I’m known on here as Aurelia Lightcaster. I’m a student, musician, writer, and lover of nature and life in general. I also have a crooked brain. This blog is about my experiences and intersections with the world around me. Have a look around, and don’t forget to drink water, stretch, and breathe. I hope you enjoy my blog, and stay gold, just like me!
Let me fangirl for a minute. Death Note is my favorite anime. I have a minor obsession with death and how death gods are portrayed in fiction, and the Villain Protagonist trope is something I wish I saw more. What excites me most about Death Note though, is the character of L Lawliet, the not-so-villainous antagonist and master detective. I do have a bit of a crush on him, but I would be just as happy being his friend. When I expressed this to the Technician, he said that “L’s superpower is ASD.” My response was “Thank you for saying this so I don’t have to” because, well, Tech was right. L shows a number of autistic traits, making him the first Type 2 representation on this blog.
First of all, L’s detective skills are top of the charts, literally. The top three detectives in Japan are himself and his two aliases. He works days and nights on solving mysteries, to the point where the rest of the police force doubt he ever sleeps. This makes perfect sense if you think of criminal investigation as a special interest. He even claims to “collect” criminals, and collecting, especially in relation to special interests, is another common autistic behavior. The reason he is so good at it is because he would rather do that than any other activity. (Except maybe eat sweets, but more on that later). L is shown to use his powers of deduction in other contexts, such as the entrance test where he first sees Light.
Speaking of that scene, remember how he was told off by the proctor for sitting oddly and he claims that his reasoning skills will drop by forty percent? This may be slightly hyperbolic, but not irrational. Autistic people tend to sit in unusual ways, including with their knees tucked up to their chests like L does, because they have altered proprioception, the sense of their bodies in space. If L were to sit with his feet on the ground, he would be receiving the wrong amount of sensory input, and that would distract him from his work. He also has a crooked posture when standing and walking for the same reason. L’s vision and hearing are heightened, which is why he is often seen in near-darkness and he notices the tolling of the bell when the rest of the team seems oblivious to it. In the flashback to the orphanage, a variety of sounds are heard, including a child crying, to show how noisy L’s world is. L’s stance on touch is kind of ambiguous because the other characters do not attempt to touch him often, but he seems to be under-sensitive to it, having no trouble shaking hands with Light upon meeting him, holding Watari’s hand as a child, or being kissed on the cheek by Misa. However, being forcefully grabbed by Aizawa causes him to freeze with anxiety, so maybe he can only touch if he initiates or is warned first.
L stims with his food in multiple ways. He loves sugar, and there are few scenes when he is not eating cake or some other sweet. Some autistic people eat as a self-stimulatory behavior (stim), and that includes favoring a certain flavor, like sweetness. L also plays with his food by stacking it or lining it up in a pattern, which counts as a stim but for his eyes and hands. He is frequently seen biting his thumb, especially when he is thinking, another oral stim. I cannot find any clips of him rocking back and forth as a stim, but with the way he sits, it is not improbable that he does this.
As for social things, L is a known oddball who is either unaware of it or, more likely, does not care. His voice is rather monotone, and his facial expressions tend to be slightly delayed and slightly exaggerated, as if each smile or smirk requires extra thought. Some of his smiles look creepy or forced. Tone and facial expressions tend to take more effort for autistic people, and our attempts at expressing emotion may seem “off” or unnatural. L often lacks situational awareness, like the scene when he assumes Light and Misa are irritated with him because he has cake and they do not. Autistic people sometimes have a tendency to assume everyone else thinks the way they do, and that looks like what L is doing here. He would be annoyed if Light was eating cake and he was not, so that is the conclusion he jumps to when Light is annoyed with him. He also sees nothing wrong with tagging along with Misa and Light on their dates, and is genuinely confused when he is called a pervert over this. This is hilarious and relatable, not being aware of boundaries regarding couples and ending up being an accidental creep. L often avoids eye contact and appears uncomfortable in large groups, which are well-known autism characteristics.
