allist

sharkie-heart  asked:

Hi there! I'm not sure if you've answered something similar to this, but I'm wanting to write an autistic character. She's very severe, and has trouble communicating (slurred speech), her personality is also very spacey and oblivious. Any tips, or things to learn about writing an autistic character when I myself am not autistic? Thank you! Take your time!

Thanks for your question, love!  I apologize for the wait, but I’m happy to finally get to answer this :)

So first, I’ve got a a note on what you’ve described about your character.  For one thing, it’s preferred among most autistic people that there be no “sliding scale” of severity – because there are so many different symptoms and combinations of symptoms, and “severity” seems to only relate to symptoms that bother allistic people most.  Here’s a masterpost on how to handle this topic.

So now that this is out of the way, here are my official tips for writing autistic characters!

How to Write Autistic Characters

So it took me some time to prepare for this question, primarily because I saw so little information out there for writing about autism!  And that’s understandable, since it’s such a complex topic – after all, no two autistic people have exactly the same symptoms and coping mechanisms.  Plus, since autism is basically a top-to-bottom different living experience, it’s difficult for allistics to identify with.

But I’m going to discuss this in a few different parts: symptoms, coping mechanisms, positive qualities, and stereotypes to avoid.  I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible without sparing any information :)

Symptoms of Autism

There are many different symptoms of autism, although the mental/emotional aspects of the disorder is most often overlooked by the general public.  It’s important to recognize that every autistic person’s experience and symptoms are different.  Some people have few social problems but they can’t handle the sensory experience of a restaurant; some have few physical problems, but they struggle with OCD and can’t maintain a conversation.  The only difference between symptoms is that some are talked about and some are not, which makes them seem “uncommon.”

Physical Symptoms

  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) – SPD is defined as the struggle to process different sensory input – visual, auditory, tactile, taste, olfactory, proprioception, vestibular and interoception.  SPD causes hyper- or hyposentitivities to certain sensory stimuli (e.g. certain clothing textures, food textures, scents, and lighting – especially fluorescent lighting.  Ugh.)
  • Dyspraxia – A result of SPD, dyspraxia makes it difficult to control one’s physical movement.  It creates problems with planning and executing actions, as well as speaking or judging spacial proximity.
  • Sleep Disorder – Many autistic people struggle with sleeping for various reasons – hypersensitivity seems to be the greatest cause.  Offensive sheet fabric, noises, or lighting can cause sleep problems, as well as racing thoughts or anxiety.
  • Lack of Energy (or Spoons) – Often caused by sleep problems or SPD, a lack of energy intensifies normal symptoms.  Understand that when an autistic person engages in a stressful or energy-consuming experience (prolonged socialization, insomnia, bad sensory environments, anxiety, etc.)
  • Nonverbal Communication – This type of communication is used by nearly one-third of autistic people, either because they aren’t able to use language in a meaningful way, because it requires an excessive amount of mental/social energy, or because they suffer from a learning disability.  Some people go temporarily nonverbal in times of stress to conserve energy.  Most nonverbal autistic people learn other means of communication, like writing, sign language, or scripting/echolalia.

Mental Symptoms

  • Executive Dysfunction – This dysfunction makes it difficult for some autistic people to start, finish, and quit tasks; to make decisions and switch activities; and/or create, organize, and follow through with plans.  This should not be confused with procrastination, as it is not a decision – it’s a result of low energy.
  • Alexithymia – Alexithymia can cause autistic people to struggle to identify their own emotions, or separate physical feelings from emotional feelings.  It’s closely tied with lowered interoception, which is defined as the struggle (or inability) to define and assess physical sensations like hunger, thirst, tension, etc.
  • Meltdowns – Meltdowns are an emotional response to overstimulation and stress, causing some autistic people to “lose control” of visceral emotional responses (e.g. shaking, kicking, crying, shouting, etc.).  There is another type of meltdown called a shutdown, which causes an opposite reaction: dissociation and lack of external response.  It’s a flight reaction rather than a fight reaction.
  • Increased Likelihood for Other Mental Disorders – Since the world isn’t exactly built for autistic people, there are plenty of everyday challenges and stressors (as well as difficulty maintaining supportive relationships) that can cause other comorbid disorders, such as OCD, anxiety, and depression.
  • Learning Disability and Late Childhood Development – While autism itself is not classified as a learning disability, it’s often comorbid with different types of learning disabilities.  Autism can also cause late development of speech and motor skills, among other things.

