any Autistic person watching that you have no idea what you’re doing.

That’s a lot harder to recover from than, “Well, that one scene with the meltdown was a little off…”

So, how exactly should you go about getting the perspective and POV of your story right?

Well, first of all, avoid any gimics unless you’re closely collaborating with an Autistic person. Again, there may be examples where it has worked, but don’t count on that being you.

In fact, the best possible advice I can give in general is count on f**king up.

And then ask Actually Autistic people to tell you where the f**k ups are.

But, back to the specific advice. There are a few things to take into account when choosing POV for an Autistic character.

First Person

So, I started writing a novel with an Autistic main character in first person and I noticed a few hiccups.

First person is really good for being inside a character’s head, so it could help to convey the Autistic style of thinking, but for an Allistic, I think this could just potentially give you more places to mess up.

Stories which are about autism, which are about getting Allistic readers inside of our heads… I don’t want to outright say that no Allistic person would ever be able to stick the landing… But it’s surprising when it happens, put it that way.

Even as an Autistic writer, first person challenged me. You have an even more limited view of the other characters than you would have with an Allistic main character.

For an Autistic person, figuring out what’s going on in the head of an Allistic person is difficult (Remember: This also works the other way around!) and even figuring out what a fellow Autisitc person is feeling can be tricky, thanks to the “double filter” issue (A.K.A. more of L.C. trying to find terms for things and then just making them up).

Say I’m talking to B (my Autistic BFF). She’s learned how to mimic Allistic behaviour, but it’s not quite right. I’ve learned how to kind-of figure out what Allistic’s are feeling from their body language, but I often miss things.

So, she’s trying to filter her behaviour through what she’s learned are NT norms, and I’m trying to interpret her behaviour through what I’ve learned are NT norms (which aren’t nessecarily the same things she’s learned).

I’ve known B for years, so we’ve dropped the filters, but it is something to bear in mind if your Autistic character isn’t particularly close with someone.

First person can help to create a feeling of isolation for your character, but it can also create story-telling hiccups. The story I was trying to tell was filled with a large secondary cast and focusing on everyone with first person became difficult. Characters had secrets and they lied and I realised as I wrote, that there was no way my character would be observant enough to pick up on half of it – mostly because I wouldn’t be.

Even something as simple as talking to another character and them being uncomfortable with a certain topic – like, basic “HERE! BACKSTORY STUFF IS HERE!” writing – becomes tricky. Any level of foreshadowing the motives or attitudes of another character becomes difficult to write because you can’t often have your main character picking up on anything beyond the words directly out of other character’s mouths.

I talked about this a bit in my post on empathy.

Obviously, if someone’s crying and I ask what’s wrong, if they say “fine”, then I clearly know they’re lying, though it might go a bit like this:

I knocked tentatively on Isolde’s door, hearing the sound of muffled crying beyond.

“Yeah?” she said, her voice quieter than usual.

I entered, only to see her sitting on her bed with her knees curled up to her chest, her face red and her eyes puffy. Loose strands of short brown hair stuck to the dried tears on her face.

I shifted my weight awkwardly. I knew I was supposed to comfort her, but I had no idea how. I’d never seen Isolde cry before. Or, well, show any emotion beyond stoicism, really.

“I… Are you okay?” I eventually asked.

“I’m fine,” she answered quickly.

I paused, stumped. Clearly, she wasn’t okay. Did she want to be alone or did she want me to stay? Did she not want to talk about it, or did she just think that I was too young to understand?

So, my main character isn’t picking up on complex expressions. It’s just the surface level stuff. If there is one “gimicky” thing I tend to use, it’s that I don’t say:

Isolde looked pensive.

I would say:

Isolde frowned and I wondered if she was angry, but then I noticed how her jaw wasn’t set in that way that told me she was gritting her teeth. I just assumed that she had a lot on her mind and left her be.

Just to show how reading emotions is a step-by-step procedure, rather than intuitive.

But, in all honesty, I prefer using third person.

Third Person

Third person gives you a bit of a cheat. If you need to convey how another character is feeling, because the audience needs this information, but they’re covering up that emotion and you think that picking up on it wouldn’t be something your main character would do, given how you’ve been writing them, you could always slip it in.

For example:

“So, how do you know the Queen?” Lia eventually asked as they headed out of town, unable to contain her curiosity any longer.

“We were friends a long time ago. I’m surprised she even remembers me. We were practically children.”

Lia nodded, satisfied with the answer, completely oblivious to the way Isolde’s grip on her reigns tightened until her knuckles went white.

And yeah, I know, I know.

But L.C.! I thought you weren’t supposed to give your audience knowledge your character doesn’t have, even in third person.

Yeah, I don’t care.

Like, I use this sparingly. It’s not an every paragraph occurance. But sometimes you have to screw the rules to keep your story interesting.


