There are a few things to keep in mind when writing a character with autism. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that there is a wide range of symptoms and severity. This means that not all autistic characters will be the same. They are just like everyone else that require and are capable of love, empathy, and human connection. It is important to do your research and make sure you have a good understanding of the condition before you begin writing. This article will provide some guidelines on how to get you started.
Quick Answer: General Do’s and Don’ts
|Conduct thorough research and gain a deep understanding of autism through reliable sources and personal accounts||Don’t use autism as a plot device or exploit it for sensationalism|
|Portray the character as an individual with unique strengths, challenges, and perspectives.||Don’t make assumptions or generalize about the entire autism community based on one character/ person|
|Show respect for their experiences and avoid reducing them to stereotypes or focusing solely on their diagnosis.|
|Strive for authenticity, empathy, and inclusivity, and consider seeking feedback from autistic individuals to ensure accurate and respectful representation|
Understanding Autism: The Importance of Research and Sensitivity
When writing a character with autism, it is crucial to prioritize research and sensitivity before even starting to develop a character. Autism is a complex and diverse neuro-developmental condition, and each individual’s experience is unique. Conducting thorough research helps writers gain insights into the characteristics, challenges, and strengths associated with autism. It is equally important to approach the subject with sensitivity, recognizing the impact of language, portrayals, and stereotypes on the autistic community. By cultivating a deep understanding of autism and being sensitive to the lived experiences of individuals on the spectrum, writers can create more authentic, respectful, and impactful portrayals of autistic characters.
Developing an Authentic and Well-Developed Autistic Character
Creating an authentic and well-developed autistic character requires careful attention to detail and a nuanced understanding of the autism spectrum. Start by gaining insights from personal accounts such as speaking to autistic individuals. I can’t recommend that enough. However, there are many factors that come with finding an autistic individual that is a good fit. If that is not possible, then I recommend consulting with reliable resources such as parents or family members of autistic individuals, professionals in the field such as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA), or Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT).
Next, develop the character beyond their autism diagnosis by considering their unique personality traits, interests, and strengths. Show their challenges and struggles, but also their growth and resilience. Basically, things all of us go through because life is just hard sometimes! Avoid reducing the character to a collection of stereotypical behaviours or relying on clichés. Instead, delve into their thoughts, emotions, and experiences, portraying them as multidimensional individuals with hopes, dreams, and complexities. By taking the time to develop a fully realized autistic character, writers can contribute to more meaningful and inclusive storytelling.
Creating Multidimensional Traits: Beyond Stereotypes and Tropes
When writing a character with autism, it is essential to go beyond stereotypes and tropes to create multidimensional traits. Avoid using autism as a defining characteristic that solely shapes the character’s identity. Instead, explore a range of traits, interests, and experiences that make them unique and relatable. Show the character’s strengths, weaknesses, and growth throughout the story, highlighting their individuality and complexity. By moving beyond stereotypes and tropes, writers can create authentic and fully realized autistic characters that challenge preconceived notions and contribute to diverse and inclusive narratives. At the end of the day, everyone struggles with their own battles but these battles don’t define them, so why should an autistic’s character revolve around their autistic traits.
Capturing Unique Perspectives: Internal Thoughts and Sensory Experiences
When writing a character with autism, it is crucial to dive into their internal thoughts and sensory experiences to create a more authentic portrayal. Autistic individuals often have a distinct way of perceiving and processing the world around them, which can include heightened or diminished sensory sensitivities.
Explore their internal monologue, thought patterns, and the ways in which they navigate their sensory environment. However, self awareness of internal thoughts may be challenging for autistic individuals to identify and express out loud. This might serve as a barrier when we gather information or gain understanding to their perspectives. Therefore, when working with autistic individuals, it is important to consider incorporating someone they trust as well to ensure we are involving them to the capacity they are comfortable with. By portraying these unique perspectives, writers can offer readers a deeper understanding of the character’s experiences, enhancing empathy and promoting a more accurate representation of autism.
Exploring Special Interests and Areas of Strength
One important aspect of creating an authentic autistic character is to explore their special interests and areas of strength. Many individuals on the autism spectrum have intense passions and excel in specific areas. These special interests can be a source of joy, motivation, and expertise for the character. By incorporating and celebrating these interests, writers can showcase the unique talents and capabilities of autistic individuals, highlighting the richness and diversity of their experiences. In my opinion, I think the entertainment industry tends to overdramatize autistic individuals with savant like traits. Although it is dramatized, the portrayal is overall positive and I enjoy the positive awareness it brings rather than negative awareness. Writers have an opportunity to challenge stereotypes and showcase the remarkable contributions that individuals with autism can make in various fields. Additionally, it adds depth and complexity to the character, making them more relatable and multidimensional.
Avoiding Stigmatization: Promoting Acceptance and Understanding
When writing a character with autism, it is crucial to approach the portrayal with a mindset and goal of promoting acceptance and understanding, rather than reinforcing stigmatization. Avoid depicting the character as “broken”, “useless” or in need of fixing. Instead, focus on showcasing their strengths, resilience, and unique perspectives. It is true, autistic individuals face many challenges and barriers than others, as they lack some skills to function well in a “neurotypical” world, but they can be highly adaptable in a sense and the skills they learn to manage their challenges is what makes them remarkable!
Challenge misconceptions and stereotypes by highlighting the value they bring to their relationships and communities. By fostering empathy and promoting acceptance through storytelling, writers can play a vital role in breaking down barriers and promoting a more inclusive and compassionate society for individuals with autism.
Seeking Feedback and Collaboration: Involving Autistic Voices
In order to create authentic and respectful portrayals of autistic characters, it is essential to seek feedback and actively involve autistic individuals in the creative process. Engaging with autistic voices can provide invaluable insights and perspectives that enhance the accuracy and authenticity of the portrayal. By actively listening to their experiences, challenges, and suggestions, writers can ensure that their work reflects the diverse range of experiences within the autism community to the best of their ability. Collaboration with autistic individuals also promotes self-advocacy, empowers their voices, and fosters a more inclusive approach to storytelling. Through this collaborative process, writers can create meaningful, well-rounded characters that resonate with autistic readers and contribute to greater representation and understanding!
How do you represent an autistic character?
To represent an autistic character, it is crucial to conduct thorough research and observations to gain an understanding of autism and its diverse presentations. Aim to portray the character with authenticity and empathy, avoiding stereotypes and stigmatizing portrayals, and consider seeking feedback and guidance from autistic individuals or professionals to ensure accuracy and respectful representation.
What are autistic coded characters?
Autistic coded characters refer to fictional characters who exhibit traits, behaviours, or characteristics that are associated with autism, but are not explicitly identified as autistic within the narrative. These characters may display social communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and repetitive patterns of behaviour, among other traits commonly associated with autism.
How do people with autism write?
People with autism write in a variety of ways, just like individuals without autism. Some may have unique writing styles or preferences, while others may use alternative forms of communication such as assistive technology or visual supports. It is important to recognize and respect the individual differences and preferences of autistic writers and provide appropriate accommodations and support as needed.
How do you respectfully say someone has autism?
This has been an ongoing question as our society gains more awareness on autism. Previously, it was appropriate to use person-first language, such as “a person with autism” or “an individual on the autism spectrum.” This emphasizes the personhood of the individual while recognizing their autism as a part of their identity. However, recently members of the autistic community have expressed that their autism diagnosis is part of who they are and it is something they are proud of and so it would be consider respectful to address them as an “autistic individual” or “autistic person”. As this is just a guideline, if you are ever unsure, the best way to find out is just to ask them yourself!
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.