Social Symptoms

  • Hyperempathy or Low Empathy – On two ends of the spectrum, autistic people often struggle with the “right balance” of empathy – being either unable to identify, express, and empathize with emotions, or unable to shut off or control their own emotions as well as to separate themselves from other people’s emotions.
  • Impulsive Behavior – Because of a (sometimes) weak understanding of social rules and/or imbalanced empathy, an autistic person may struggle to stop and think before they say or do something impulsively.  This can cause interpersonal issues, as impulsive speech may offend or hurt others, while impulsive actions may feel too “out-of-control” or “hard to manage” for loved ones.
  • Difficulty Interpreting or Expressing Social Cues – Autistic people often struggle to understand facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, sarcasm, flirting, or figures of speech – and because of this, they can often come off as “oblivious” or “simple” (although this is inaccurate and contributes to a lot of misrepresentation).  It can also be difficult to express social cues, which is why some autistic people can appear to be awkward, clingy, aloof, or uninterested in friendship/romance.
  • Social Anxiety – Social situations can be especially stressful for autistic people, due to the amount of thinking it requires – to interpret cues, to “pass” as allistic, to express themselves clearly, to curb impulses, to handle sensory challenges – and this leads to social anxiety.
  • Social Isolation – As a result of social anxiety, some autistic people experience isolation, as they may feel more comfortable in their own environment, alone.  This is an unfortunate result of ableist culture, and may be worsened by executive dysfunction which can make it difficult to reach out to others.
  • Struggle with Change – Whether in routine, environment, appearance, or the natural changes of life (such as graduation, moving, marriage, death in the family, new job, etc.), change can cause great stress for some autistic people.  This is why many autistic people enjoy comfort objects, old music, childhood memories/interests, or specific, consistent colors, styles, or textures for their belongings.

Coping Mechanisms for Autistic People

There are many methods of coping with the negative aspects of autism, but there are a few that are most popular:

  • Behavioral & Occupational Therapy – Therapy (often combined with medication) is a continuous process of reducing symptoms, coping with stressors, and learning how to function in an allistic world.  (The most common method of behavioral therapy, ABA, has reports of being abusive, so be mindful of this if you’re researching/writing about therapy!)
  • Stimming – “Stimming” or self-stimulating is a physical coping mechanism for sensory overload and similar stress.  Stimming can be healthy or unhealthy depending on the action involved (some unhealthy stims include skin-peeling or hitting one’s head), and it can be conscious or subconscious.  It’s often seen as “weird” or “bad” by allistics (especially parents), so some autistic people train themselves out of the habit from a young age.
  • Special Interests – Special interests are half a coping mechanism and half a natural part of autistic people’s lifestyles.  It’s defined as a devoted interest to one or two subjects or activities – special interests can reduce stress, help focus, and provide motivation against executive dysfunction. 

Positive Qualities of Autism

Now that we’ve gotten all the bad stuff out of the way, I’m gonna list a few common positive qualities of autistic people.  Remember that these do not apply to all autistic people, but may be a natural consequence of autistic traits:

  • Determination
  • Dedication
  • Divergence (from trends and social expectations)
  • Passion
  • Honesty
  • Uncritical nature
  • Attention to detail
  • Good memory
  • Logical reasoning
  • Active imagination
  • Integrity
  • Understanding of what it’s like to be judged or left out
  • Skilled with children

Autistic people, of course, have many other great qualities, and may struggle with many of the above.  Creating a character with all these qualities will yield you a stereotype, so be mindful!