Overall, L manages to be a relatable and endearing autism representation as well as an interesting cerebral hero. His special interest is put to use while not seeming overly savant-like, though your mileage may vary there. While he is not confirmed as autistic, individuals in the autism community relate to L and celebrate his strengths. If you have not already watched Death Note and are looking for some autism representation in a crime anime, please go and watch it. (Or not. I do not own you). I will hopefully have more headcanon posts up soon.
I follow a lovely autism education profile on Instagram known as The Autisticats. While reading one of their older posts (scrolling back is fun sometimes), I read about the poster viewing one of their autistic traits as “sometimes a good thing, sometimes a bad thing, but mostly just a thing.” This stuck in my mind because for most of my life, my views on autism have been extreme.
When I first learned about autism, I thought of it as a curse. Reading through the parenting and child development books while hiding in the back of my local bookstore, I became familiar with the pathological view on autism, as a defect that caused pain and isolation. It did not help that those books leaned toward certain traits, or as they called them, symptoms, that were less true of me, such as delay or lack of speech and bodies so sensitive that a hug would send them to tears. I watched as Temple Grandin got bullied, underestimated, and overstimulated on-screen, and felt relief that that was not me. The general public’s reaction to someone being autistic tended to be along the lines of “poor thing, I’m so sorry”, and I had no idea what the actual autistic people thought. I did not know, at the time, that I was one of them.
Shortly after those times, I became aware of the “superhero” perspective of autism. I remember the first autism-centric Facebook page I followed: Planet Morgan, Aspie Superhero. I read about this adolescent boy who, despite being bullied to the point where he feared going to school, considered himself superpowered. Seeing his Dragon Ball drawings, I believed him. I learned about historical figures who may have owed their fame to autism, such as Mozart with his amazing memory and dedication to music. Sharp memories, superior puzzling skills, keen eyes, innovation…all portrayed as strengths, as well as autistic traits. Then I met my friend the Technician, who introduced me to a whole other level of autistic pride. He fully owns his label as his identity, calling himself “an autist”, and I bet you can guess what his “superpower” is.
When I was anticipating my evaluation, I was on an extra lookout for all of the things I struggled with, everything I did wrong. That was a painful state to be in, looking at myself as defective. I had to remember the joy I had seen autistic people express, as well as the sorrow, and I added a section in my outline dedicated to my loves and strengths. Being around other ND people for the first time in my life made me embrace my stimming (especially the happy rocking and leg shaking) in a way that I had not since I was in elementary school, made me see my echolalia as fun rather than annoying or as an inferior form of communication, and made me admire my community’s straightforwardness and lack of hinting and expecting you to read between the lines. (I can catch a drift no more successfully than I can catch a ball). I was spoiled by spending all day with my autistic and ADHD friends online, laughing at the silly neurotypicals and talking about plans to start an ND colony on Mars.
This was…too far. When I come back into the “real world”, I remember that I am a social minority, and that my identity is classified as a disability. There are days when I do curse my autism, days when I wish I had normal ears that could still follow a conversation with white noise and other people’s voices going on in the background, a normal mind that could tell when it was okay to join in and when I was supposed to hang back, and normal interests that lined up with my peers in the hallway or my relatives at family gatherings. (Why are we talking about politics instead of the personifications of death in various novels? Is that not more fun and interesting)? Even when I laugh at my body not recognizing that the reason I cannot sleep is because I need to pee until I am close to bursting, I wish I could feel that cue sooner. At the same time, when I spend hours working on a composition, or I am the only one in the room who knows how “nimrod” became an insult, I can thank my autism. Like many autistic people that I know, I find joy in small things in life, such as the feeling of sunlight on my back or the way a field of mustard looks and smells after the rain. “Find your strengths” has become a catchphrase of mine to help other NDs feel more comfortable in their skin.