[gif of Seto Kaiba saying “Looks like the rules… just got screwed” as he puts on sunglasses. It then cuts to the Yu-Gi-Oh! the abridged series title card with “YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHH” written underneath.]

Multiple POV

Of course, another way to get around it is to just jump around between scenes or chapters. This way, if a character misses something, the audience only has to wait until the next scene/chapter to realise what’s going on.

But I only do that with ensemble casts and I’ve only got one of those going right now (out of, like, six or seven WIPs).

Originally posted to on 21/6/15.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Stimming – Part Two

Part One Here

So, now that I’ve got my rant about how to write stimming ethically out of the way, we can finally get to the practical side of it.

Much like with SPD (Power Rangers to the rescue! and no, this joke will never die), the best thing you can do is have a character sheet and add stims to it. Know how your character stims and when so that you keep it consistent throughout the story.

Here is some info on stimming to help you do that:

Reasons to Stim

One of the most annoying things authors do is write stimming as a “symptom” of autism and nothing more. There’s no reason for the character to be stimming. They just are. Because that’s what autistic people do, right?

Stimming isn’t random. It’s not without purpose. Even if that purpose is just “I like it.”

Body Language

Stims are often body language for Autistic people. I bounce when I’m happy and I flap my hands when I’m frustrated. These aren’t universal to Autistic people, and might in fact be reversed, but it’s an example. You should write this just like you’d write body language for an Allistic character. Just remember to keep it consistent.


Having sensory input being all over the place is a nightmare. Sometimes you need to generate your own just to have something within your control. Sometimes you’re undersensitive to things and seek them out. Stimming can do all of this.

Types of Stimming

Stimming isn’t just hand-flapping. It can be, but there are hundreds of different ways to stim. If you need specific examples, I suggest going here. Here are some general ones:


Sometimes stims look exactly like fidgeting/bad habits in an NT. Biting nails, tapping pencils, chewing hair, etc. But when we do it, it’s pathologised.

Sensory Input

These are things that we do for the specific sensory input. Like lightly scratching your skin or having a piece of fuzzy fabric.

Stim Toys

Stim toys are objects specifically designed for stimming with and can be bought at online stores like this one. They’re usually designed to be discreet and more durable or (in the case of chewable jewelry and the like) safer than make-shift counterparts. Having your character use a stim toy would be a level of realism hardly seen.


Sometimes stims can be self-injurious.

This is not the same as self-injury.

Sometimes stims can cause injury. This is not the same as wanting to hurt yourself. It’s not a sign of depression. It’s a side-effect of the stim.

Yes, this is bad. But sensationalising it in your story, or making it a sign that someone is “low-functioning” (more on functioning labels here) isn’t the way to handle it.

If you *must* write a character dealing with self-injurious stims, please try to write them with tact. Not as a sign that autism is evil, but as something your character just has to deal with.

More on how to deal with self-injurious stims here.

More on stims in general here.

This was originally posted to on 14/6/15.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Stimming – Part One

Crash course on what stimming actually is here.

So, I’ve got two main points to address here in terms of writing. How it fits into the narrative and how to write stims naturally, so I’ve split this into two parts.

How It Fits Into The Narrative

So, I covered this a bit on my Autism is Not a Character Flaw post, but there will be plenty of posts where I need to retread that ground, including this one.

An unfortunate reality of the world we live in is that many of the treatments and therapies for Autistic people (well, children really – there are currently next to no services for Autistic adults) aren’t designed to help the Autistic person. They’re designed to make them look as “normal” as possible, no matter how detrimental this might be.

We’re essentially put through conversion therapies, where we’re told that who we are is wrong on a fundamental level. We have to expend our energy on pretending to be something we’re not if we ever want to be accepted, we’re told.

The reason I bring up this particularly grim fact is that one of the most visible parts of being Autistic is stimming.

Which means it’s the first that people try to extinguish.

Why do I bring this up?

Because it’s often one of the biggest indicators of Autistic people not getting to stay Autistic.

For Allistic writers, stimming tends to be something they have the hardest time respecting.

We have a culture of trade-off with Autistic characters. They’re allowed to be socially inept if their genius is enough to make up for it. They’re allowed to struggle if that struggle can inform another character’s personality or their story arc, but not their own. Or they’re nothing more than a dehumanised plot-point.

The harder an Allistic writer tries to write a “positive” portrayal of autism, the closer they get to the socially inept genius, rather than the dehumanised plot-point, but in doing so they often erase parts of autism which are too “other”.

Stimming is usually the first to go.

If stimming is included, it’s usually something that the characters seek to stop. They have to be normalised again.

But stimming isn’t bad.

It’s visibly autistic.

And if that’s enough of a reason for you to think it’s bad, then you need to re-evaluate your thinking before attempting to write an Autistic character.

For a lot of us who were conditioned out of stimming, it can be harder for us to avert meltdowns. A lot of us just channelled our stims into less obvious movements. And, for many of us, reclaiming our more Autistic stims is a way of reclaiming parts of ourselves that society tried to strip away.

