What do you think of when you hear the word Autism? Do you think of a person with the mentality of a toddler, screaming and flapping their arms? Or do you think of Shaun Murphy, the brilliant but socially awkward doctor? Both of your assumptions are correct, but there is so much more that you don’t know. That’s why Autism is called a spectrum. No person experiences it the same.
Now, what would you say if I told you I was autistic? Yeah. I have what is known as Asperger’s syndrome, or high functioning Autism. This means that I am able to get along in society without much help. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my moments where I lose it and freak out. This is called a meltdown. I may also become very quiet and almost selectively mute when distressed, called a shutdown.
I think of it as an electrical malfunction. A meltdown is when everything suddenly becomes too much, like too many cords plugged into a wall overriding the circuit. It’s loud and may cause a fire. Obviously, an Autistic person isn’t going to burst into flames, but you get it.
Meanwhile, a shutdown is when the lights just suddenly go out. During this, an Autistic person folds in on themself, becoming quiet and withdrawn as a coping mechanism. They may stim in an attempt to self-soothe. This could involve rocking, humming, flapping, or anything else that could calm them down. In my experience, it’s best to just let us sort this out on our own, as we may get startled if you try to hug us or something. Just let us deal with it in our own way.
How to Write a Character With Autism
First off, you want to decide if they’re high or low–functioning. This will have an impact on how they act in your story.
Secondly, and the most important, please do research. You need to do this for any character you write that is different than you are. A good website for the symptoms of Autism is Mayo Clinic.
Keep in mind that not everyone with Autism has the same symptoms. You definitely don’t need to make your character have all of the symptoms. However, make sure that they have enough, because otherwise, that will be PDD-NOS or Pervasive Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified.
I’m sure you’re asking why you can’t go to the Autism Speaks website. Please don’t, because they have everything all wrong about the Autism community. They want to cure something that cannot be cured and believe Autism is akin to a death sentence, which it definitely isn’t.
Also, people with Autism and Aspergers have some different symptoms. Aspergers is usually diagnosed later in life. In addition, there is a real issue with diagnosis rates between males and females. Males with ASD tend to be diagnosed more frequently than females – and earlier on in life, too. For instance, I was diagnosed at eighteen with Aspergers. I am a female.
Well, I think I’ve ranted enough. To wrap up, if you want to portray an Autistic person, please do your research and keep an open mind. Remember that we are not all the same. Let us have other things about ourselves and our personalities that make us interesting characters. Just because we see the world differently, doesn’t mean we’re bad. We have hopes and dreams, just like a neurotypical person does.
For more information on how to write diverse characters well, see the general blog post on the topic.