But most of the time, my autistic traits are just part of me, regardless of whether they are good or bad, strengths or deficits. Yes, I get confused if someone types a joke at me and does not specify humor with a tone indicator. Yes, I take my jacket off and on five times in twenty minutes. And yes, I just finished listening to the soundtrack to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder for the second time this week because it tickles my brain exactly the right way. These are all parts of me, and I do not have to assign morality to them. I have found my identity, and I am on the road to acceptance. My autism is part of me, and it is not a good thing or a bad thing. It is just a thing.
If you have been on the internet in recent years, you probably know who Elon Musk is. He is a CEO of multiple companies as well as being a champion sh*tposter. He also hosted Saturday Night Live yesterday, which included revealing that he has “Asperger’s Syndrome”. (There is a whole post I could write on why I refuse to use that term). Elon Musk is autistic. And I am here rolling my eyes.
I am not thrilled to have another billionaire tech and engineering CEO join our ranks. I have been seeing this figure my whole life. The isolated technical genius man who uses his knack with math and machines and his entrepreneurial skills to found and head a successful company. Or, alternatively, he is only good at one thing and he uses his rich parents’ money to invest in a company. The public theorizes that he is autistic, and sometimes it gets confirmed, but sometimes it does not. I am not comfortable with the general public understanding autism as the portrait of the rich, technologically, mathematically gifted man. I am none of these things. Well, I could be mathematically gifted if I chose to keep learning math. I sort of stopped after high school. However, I am far from rich, I am so technologically inept that I have to use WordPress for this blog while someone like Steve Jobs would just program their own website, and I am a woman! Yes, women and non-binary people can be autistic too. When I first saw that Musk had “come out” as autistic, my first reaction was to text multiple friends (also autistic) that, “No more techno-billionaires can join our ranks until someone does a comb-through of every writer and actor that has ever been deemed ‘eccentric’.” Autistic people have all kinds of occupations and hobbies, including writing (hello) and acting, and we are tired of being overlooked. In fact, Musk is not the first autistic person to host SNL. That honor goes to actor Dan Aykroyd back in 2003. I do not want other autistic people to look at guys like Musk and think they are “bad at being autistic” because they are not CEOs or are interested in things besides technology and engineering.
The other problem with this is that Elon Musk is not a good person. He is openly ignorant about a spread of things, from COVID-19 to trans rights, is horrible to work under, named his son something pretentious and unpronounceable, is yet another dragon hoarding wealth when he could be donating it, and has shown support of curing autism. He is a traitor as well as a rich jerk. I am not even going to cite sources here because there are too many. Google is free, have at it, I dare you. Musk perpetuates yet another negative stereotype with his unlikeable behavior. People are already saying things like “Asperger’s? No wonder he’s such a dick!” Autism does not inherently mark someone as a horrible person, and neither is it an excuse for being a horrible person. I may be autistic, but I am not shouting at a woman asking why she has hair on her face. My friends and I are not little angels, but we do try to be good people, and for most of us, hurting someone is the last thing we want to do. There are fools in every crowd, and the neurodivergent community is no exception, but like any community, we do not want our label to be synonymous with “jerk.”
There is something nagging at me while I write this post, and that is my perceived lack of gratitude. Some readers are probably thinking, “Aurelia, what’s wrong with rich jerks coming out as autistic? Aren’t you grateful for the publicity and attention that autism is receiving?” There is a difference between positive and negative attention, and there is such a thing as bad representation. As cliche as it sounds, there is power in representation. I look at Musk and want to shout, “That’s not me! Not all of us are like that!” I want to be able to see people like myself in the news, and I know that people in my community would benefit from that too. Instead, people like Musk keep getting publicized, to the point where people disbelieve me because I am not like him. It is almost like the neurotypical public wants to hate on and make fun of autistic people, at least when they are not worshipping them. Why else would they continue to accept autism as this thing that makes you a rich jerk when evidence to the contrary is right in front of them? You are probably noticing a theme here, and you may have also noticed that I have not said anything to invalidate Musk’s autism. I have accepted the fact that Musk has autism as true, and I will continue to do so until absolutely solid evidence against it is brought to light. That is unlikely to happen because no one should have their diagnosis scrutinized and questioned, even a man like Musk. His claim that Neuralink could cure autism is the only reason I have to say “you can’t sit with us, Elon.” The tech CEOs are not banned from sitting at the autism table because they are tech CEOs. The same goes for the generally unpleasant and unkind people. If you are autistic, you can sit with us, but those who come up to the table cannot only talk to those like Musk and walk away thinking they have met the entire crowd. Those at the table cannot shove others off for not being tech-obsessed, not being heads of companies, not being rich white men. Autism is colorful, varied, a welcoming umbrella of traits and experiences. So why not open the lens and expand the public gaze beyond Elon Musk?