Stereotypes of Autistic People

Finally, there are a few popular stereotypes of autistic characters, which should be avoided at all costs:

  • Autistic People are Psychic – We get this courtesy of shows like Touch, where the (usually nonverbal) autistic child suddenly starts speaking because they see ghosts or are somehow connected to “another world”.  Autistic people joke about themselves being “aliens”… but allistic people really shouldn’t.
  • Autistic People Need Caretakers – While some autistic people do struggle to manage their lives alone, it’s a pretty harmful stereotype in media considering the lack of positive representation autistic people get.  Plenty of autistic people (whether you consider them high- or low-functioning) lead successful lives on their own, and they deserve representation.
  • Autistic People are Burdens – The most stereotypical portrayal of autistic people is that they are the weight pulling on their parents’ ankles – that they destroy parents’ sex lives and make teachers crazy and their friends need a “night off” from their autistic friends.
  • Autistic People are Childlike – While many autistic people enjoy activities geared toward children, and while meltdowns can resemble an allistic child’s temper tantrum, autistic people are not childish or unintelligent.  Autistic adults are adults, no matter their struggles.
  • Autistic People Look Different – Autistic people don’t all look a certain way from birth – this is a myth that has been debunked time and time again, the same way that the Vaccines Cause Autism myth has been debunked, time and time again.  Don’t perpetuate these myths in your writing.
  • Autistic People are Like Robots – Autistic people may not express their feelings well, but they have feelings.  Being nonverbal, being dissociative, being aloof or awkward – none of these things make an autistic person unfeeling or non-human.  Be mindful to show the emotional side of your autistic character, even if they struggle to express it to others.

Final Note: You may notice that none of these links are affiliated with Autism Speaks, which is for a purpose.  Autism Speaks has a long history of promoting eugenics, abusing autistic children and adolescents, silencing the voice of actual autistics, and promoting a “find a cure” narrative that’s harmful to the minds of both autistic people and potential parents of autistic children.  When doing research, I’d advise you to refrain from using their resources.


Anyway, this was hugely long but I wanted to really go into it, since I didn’t see many other extensive guides on writing about autism.  Note that while I, myself, am autistic, this is only the perspective of one autistic person.  Either way, I hope this helps you with your character!  If you have any further questions, my inbox is open and waiting :)

Good luck!


If you need advice on general writing or fanfiction, you should maybe ask me!

there’s so much aphobe nonsense in the actuallyautistic tag

reminder that most everyone in the autistic community I’ve talked to has never even heard of autistic folks calling ourselves a-spec and that this was a lie made up by aphobic allistics

sincerely, an autistic ace

anonymous asked:

In response to the anon with the crush who has autism, a kid I used to go out with had ADHD. They had to touch EVERYTHING. The only way I could get them to stop was if I held their hand or distracted them. If her crush is the same way, maybe try it?

mm that depends. definitely ask first. a lot of autistic people (and heck even allistics like myself) have sensory issues and being unexpectedly touched can be awful. it’s always a good idea to ask before touching someone or holding their hand

writing an autistic character when you are not autistic - a masterpost

completely double spaced version on google docs here – this post is more blocky for the sake of people’s dashboards, but still long so people will be less likely to glaze over it. my apologies if that makes it hard to read

things to look for and avoid in an autistic character

• symptoms only manifesting as “nonverbal and rocking”
• super smart / living calculator
• super dumb / doesn’t understand anything
• all the symptoms you can come up with for them are “awkward” and “has special interest(s)” (please do more research)
• trains, technology, and/or math as special interests
• acting like a child
• getting treated like a baby
• unreasonably cruel and uncaring about others’ reactions to them being cruel
• if they’re comparable to sheldon from the big bang theory, start over
• animal comparisons
• a lack of feelings
• please no stories about what it’s like to be autistic told by allistics

the right way to write an autistic person

• lots of symptoms, including secondary ones not included on a general diagnosis requirement list (here’s a list i rather like that was made by an autistic person – their blog is also a good resource)
• having a good amount of general knowledge and actually talking about it (i cannot believe that i have to say this)
• talking about things outside of special interests (again…. come on……….) (special interests are usually the default things our brains go to when theres no stimulation or we want to entertain ourselves – it isn’t literally all we think or talk about ever. if a conversation has no connections to a special interest, reconsider having your autistic character bring it up in a context that is not an introduction.)
• explicitly expressed to be capable of attraction and romantic feelings – if your character is an adult, add sexual feelings to this point
• capable of general functioning, just with a disability that makes it more difficult – not a walking disability (….sigh)
• a wide amount of feelings and emotional turmoil (but perhaps only being able to express it in limited ways)
• we’re people
• just people whose brains are wired differently

