Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://yesthattoo.blogspot.com/post-specific-URL.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Writing Accidentally Autistic Characters

Instigated by this Tumblr post, particularly the part where iridescent-enby asks what a writer can/should do if they realize they are writing an accidentally autistic character. How do they make the autism explicit without speaking for/over us (do they make it explicit?)

I’m responding as both a writer and an autistic person. Finding out that you were accidentally or unintentionally writing an autistic character is not the same as setting out to intentionally write an autistic character. When you set out to write an autistic character, you probably do research about autism. Hopefully, this research includes things written by actually autistic people, but... I'm well aware this isn't always the case. 

And advice about writing with autistic characters can be found. So can letters to writers about autism, examinations of common narrative methods for "showing" autism, analyses of problems like character development meaning "overcoming" autism or acting "less autistic," and discussions of behaviorizing vs. humanizing approaches to writing about autistic people and characters. I've even thrown my hat in this ring before, with "Who Gets to Stay Autistic?" In retrospect, I think I should have left the comma in the title: Who gets to stay, autistic?

There doesn't seem to be so much about what you do when you realize you're writing an autistic character. Which is kind of funny, because there are so many autistic characters running around who we're never told are autistic, who we recognize because we know ourselves. I definitely recognize characters as autistic while I'm reading. Alanna of Trebond and Olau, later Alanna of Pirate's Swoop and Olau. Annie Cresta, with the added dose of PTSD that literally all the Victors have. Hermione Granger, because if I am just like her, then she is autistic too. Emily, from Questionable Content. Dairine Callahan.

It's not hard to write an autistic character without setting out to do so, because we're people, and you'll see us around in life. We exist, and knowledge about autism is such that you'll often only realize that we're quirky or eccentric, not that we're autistic. Something is different about us, and maybe it's interesting to you as an author, but you don't have the word for it and therefore neither does your now-accidentally-autistic character. 

That doesn't mean you can't find out later. Most likely, you'll find out because all of a sudden autistic people are noticing that they have a lot in common with the character, and maybe we're even telling you about it. Somehow or other, you find this character you wrote is autistic. Now what?

If you realize a character of yours is autistic while you’re still writing things with that character, and they’re in a context where the diagnosis and some level of popular awareness of it exist, you can arrange for it to come up. They could hear that their accommodations request could get approved. (If it's approved, you don't need to devote a plot arc to making this needed accommodation happen FFS, what is the ADA anyways?) They could have a teacher ask, "I thought there was something in your IEP about that?" (The school social worker asked me this when I quit group. I never had an IEP.)  They could show that they've known all along by mentioning it off-hand. ("Not eating that. Autism thing." or "No, everyone is not a little bit autistic! If everyone were a little bit autistic, fluorescent lights [or other sensory issue for the person] would not exist!" if they get into a situation where someone makes the joke about everyone being on the spectrum.) They could show up in a T-shirt that indicates autism. (Shirts of mine which would work for this purpose: Autistic Party Giraffe by Sparrow, Autreats Amazing Annual Adulthood Accalamation from when Autreat still existed -- this one involves some verbal explanation since non-autistic people who went to Autreat as kids and then as adults could have this short as well--, and "I love someone lacking autism" from Tone it Down Taupe.)

They could run into another autistic character who does already know, recognizes them, and says something. (This is perhaps more realistic than you'd think: I have literally been approached by another autistic person and greeted with, “Did you know you’re autistic? Come have lunch with me!” Subtlety: not something we’re usually known for, and autistic people recognizing each other as similar is a thing that happens whether or not we have the word autism. If one has the word and the other doesn’t, this could be how the second gets the word.)

Whether or not it's practical to include a reference to make the characters autism explicit in the actual work, however subtle or obvious, you can respond with Word of Author (aka God.) Don't claim you were intending them to be autistic if you weren't, we generally don't like lies. But! You totally can (and should):
  1. Be noticeably not-insulted by the insinuation you could write (or play) an autistic character. Yes, folks have gotten insulted by the idea that a character they wrote or played or were otherwise involved in was getting read as autistic.
  2. Accept the possibility (probability) that the character is, in fact, autistic. We're pretty good at recognizing our own. 
  3. Be noticeably not-insulted by the idea that fans noticed something about a character you didn't necessarily intend. It's super easy to accidentally write an autistic character if you don't know that the real people they resemble (who you may have borrowed some autistic traits from) are autistic themselves!