Autism is multi-faceted, varied, and difficult to explain without oversimplifying. It is a spectrum, which is in the name, a mosaic of traits and characteristics as colorful as the rainbow infinity symbol used to represent neurodiversity. However, there are some disorders and ways of being that people mistake autism for. The following list contains ten of those, compiled to clear up confusion and bust some common myths. Some things on this list are comorbidities, meaning they are separate conditions that can occur along with autism, but they do not have to. Autism is not…
- A Mental Illness
A lot of people are out there confusing neurodiversity and mental illnesses. According to Psychology Today , neurodiversity is a cognitive difference which can be autism, ADHD, a learning disability like dyslexia, or schizophrenia. These differences, still classified as disorders by many, are genetic and present from birth. Mental illnesses, on the other hand, develop overtime due to environmental stressors. Mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, develop in a large amount of autistic people, but they are not present from birth, but autism itself is.
- Just For Children
There are autistic adults, and we deserve recognition too. Autism does not just go away like baby fat as kids grow up, and many people do not get diagnosed with autism until they are already over eighteen years old. I got my diagnosis when I turned twenty. Autistic characters in fiction are most often children, and most “autism awareness” advertisements focus on children, but this is misleading.
- Down Syndrome
I have rolled my eyes so many times from seeing autism confused or compared to Down syndrome, especially in internet memes, that I am surprised my eyes are not permanently stuck in the back of my skull. Down syndrome, also known as trisomy-21, is a chromosomal abnormality that causes physical differences and cognitive impairment. Since it is caused by an extra chromosome, Down syndrome can be identified using a karyotype, and people with Down syndrome have a characteristic appearance. Autism’s genetic markers are nowhere near that obvious, and autism has no physical markers. If you hear autism and think of short stature, flat hair, small eyes, and a short neck, you have the wrong disorder in your head.
- Intellectual Disability
Intellectual disability is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a significant deficit in both intellectual functioning (the ability to learn and solve problems) and adaptive functioning (communicative and practical skills). Intellectually disabled people score about a 70 on IQ, which means they learn slower than their typical peers. I know what you are probably thinking, autistic people can take longer to learn too, but the reason for that is different. Autistic people are impeded by how material might be taught, and they tend to have strong memories and reasoning skills, which traditional IQ tests lean heavily on. Intellectually disabled people, on the other hand, struggle with those skills and often end up learning later no matter how they are taught. Intellectual disability shows deficits across the board, whereas autism often manifests as skewed ability, as in performing low in some areas but high in others. Intellectual disability can be comorbid with autism, but it is not a given symptom. Do not assume an autistic person is “slow”.
Ugh, I hate this misconception/stereotype. A savant is someone with spectacular, almost superhuman skill in one specific area, but average or below average performance everywhere else. These are the human calculators, the prodigious musicians, the prodigious readers with photographic memories. Yes, there are some autistic people who are savants, but they are few and far between. More likely, you will find an autistic person who has a great love for a certain activity, leading to extended practice and enhanced ability. There is no miraculous natural gift, only passion and hard work. I blame films like Rain Man and A Brilliant Young Mind for making autistic people look like supercomputers.