things to avoid in research for an autistic character

• autism moms / autism blogs and websites not run by autistic people
• any affiliation with autism $peaks means you should walk away and never look back
• a scientist trying to create explanations for what autistic people do without actually asking / not mentioning asking autistic people
• anything about a cure for autism
• a person that “worked with autistic kids” phrased in the same way as “worked with animals”
• talking about autistic people as if they are mysteries, are like animals, or are otherwise othered weirdos instead of people

things to look for in research for an autistic character

• actual autistic people talking about their experiences and symptoms
• just stick to that and you’re good but it’s hard to find sometimes ngl. just look for the above red flags

things i would personally like to see in an autistic character

• less easy to swallow sadness and more destructive anger. i would love to see a canonically autistic character who was frustrated easily by small things and had trouble communicating why
• not a story about being autistic, a story that happens to have a character or characters who are autistic – it isn’t pointed out or questioned, they’re right at home with the rest of the cast and not othered (a la symmetra from overwatch)
• intensive sensory issues / small sounds making large reactions
• clear communications about not liking x sensory thing (for example being touched)
• poor motor skills / clumsiness and not being laughed at for it
• walking funny (body bent downwards, walking very fast, walking slowly, big strides, shuffling, stiffness, etc)  – no one treats it as if it’s funny or something totally strange
• a big personality that has a presence so they can’t be cast aside (but feel free to have quiet characters too) – if this was along with being nonverbal they would probably leap to being one of my favorite characters ever
• a fear of asking for clarification on sarcasm or jokes because of past experiences and an arc about the character becoming more comfortable asking questions

>> if any fellow autistic people want to add something, feel free <<

allistics are encouraged to rb this

I just explained my issues with executive dysfunction to my dad and holy shit he gets it!


I described it like this: 

Imagine you’re back at AllPro(where he worked) with fifty phones and they’re all ringing. You want to answer them all because they’re all equal priority. That’s an environmental cue– phones are generally a ‘respond immediately’ cue.

Picking up a phone is a simple thing. You know it’s as easy as deciding which phone to answer and reaching out to pick it up, but your brain is saying “I must answer all of them!” The phones are ringing, and you can’t make your body reach out to pick one up because you don’t have fifty arms to reach out, you don’t have fifty ears to listen with, you don’t have a brain that can process and respond to fifty conversations and you don’t have fifty mouths that can all say different things all at the same time. 

Either you do it all simultaneously or nothing will happen. You can want to do it so bad it makes you cry, and you can’t make a decision because no choice seems like the right one. So the task stays unfinished and you get frustrated every time somebody reminds you to “just do it, it’s not that hard!” Because yes, it really IS that hard.

Now, if you had somebody who could point to which phone to answer, you can do it fine. That’s a prompt. Prompting removes the ‘middle man’ thought that says ‘do it all at once’ and gets you to focus on tasks one at a time instead of seeing them as some towering insurmountable mess.

Dad looked at me for a couple of seconds and said something to the effect of, “I didn’t know doing things were that hard for you.”

This is a major, major, major breakthrough between us because dad had it in his head that I left things messy because I didn’t care. While that’s crappy of him to assume, teaching him how that’s not the case and having him really understand it is a huge deal.

Different types of allistics

The Autism Mom™: constantly talks about how hard it is to have an autistic kid, highkey abusive but gets away with it because her child is autistic, is fueled by people telling her how BRAVE she is to deal with an autistic child

The Openly Ableist™: doesn’t try to hide their hatred of autistic people, used the R slur every other sentence, posts videos of autistic people having meltdowns to reddit for the Lolz

The Know It All™: has a friend who’s cousin is autistic nd somehow thinks this makes them an expert on autism/autistic issues

The Autism Savior™: helps out at one “special needs” program and suddenly believes they’re the best person in the world, that they are the most humble and selfless person to exist because they were in a room with an autistic person and weren’t actively abusive

The “Ally"™: says the support autistic people, actually just supports Autism $peaks, uses person first language, uses functioning labels, speaks over actually autistic people, gets angry when an autistic person asks them to make accommodations for them (usually also The Autism Savior™)

An Actual Ally: tries to listen to what autistic people are saying and not speak over them, happily helps autistics with sensory things and gets them what they need, haha lets be real this type doesnt exist lmaooo

(allistics don’t go anywhere near this post)

Here’s the thing about being a professional who works with people in any kind of health or social care job:

We go through years and years of training. We are constantly urged to update our knowledge and skills. We amass knowledge in the hope it will service our clients well and ultimately we are driven by a strong desire to help people to improve their lives. We are often highly qualified, overworked and underpaid and I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who’s in it for the money.