Perhaps counter-intuitively, I would suggest that you not immediately go research autism for the purpose of writing the character if it becomes clear you’re writing an accidentally autistic character. If we're reading your character as autistic, that means you are already writing a good autistic character. Reading what supposed experts have to say about us is not going to help you write a better character. It will put stereotypes in your head that you will then need to work to avoid.

9 comments:

  1. Very realistic [the possibility of one character meeting another] - yes it happens in real life. One of my favourite examples is when Kevin Philips and David Andrews met each other in the late 1990s.

    I love that Deus ex Machina type of move. I can see JK Rowling, for instance, doing this.

    And number 3 is the important one.

    Some authors like to do it in a Where's Wally/Waldo way.

    "You are already writing a good character" - now that is reassurance and challenge in one!

    Hope this is in Kidlit.

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    1. This currently isn't in Disability in Kidlit, but depending on their submission guidelines (my other stuff I did for them was pretty much stuff they asked for) I may make an attempt to polish/add and then get it there.

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  2. I am certain Katniss Everdeen is autistic, too. After all, her thought processes kind of resemble what mine would be if I were poor, badly educated (as everyone in the Seam is because the Capitol couldn't care less about educating them), and had to hunt for my food. Not that I know how to hunt, but certainly Katniss gives interview answers like i would give, that's for sure. Also, she sucks at overly fake routines, much as I do (probably worse than I do, but then again, I have watched more movies than she would've - she probably watches no movies at all, and I also read fantasy, which she doesn't because it's not like there are a whole lot of fantasy novels in District 12).
    Also, I am sure Luna Lovegood is autistic - JK Rowling probably knew an autistic kid and based Luna on her.
    I also think Nealan of Queenscove, from Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series, is autistic
    I also think of Elsa from Frozen as autistic; even a feature of her in a short called "Frozen Fever" does nothing to dispel that notion.
    Not to mention, Spock, I am sure, is an autistic who has a bad habit of lying to himself about how he feels (sadly, there are real autistic men who do the same thing due to toxic masculinity); he is not nearly as emotionless as he pretends to be, even to himself. If he really were emotionless, every decision would have the same merit to him, no matter the "logic" behind it. Since that is not true, Spock is an emotional being just like the rest of us; he just tends to hide from his emotions and probably has alexithymia.

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    1. I also don't disagree with someone's headcanon I read once that Ramona Quimby, a well-known beloved kid's character, is autistic. She may be outgoing, but she is quirky in a way that suggests autism now that I think of it.
      I also think that it may be possible that the Bible characters Joseph (the dream one, that is) and Moses, might have been either accidentally autistic-coded or based on actual autistic people. After all, Joseph tends to see things in an unusual way and behave in ways that other people cannot explain, he may be unaware that he should not tell dreams about ruling other people because he may miss the implications, and he does have a tendency to project the kind of illusory "narcissism" that autistics do that looks like narcissism on the outside, very superficially, but really isn't. Moses, on the other hand, has trouble speaking - he may be nonverbal. He also gets really mad and kills someone (probably accidentally) for beating someone - some autistics can get REALLY ferocious when someone who they care about is attacked. Also, the burning bush - probably dew sparkling on a bush (it happens in the early morning, after all). A person, particularly one with acute visual sensitivities, might find that to their eyes, the sparkly dew resembles fire. Mind you, one could still interpret that as a miracle, even if it isn't actually fire, so that shouldn't detract from the religious message if someone believes it.
      Also, Zero, from Holes. He is definitely autistic. He shows the same carnal tendency to defend people he cares about that seems to be what Moses could do, hates answering questions, and hates digging holes yet digs them really fast and is scrupulously careful not to remove a speck more dirt than necessary. He also has a surprisingly good memory for letters and, when he learns to read, approaches the task in the same analytical way that many autistics approach their learning.
      My dad also told me that the main character of Sling Blade is definitely autistic.
      Also Mimi, from the Rondo series; she is described from the point of view of an NT boy named Leo who is at first grossly ableist and, throughout the relatively short span of the story, learns to let go of some of the stereotypes he held. He doesn't let go of his ableism entirely, but he does give hope to the pro-neurodiversity reader that he may someday lose his ableism altogether.
      Also Saoirse, from Song of the Sea. Now, she may be nonverbal because she's a selkie, but she's an autistic selkie - being a magical creature does not change her neurotype. Her countenance, the way she behaves, and the way she identifies with the theme song of "Song of the Sea" scream autistic to me. And yes, she ultimately learns to talk, but she is only 6; some autistics who are nonverbal past the age of 3 do actually learn to talk by then, so it is not erasure.
      Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, from the Miyazaki movie also seems autistic to me; she's an autistic princess too, though her personality is not like Elsa's.
      Naturally, all these characters have different personalities, yet they all read as autistic to me. There are also a few real historical figures (at least three of which were female, and at least three who were POC and very well-known; Helen Keller is not one of them, I'll tell you that; neither is Martin Luther King Jr. or Harriet Tubman) who I am sure were autistic, but I know people would get mad about it if I "outed" them (not that it is proven, exactly, but still). I already mentioned biblical Moses and Joseph the dream guy; I don't need to add established historical figures to the list as well, particularly ones who were not publicly speculated on.
      Speaking of which, while I don't think of Ash Ketchum as autistic (he is a narcissist at the beginning of the series, but he gradually learns to stop being narcissistic and shrink his ego down to a healthy proportion and has no problem socializing), many Pokémon seem to be autistic, or something like it; not all, but some.