- A Disease to be Cured
April just passed, so you have probably seen all of the ads for organizations such as Autism Speaks (or as I like to call them, Autism Unspeakable) painting autism as this scary, negative thing that takes children away and tears up families, a lot like cancer. There are parents and teachers who describe their children or students as being locked inside themselves, prisoners in their own uncooperative bodies. Some companies speak of curing autism and ending the “epidemic”. This hurts. A majority of autistic people, including myself, do not want a cure. Sure, being autistic sucks sometimes, but it also makes things fun and interesting, and I would not be myself without it. Most of my problems could be solved if the general public were a little more accepting, a little more patient. Maybe we should be curing ableism, not autism.
- Complete Purity and Innocence
As offensive as painting autism as a disease is, the other side of the coin is just as bad. Some neurotypicals like to think that autistic people are these pure, innocent angels who were brought to this earth to soften people’s hearts and inspire them to be kind and selfless. “Autism moms” are praised just for doing their jobs, and actual autistic people’s images are preserved as fragile and uncorrupted. I have news for you: there are autistic people who have sex, do drugs, swear, wear clothing other than modest pastels, make jokes including dirty ones, and do plenty of other things neurotypicals do that are not exactly considered “pure”, but are nonetheless considered “normal”. If you need a neurodivergent person to come into your life so you can pat yourself on the back for being their friend or caretaker, I suggest you ask yourself why you need to use another human to elevate you with karma points (or whatever your belief system is), because that is what we are. We are human.
- Psychopathy or Sociopathy
According to Mental Health America, psychopathy and sociopathy are both slang for antisocial personality disorder. These individuals are often impulsive and deceitful, though not always violent, and they do not feel guilt or remorse. They are stereotypically “evil”, though they can hide themselves in normal societal positions. Autistic people can be mistaken for psychopaths or sociopaths because of the misconception that we do not experience empathy or emotions. The truth is that we do, but we may struggle to express our own emotions or identify them in others using nonverbal cues. Autistic people do not generally go out of their way to harm others, and lack of understanding of unwritten social rules does not make them dangerous.
An introvert is a type of person who recharges their social and emotional batteries by being alone, as opposed to an extrovert, who does so by being with others. Yes, some autistic people are introverts, but that is not everything that autism is, although they can look similar from the outside. I define myself as an “anxious extrovert”, and I am autistic. I thrive on interaction with friends and love to meet new people, but since I am autistic, I do not always know how to interact with others successfully, and fear of rejection or messing up can make me hesitate, which is where the anxiety comes in. I also do not do well with the unexpected, so I have to gather a lot of information before agreeing to meet up with someone. Some autistic people avoid parties or other social events because of sensory issues too. Again, autistic people can be anywhere on the scale of introvert or extrovert, so do not assume the autistic person in your life is happier alone.
- A Monolith
One of my favorite quotes is, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” This means that we are not all the same, and you cannot project your perceptions about one of us onto all of us. Autism, like I said before, is a varied spectrum, and while we do all have things in common, we do have even more qualities that make us individual and different, just like any other group of people. We are not one stereotype, one box, one cookie cutter character. We can be anyone. Well, except a neurotypical. That is just part of the definition.
Love on the Spectrum is a reality TV show that was filmed in Australia for Northern Pictures for the ABC in 2019. It features seven single autistic people as well as two autistic couples and how they navigate the dating world. I decided to watch it and see whether it portrayed autism in an accurate, positive light. I admit, my expectations were low. I told a friend right before I started, “I’m going to try watching Love on the Spectrum tonight. This is either going to be fun or torturous.” I was fully bracing for cringeworthy moments, which were present, but I was also pleasantly surprised.
Let’s start with the positives. Each member of the cast was presented as an individual person, not as a stereotype or caricature, so I felt like I had met them. Everyone got time to talk about their special interests and the things that made them happy, including Ruth with her pet snake, Mark with dinosaurs, and Kelvin with his anime and manga. There were a lot of cute and happy moments, including two marriage proposals, but I especially enjoyed seeing the cast connect on dates, such as when Amanda said she liked to collect toys and dolls, making Michael’s face light up with joy. Including couples was a smart move because it showed successful love stories. In other words, there were people who connected and stayed after the first date! Some quotes made me laugh, like when Lotus said, “Haha, yes, the autistic girl likes Minecraft.” As another autistic girl who likes Minecraft, I felt exposed in a good way. A couple of good points were raised about what autism was and how people should not be prejudged because of it. Chloe’s quote “What does an autistic person look like?” is something I have wanted to say for a long time. There was also some intersectionality between autism and other disabilities. Chloe was partially deaf, Olivia had a tic disorder, and Lauren had cerebral palsy (which meant she was especially delighted to see the waddling penguins because they walked like her).