But that does not make us unchallengeable “experts.” And it is dangerous for us to pretend that we have a more valid understanding of our client’s experiences than they have themselves.

If you look at the history of this sector, you can see that we’ve come a long way in a short time. It’s not that long ago that a lot more people were confined to asylums for no real reason. It’s not that long ago that people were put through countless painful operations in order to “improve” their physical disabilities, with no real consideration given to the person’s wishes. It’s still legal in most countries (everywhere except Malta) to operate on an intersex child without parental permission. Even in the early days of medicine, doctors set themselves up as “experts” and a lot of unsafe practice went unchallenged for decades as a result.

This sector has a dark history of abuse and the best professionals work with an awareness of this and a desire to avoid repeating those mistakes. Which means putting the clients’s experiences at the heart of everything, because when things are forced on people without their wishes being considered, that’s when it becomes abusive. You cannot work effectively with a person if you let your view of their situation override their own. My qualifications do not take precedence over first-hand experience.

Like a lot of allistic professionals, I was taught that “person with autism” is a preferable label to “autistic person.” To some extent, I can see there was good intent behind this. However, out of the classroom, most autistic people I’ve encountered disagree. So I have to defer to them, and if it’s uncomfortable to apply the same rule to everyone on the spectrum, I can simply ask people what they prefer. For me to presume that my classroom learning has more validity than the experiences of autistic people would be dangerously arrogant.

I’m not claiming to be the perfect professional or anything, but I am highly shocked when I see professionals on tumblr claiming that their professional knowledge is more legit than knowledge than comes from first-hand experiences. First of all, it’s highly unprofessional for you to be arguing about this in ALL CAPS WRITING on a social network. Secondly, all professionals have to be open to challenge. If an autistic person challenges you on your person-first language, hostility is a completely inappropriate reaction. As a professional, you have obligations that continue after you finish work for the evening. Respecting other people is the most basic one.

im not so much mad at neurotypicals who use spinners and other fidget toys; it makes me feel less self conscious about using mine in public- people will think im getting in on the fad. 

if they cause a disturbance when playing with them, then yeah, thats bad, but that goes for anyone, NT or otherwise.

i am mad at those who respond to this trend by banning them or ridiculung them just bc theyre popular. theyre harmless, and if someone is fucking around with them, thats on them. dont make it harder for ND kids to stim by using the toys in an obnoxious way, or by taking it away from everyone because of some kids using it obnoxiously

Communicating with autistic people

In light of April & autism acceptance month I thought I’d make a post about how autistic people communicate, because understanding and accepting our communication styles is one of the most important parts of autism acceptance. The things listed here are from my own experience and from information I have gathered from talking to other autistic people, it is by no means exhaustive. If you want to add something on I have missed feel free :+)

  • Lack of eye contact doesn’t mean we aren’t engaged, oftentimes maintaining eye contact is actually more distracting than not. 
  • Our body language is different. Trying to assume how we feel from your knowledge of body language will often lead you to wrong conclusions.