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    2. There's at least one Sachar character - not from HOLES - who I think could be. Bradley in THERE's A BOY IN THE GIRLS' BATHROOM or perhaps one of his peers.

      And the selkies and other types - thinking of Roan Inish in particular.

      What about Ponyo?

      As for POC figures - maybe Sojourner Truth?

      Will be very interested to see which Pokemon emerge and evolve in your analysis.

      Here I was thinking Ketchum was a placeholder.

      Yes - Quimby is very literal-minded and thinks about love and other emotions. Where do I see it most? Ramona the Pest. [Also look at Davy and Susan and Steve in other Ramona books].

      "Being a magical creature does not change her neurotype", Lucy. In some worlds/universes it might; in some it definitely doesn't.

      And your point about narcissism is a big one.

      The Rondo series seems interesting.

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    3. I think you might be right about Sojourner. I wasn't thinking of her, but her famous speech sounds like exactly the sort of point autistics would make. I was thinking of a few activists, though, both white and POC.

      Off the top of my head, I also think of Celebi as an autistic-type Pokémon, and possibly Mew, as well as Latios and Latias, perhaps.

      And yes, I was thinking of Ponyo, too - perhaps she could be seen as a hyper-extroverted autistic. I know most autistics are introverts, but there are those who are not, and can be extremely sociable. Maybe Ponyo is one of those types, sort of like Ramona except even more so, in a way.
      And yes, I agree that Ash Ketchum is basically a placeholder, even though he has a story of his own; perhaps that is the reason why the Pokémon series is not as popular now as it was when it first came out - a largely NT audience would prefer if the series were basically an Ash Ketchum show, I think. Me, I prefer the Pokémon series to stay just the way it is; I have never disliked a Pokémon movie.
      And I don't think the Song of the Sea universe is the type of universe in which magical creatures change their neurotype; some of the fairies have parallel characters (i.e. Macha the fairy and Granny, who is human); and the human parallels act like they have the same neurotype that their fairy counterparts do.

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    4. The Pokemon fans I have known enjoyed Team James and Team Misty as well. And a little bit the Professor and the travels.

      [Pokemon fans I have known: kanna-ophelia and two boys of my acquaintance].

      That wasn't too far a guess. about Soujourner. Trying to think of more of her era.

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  3. As a writer I found this helpful so thank you! On a side note, I know what you mean about "knowing your own". I can spot people with my own disability a mile away LOL.

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  4. I think America Singer from The Selection is autistic. She needed to go outside so desperately she (nearly) fainted, needs more time to understand the other Selected, and does not see the point in compromising on her values to fit a set societal standard.

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I reserve the right to delete for personal attacks, derailing, dangerous comparisons, bigotry, and generally not wanting my blog to be a platform for certain things. As long as we stay within those ranges, discussion is AWESOME.