The cast did have some shortcomings, however. First of all, it was rather white, with Kelvin and Marcus being the only people of color. I was also disappointed at how few LGBT+ cast members there were considering the overlap between the ND and the LGBT+ communities in real life. I felt that having one confirmed asexual (Michael) and two bisexuals (Chloe and Lotus) was not enough. Even though everyone was in their twenties, the heavy involvement of the cast’s parents made it feel like they were still in high school. It makes sense that they needed people for an outside perspective, but did the parents really need to be present for the dating coach sessions? This is especially considering the intentions of parents like Michael’s mother, who kept her son’s diagnosis a secret from him until he was thirteen.
The show seemed to be made more for neurotypicals than for autistic people to watch, so it felt voyeuristic at times. It kind of had the same feeling as those videos of cute animals making friends, like “awww, look at the autistic people going on their little dates and holding hands.” This might just be my distrust for reality TV talking, but a few moments felt contrived. For example, Chloe’s dad told his daughter that if she started to get nervous, she could excuse herself to “powder her nose”. Chloe took this literally, and when her dad explained that it was an expression, her response was “but it’s not honest.” I suspected that this exchange was scripted in order to show one of the few features of autism that most NTs were familiar with, taking figurative speech literally.
The worst case of neurotypical interference, however, had to be including a neurotypical dating coach to instruct autistic people who were paired up with other autistic people. Jodi Rogers, the coach in question, could have been a lot worse, being a sunny presence who recognized the individuality and the strengths as well as weaknesses of autistic people. However, she should not have been the one to give advice in an autistic-autistic dating context. If the main cast had been paired up with neurotypicals, then her presence would have made more sense, but that was not the case. For example, Jodi had to teach Andrew that some people lie about having personal issues or being busy to avoid a second date and suggested that this was what Evie did to him. This was a necessary lesson, except that Evie was most likely autistic as well (they met at a disability-centric speed-dating event and she would have fit the pattern), and therefore more likely to be telling the truth since autistic people tend to be more blunt about not wanting to see someone again. The cast were instructed to make eye contact while they were talking, which is uncomfortable for most autistic people, including myself. A neurodivergent dating coach would not have bothered with that because they would know that two autistic people on a date most likely would not care that their date was looking somewhere else because they would be doing it too. Another moment of the same type that stood out to me, although it was with parents and not the coach, was when Maddi was having a “practice date” with her parents, and they criticized her for responding to a question with “no”. Their reasoning was that she needed to keep the conversation going, even if that meant being less than honest. This was not only obviously confusing for Maddi, but is potentially dangerous! “No” is a powerful word, and Maddi may have needed it to prevent a date from pressuring her into something she was uncomfortable with.
One last criticism I had was the lack of focus on sex. Now, I know the show is called Love on the Spectrum, not Sex on the Spectrum (though there is an awesome subreddit with that name), and there is such thing as love and dating without sex, but they often coincide for NTs and NDs alike. When asked about what people in relationships do, Kelvin did not describe anything beyond “hugs and kisses” for the physical side of things, and none of the others mentioned being interested in things more risquee than that, except for Marcus’s brief mention of watching porn. Michael was aware of what intercourse was, but he was also vocally against it, to the point where I felt slightly shamed for being interested in it. The general idea seemed to be that while autistic people can date, they do not want sex, or worse, are ignorant unaware of it. This is problematic and false. Yes, there are asexual autistic people, but there are also some struggling with sex addiction, and some who have healthy sex lives, and regardless of neurotype or orientation, everyone deserves to be informed about sex. (I could make a whole other post about this, seriously). All right, stern tangent over, now back to the review.