  • Our tone does not always indicate our feelings, it’s often more telling to listen to the words we are saying themselves then try to guess what our tone means
  • We will likely have difficulty reading your body language and tone. The subtleties of communication don’t come easy to us, if you want us to understand what you are feeling or offer support it is most useful to communicate your feelings thoughts and needs directly.
  • Things we say may come off as rude or overly blunt, even if it is not intended this way.
  • We have varying degrees of understanding sarcasm. Some of us struggle to understand any of it, some of us actively understand and employ it and everything in between. We are also prone to literal-mindedness in general meaning we may have trouble with taking other forms of jokes or figurative speech literally. 
  • Our communication abilities often vary with things like stress and sensory input. For example, under little stress or a good amount of sensory input I can communicate enough to explain detailed thoughts as in this post, form sentences and employ tone and cadence to my speech. At varying levels of sensory input I may begin to speak in monotone, take several minutes to put together a single sentence, or be unable to access most of my vocabulary aside from sounds and simple words like “yes” and “no”. 
  •  It is very common for autistic people to empathize by comparing similar experiences. (for example: person a: “My dog got sick, I’m worried about him.” autistic person: “Oh, my cat got sick last year too.”) People who do not empathize like this often see it as ‘one-upmanship’ when the intent is only to empathize or express sympathy. 
  •  We may interrupt you before you’re done speaking. It’s very common for autistic people to have difficulty telling when other people are finished speaking. If we interrupt you it is almost never out of rudeness but we genuinely cannot tell when is the right time to speak.
  •  We may occasionally take over the conversation especially with info-dumping. When I info-dump I’m very excited and I feel like I can barely keep the information I want to talk about down. Being so excited, I tend to ramble for a long time, elaborating unimportant details as I am unaware to whether the listener is bored or even listening. I’m not saying you have to stay completely engaged and remember every detail but at very least don’t get angry with an autistic person for their infodumping.
  •  A lot of autistic people also have auditory processing problems. This means that what you say might not register for a few moments or you might have to repeat yourself. Please be patient with somebody who has poor auditory processing, as it’s not really something we can help. 
  •  If you are asking the autistic person to do a task or activity of any sort (giving them directions to somewhere, asking them to come to a party, asking them to help you fold your laundry) we usually need very clear and precise instructions or plans.

These are all common parts of autistic communication styles but it’s important to remember not every autistic person is the same or will have all of these traits. We are as varied in personality, thoughts, and behaviors as allistic people, but we are tied together by shared experiences. Being aware of these traits and unlearning them as inherently bad communication styles is helpful to autistic people as a whole, but if there’s a specific autistic person in your life you want to better communicate with, the best thing you can do is ask them how you can do that and honestly discuss differences in communication and needs to best understand each other.

Billy Cranston and being unapologetically autistic

Billy Cranston a.k.a the Blue Ranger in the Power Rangers reboot, is one of my favorite film characters, probably of all time. Why? He is one of the first autistic characters I’ve seen on screen, books, or tv. “But, Kate what about all these autistic characters *points to BBC Sherlock and the one line about Aspergers” First of all, stop saying Sherlock’s autistic, Jenny, he’s a poor outdated stereotype in a white man’s circle jerking intellectual fantasy. But what I mean is, Billy is allowed to be autistic. And it’s portrayed pretty accurately, speaking as someone on the spectrum myself. So what’s the difference between Billy Cranston and what we’ll call “Hollywood Autism”?

First of the Hollywood Autistic never quite says they’re autistic. A few hints may be dropped, someone may wonder if they are, but if they’re in any genre that isn’t inspiration porn, it will remain up in the air. Billy says not long after we meet him, “I’m on the spectrum.” No question, no guesswork, he’s autistic. And no one really looks down on him for it.

Secondly, the Hollywood Autistic comes in two flavors: exaggerated caricature, or barely different from an allistic character. The first example is aloof, nonverbal, doesn’t get sarcasm or any jokes at all, hyperfixtates on a certain topic, and is almost always a suburban white boy. If they’re an adult, they’re basically a child in a grown man’s body. The second has one scene where they show autistic traits, and it is completely dropped after that one scene. Billy is neither of these characters. He has special interests that he focuses on (mining, art), the need for a routine (rearranging his pencils a certain way before he can use them), sensory issues (mostly with touch), he doesn’t get sarcasm, and he babbles (which could be interpreted as verbal stimming.) That last one brings us to the fact that Billy is allowed to stim! Stimming is often ignored with Hollywood Autistics, but Billy claps his hands when he gets excited, and babbles when he’s nervous. Seeing a character stim on screen without being seen as weird almost made me cry. And, to top it all off, Billy is black. This may not seem like a big deal, but autism goes underdiagnosed in minorities, and the stereotypical autistic is always a white boy. Billy’s representative of autistics as a whole, rather than the stereotypes.

In conclusion the world needs more Billy Cranstons and less Sherlocks and Sheldon Coopers.