So, TL;DR – No storylines about Autistic characters learning not to stim unless you highlight the horror of that particular arc. And no omitting stimming because you fear writing about the parts of autism which are too “other”. That’s how you get the Insufferable Genius end of Hollywood Autism.

This was originally posted to on 27/5/15.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Co-Morbid Conditions – Sensory Processing Disorder

When it comes to autism, the autism itself often isn’t the thing causing issues. It’s usually either ableism/disablism, or co-morbid conditions.

Autism is just a different way of thinking.

Co-morbid conditions can be anything from Specific Learning Difficulties (e.g. Dyslexia) to mental illness (e.g. OCD) to Sensory Processing Disorder, which is what I’m going to talk about today.

Sensory Processing Disorder is when your brain doesn’t interpret sensory information properly. Our sensory organs actually receive more information than we get. Our brains just can’t handle every little thing at once, so it filters out things like the feel of your socks against your skin, and the sound of the clock ticking.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is when it either doesn’t filter out enough, and you receive too much input to handle, or it filters out too much, and you don’t get all of the information you need.

This is just one of those annoying things that Autistic people have to put up with.

It’s also one of the things that mostly gets seen through Allistic eyes.

“Oh no, look how terrible it is for me, my child freaks out when I take them to the shops. Oh woe is me!”

*Rolls eyes*

Look, it’s not exactly fun for us, either. You think I like the fact that concerts are sensory hell for me? That crowded shops give me similar symptoms to vertigo if I’m not wearing headphones? That someone wearing strong perfume makes me queasy and gives me a headache?

But one thing I’ve learned as an adult is that these things can all be mitigated.

I can wear headphones in crowded shops.

I recently saw someone suggest carrying a little pouch of coffee beans to counter strong smells.

I can leave concerts and have a break to eat and drink before returning, allowing myself time to recuperate.

If an Autistic person is constantly melting down because their sensory needs aren’t being met, then that’s a problem.

Please don’t have your character meltdown because of sensory overload and then frame it as their fault. If they’re not looking after their sensory needs, chances are that it’s because of outside factors.

There’s also the fact that SPD can work the other way, and you can be under sensitive to things.

When thinking about your Autistic character’s SPD, it’s best to lay out the senses and figure out if your character is over or under sensitive to certain things, and if they’re sensory seeking for certain things.

I’ll fill out this one for myself to show you:



Particularly Defensive Against: Oily textures, felt and light skin-on-skin.

Seeks: Soft, furry things.

Overload Sensations: The touch will linger and I’ll flap my hands and make whining noises (like a sad puppy).


Not sure. (This is okay – not all senses have to be notably over or under sensitive.)

Particularly Defensive Against: Nothing.

Seeks: Acidic foods. I will drown anything in vinegar.

Overload Sensations: Not Applicable



Particularly Defensive Against: Heavy perfume/cologne/fragrance and bin bags.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Queasiness and headaches. I will usually eat/sleep to make myself feel better.



Particularly Defensive Against: Bright lights.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Light on its own tends not to overload me.



Particularly Defensive Against: Chaotic sounds. If I can’t predict where the sound is going, like with background chatter or certain kinds of music.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Vertigo symptoms. I get dizzy and feel faint.



Particularly Defensive Against: Cold.

Seeks: I don’t like hot weather, but I will drink/eat things that are still hot and really like hot water bottles.

Overload Sensations: Nothing.

Proprioception (Where You are in Space)

Under-sensitive (This ties into dyspraxia, which I will deal with in another post.)

Particularly Defensive Against: Nothing.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Not Applicable.


Not sure. (For the love of Gandalf, please don’t portray your Autistic character as not feeling pain. Many of us have atypical reactions to pain, but we’re never completely immune to it and malicious people sometimes use this reasoning as an excuse to abuse us.)

Particularly Defensive Against: Nothing.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Not Applicable.


Oversensitive (I will overcompensate on bikes and the like.)

Particularly Defensive Against: I will get travel sick easily. I’ll get travel sick looking at my phone while walking.

Seeks: I like balancing on things.

Overload Sensations: Not Applicable.


The best way to approach this in your writing is in the little things.

Don’t have them go into sensory overload every chapter. It’s not believable.

But do have them decide against buying a nice item of clothing because it feels scratchy. Do have them being annoyed by their bright bulbs and wondering how much it would cost to replace them with ones with controllable brightness. Do have them forcing themselves to smile through the suffocating stench of a colleague’s perfume.

Another thing to bear in mind is that these can sometimes change. People can go from under to oversensitive about things over time. It can change rather rapidly when they’re stressed or tired.

So, I hope this post has helped with your understanding of how to write SPD. If there’s anything that still needs clearing up, I’ll be happy to do so.

More on SPD.

This was originally posted to on 16/5/15.