Love on the Spectrum has some blunders in representation and casting, and has a slightly voyeuristic air to it. However, it is also full of wholesome moments and has a generally optimistic message. I especially liked seeing autistic people represented as dimensional individuals rather than tokens or stereotypes. Overall, I would rate Love on the Spectrum at a seven out of ten. It is a step in the right direction for autistic people on TV, and I would like to see how it might change and improve.
Sam from Atypical is a representation of autism. So is Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts. So, arguably, is Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. But how can that be true if only one of these characters is referred to as autistic in their source material? The answer is, being canonically autistic is not the only way a character can be relatable to autistic viewers. From what I have observed, there are three types of representation. This post and this site will mostly focus on autism, but the same principles apply to other disabilities and even other characteristics such as being LGBTQ+.
Type 1, the canonical or confirmed character, is what most people think of when they hear “representation in media.” This character’s diagnosis is named, either within the story (Type 1A) or by the creator (Type 1B). There is a high possibility that if a character’s diagnosis is mentioned on-screen, it is either the main premise of the work, or it will become a recurring plot point. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, some of these stories need to be told. However, it can get tiring after a while, especially since neurotypical characters get all kinds of plot points that are unrelated to being neurotypical. Ideally, a canonical autistic character would be as whole, developed, and unique as a neurotypical one, but that is not always the case. Too many writers end up writing a stereotypical character, also known as a character with Hollywood Autism. Poorly-written characters may also be the butt of jokes without ever being truly humanized, or they may be portrayed as perfect angels (the Inspirationally Disadvantaged trope). These are bad representations! If you are writing a disabled character, please do not do this! Another common trope is that of the Disability Superpower, when the character’s weaknesses are turned into strengths. This is more acceptable, at least with autism, because autistic people do recognize that they have strengths that differ from those of NTs. However, no one appreciates a very real struggle being pushed aside for plot convenience.
What about Type 1B? Being confirmed by the creator off-screen makes it easier to include genres like high fantasy and historical fiction, which tend to not feature worlds where words for autism, ADHD, OCD, or schizophrenia exist. Instead, the character is described as “odd” or “mad” and given the traits that match which condition the creator intended to represent. They may be labeled as Cloudcuckoolanders on TVTropes.org. Brandon Sanderson does a great job of researching and including neurodivergence and mental illness in his writing by using this method, and I look forward to delving into characters such as his Steris Harms in the future. Characters who don’t have their diagnosis mentioned on-screen are less likely to be walking plot-devices or stereotypes, but they are also more often written as side characters. This seems to hold true more for autism than for mental or physical disorders, but I hope that changes in the future.
Type 2, my favorite type, is the implied or headcanoned character. These characters are written with a lot of traits that align with a certain neurotype or disorder, to the point where fans peg them with it. However, they are not confirmed by those who wrote them, so there is no telling how intentionally the traits were included. It could be that one rogue writer thought, “You know what would be fun? Secretly writing this character as autistic.” It could be that they based the character on someone they knew who happened to be ND. It could be that they chose some traits at random, the fandom squinted hard enough, and now their character is an icon! Implied characters might also have the Cloudcuckoolander tag, as well as the Ambiguous Disorder tag. Sometimes, a headcanoned character can be confirmed and become a Type 1B character. Like I said before, Type 2 representation is my favorite, and I cannot wait to share headcanons with you.
Type 3, the allegorical or coded character, is where you place characters whose narratives and experiences match those of autistic people (or other minorities) but are not actually part of that group. I brought up Groot at the beginning of this post. He is an autistic-coded character because he only says three words but understands everything his friends say to and about him, which autistic people, who often have speech delays, can relate to. However, he is not literally autistic because he is a tree alien with a neurology that is totally different from a human’s. A lot of alien characters are Type 3 autism representation, as are a lot of characters with a Fish out of Water narrative. This is the most subjective and the most viewer-influenced type. Even if the writer did not intend to appeal to an autistic audience, fans may still see themselves or loved ones in stories. For me, the film Mean Girls was a crucial part of my autistic self-realization, and the word autism is not said anywhere in the movie. (And I would remember because Mean Girls has one of the most quotable scripts of all time).
On this blog, you will see commentary on all three types of representation. Hopefully, this adds another layer to your experiences with media. If there are disabled, neurodivergent, or otherwise atypical people reading this, I hope you find the positive, real representation that you’re looking for. Typical creators making diverse characters, I hope you learn from this and future posts. Everyone else in between, I hope I have opened your mind and that you notice representation in places you might not have before.
Hello, I’m Aurelia. Well, actually, that is not my name. Aurelia Lightcaster is a pseudonym, and any names of people in my life have been changed. But right here, right now, Aurelia is what you should call me. My pronouns are she/her. I study music in California, and I have lived in the same state my whole life. My interests are music, mythology, sexuality and kink, cats, and names. And those are just the main ones! I enjoy being out in nature, but I also like curling up with a good book and chatting with friends online. I guess I should get to the point already, even though I do not like sharing the unusual things about my brain when I introduce myself. I am autistic, and I also have OCD, generalized and social anxiety, depression, and paranoia. I started this blog because I want to tell my story, and that story is still in progress.
When I was a baby, I spoke very early, before six months, according to my mother. I did not learn to walk until over ten months later. I almost never played, especially not with other kids, and adults had to verbally explain concepts such as taking turns to me; I did not pick them up naturally. At age five, I was brought into a room at the local school, where a strange woman asked me questions and told me to perform tasks. I remember her name, and that we specifically played a word association game together. I do not remember being told why this meeting took place. Meanwhile, I was seen as an outsider among my peers, even at that age. This continued and intensified as I grew older. I remember telling my parents tearfully that I had no friends, being the last picked for group projects, having kids act like they were my friends and then change their minds after a few weeks. In fourth grade, a boy in my class told me that I walked funny, and that people thought I was [the r slur] because of that and because I “couldn’t spell my own name.” While my name was unusual, I had mastered spelling it six years before that, but the comment still stuck with me. (But that is another post). That same year, my mom showed me the biopic film of Temple Grandin, which was my introduction to the word autism. In my fourth-grade brain, I viewed it as something other than me because I liked being hugged, I had learned to speak early, and I did not think in pictures the way Temple Grandin did.
In middle school, I spent a lot of my weekends at the local bookstore, hiding in the graphic novels, the youth chapter books, or, for some reason, the parenting section. I also acquired Facebook. As I read (probably outdated) books and (rather personal) Facebook pages on autism, I tried to tell myself I was just an ally, and that I was not one of these kids. At the same time, I wondered whether I had fallen from the sky, whether there was a wall of glass separating me from other teenagers, or whether everyone was having the same problems I was but simply coped with it better. My parents were insistent that I was just a normal kid, and I had seen the emos, those kids who used depression and anxiety as brands, and I did not want to be them either. In 12th grade, I met someone who made me look into myself. They watched me stumble to the ground, weighed down by anxiety, and they hugged me and told me exactly what it was. It was that year that I saw a therapist and got my mental illness labels. Autism, however, was still out of the question. It remained that way for a whole other year.
August 1st, 2019, was the day that started me on what I liked to call the “suspectrum” path. I was on the bus to visit the Opener (my friend from the previous paragraph), when I noticed a boy sitting in front of me. I would later learn that this was the Technician, who would become one of my greatest friends. He asked me, “Are you an autist?” I told him no at first, despite his thinking “this person is like me,” but then I remembered one particular blog, and one particular checklist. It turns out, I had a multitude of characteristics of an autistic girl, and I had been overlooked. I spent a year gathering evidence, with the help of Tech and any other autistic brain that I could pick, and in November 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, I was diagnosed with autism.
That is the basic timeline. I can tell so many stories, but still only be telling one, because I am one person. And Temple Grandin was one person, and so was Samantha Craft. My story though, is about having a part of me not recognized until my adulthood. I am Aurelia Lightcaster, and I slipped under the radar.