Putting Autistic characters into comedic situations?
The character I am writing is well aware of their symptoms, and has been living with them for a long time. Would it be ok for them to occasionally find their own reactions to situations amusingly frustrating instead of distressingly frustrating? What about having a friend who knows them really well and is super supportive tease them lightheartedly? It doesn’t read as insulting to me, especially since I also have super serious moments as well, but I thought it might be good to ask.
One example would be the “Journal of Best Practices” by David Fincher. I loved how it balanced the comedy of mis-communications and difficulties in fitting into neurotypical society with the seriousness of the same thing. I don’t know how the community reacted to that book though, or if I would be well received with a similar work in the fan fiction community.
First of all, I want to say I’ve not read the book you mentioned. If any of our autistic followers wants to weigh in about it, it’d be appreciated.
This is a complex question and i’ll try my best to answer it comprehensively.
Now, keep in mind this is just one opinion on the matter, and there will be people who don’t agree with it. Consider this as food for thought to help you make your own decision.
First I’m going to explain how this question plays out in real life - at least for me - and then how these same situations would work in writing.
In real life, I would say there are several distinct situations:
Autistic person A laughs at themselves for an autistic trait. For example, A does something, realizes how typical an autistic behavior it is, and says something along the lines of “omg I’m so autistic”. This is of course perfectly OK, and I would say it’s quite common.
Autistic person A is with autistic person B. They do the thing, they laugh at themselves, B laughs with them. This is also OK: The joke is shared between them, because both A and B experience this particular situation, and they can both see the humorous side of it. Moreover, A decided to share the joke with B.
Autistic person A is with autistic person B.They do the thing. B laughs and says “omg you’re so autistic”. If A and B are close friends, and B knows A likes to use this kind of humor, this is probably ok. If it isn’t the case, then it’s more problematic, because this isn’t a joke that A has decided to share with B (either in the past or in the present).
Autistic person A is with allistic person C. They do the thing, they laugh at themselves, C laughs with them. I would say this is only ok if they’re close friends and that C knows a good deal about autism (because this means they understand the origin and reason for the behavior rather than just laughing at the behavior).
Autistic person A is with allistic person C. They do the thing, C laughs and says “omg you’re so autistic”. Some autistic people might be ok with it if they’re close friends, but I know I definitely am not. When used by allistics, sentences such as “you’re so autistic” are generally used in an insulting context, and they can’t really extract themselves of this context for the sake of humor.
So these are 5 different situations. These guidelines are my own boundaries, and other people may have different ones, but I’d say it’s a good starting point.(Short tangent: I’d say these guidelines also apply to humor about other kinds of marginalized identities. My boundaries are the same for joking about me being gay.)
So the situations you describe are realistic, and, especially if your character’s friend is autistic, but even if they’re not depending on your character’s boundaries, they are ok.
BUT your characters don’t exist in a vacuum, and you have to take your medium into account. When you’re writing a book, it isn’t really character A sharing a joke with character B - it is actually you the author sharing a joke with your readers.
If you are an autistic author, then go ahead: as a part of the marginalized group, what you want to share about it with people outside of this group is entirely up to you.
If, however, you are an allistic author, writing with a predominantly allistic audience in mind, things get more complicated : when character A laughs about themselves or shares this joke with character B, this is actually you, an allistic author, laughing at an autistic person for their autistic traits, with allistic persons.
Now, I’m no authority on the matter. I’m not saying you can’t do it. There will probably be people who will argue you should only take care of writing realistic representation, and not worry about the meta aspects of writing. So really, the choice is up to you. I would advise against having your characters using this kind of humor if you are an allistic author.
But then again, there is also the question of representation, and the fact that autism is all too often depicted as a tragedy with only its negative aspects emphasized, and the use of humor would be a good subversion of this trope.
So really, I have no definitive answer to offer you. Please take these points into account, think about them, and make your own decision. Any autistic person who has an opinion on the subject is of course welcome to share it.
I agree with Mod Cat, especially on the fact that this is a very complicated issue and there is no easy answer. However, I do want to react to one phrase you used in your ask: “It doesn’t read as insulting to me”.
A very common problem for communications between autistic and allistic humor is what reads as “insulting” and what reads as “funny”. With the usual disclaimer that I can only speak for myself and not all autistic people, my experience with this has been awful all my life. I do not, can not understand how people who say they are friends can say insulting or hurtful things about each other and no one is upset by it. I see my friends doing it with each other all the time - one of them calls the other a hurtful name, and both of them laugh. I used to get extremely upset when my friends did this to me, because I never for one moment realized they weren’t trying to hurt me. When they said the “teasing” thing they said, I could not see it as anything other than an attack, an insult. They were laughing at me, bullying me, and it was cruel. They did not see or intend it that way, but that’s how it felt to me.
I have been told that this has something to do with tone or body language or context, but I’ve never once been able to decipher when it is okay to “tease” and when it is not. I have often, in attempts to learn new social skills, tried repeating something to someone that another friend had said to them in the same tone of voice and in similar circumstances (or even which someone had said to me), and everyone always gets angry at me and tells me how “not cool” it is to say that, how “mean” I am. And it has never, ever felt funny to me when someone was laughing at me, even if I knew for sure that they didn’t mean any harm by it. I doubt all autistic people have this problem, but I’m confident that many do, perhaps even most (as always, autistic follower feedback on this issue is welcome).
On the other hand, I have no problem making fun of myself and my own problems. In fact, it’s been my primary coping mechanism over the years, my best way of dealing with problems and pain. When I was in therapy, I would literally make my therapists cry with laughter. I was often told I should become a stand up comedian, that I had a talent for taking unpleasant things and making them funny. Several therapists told me they believed my ability to laugh at myself would help me through a lot of my life, and they were right. It still helps me now. I can lay out my problems and vent to my friends and even make my quirks more palatable to others by making fun of myself, and it’s rewarding when everyone else laughs along with me.
But if someone else says those things about me, it only hurts. It may sound unreasonable or unfair, but I can’t help it. It’s funny when I’m in control of it - when I’m not, when it’s someone else saying these things about me, it just becomes painful.
This could make an interesting plot point, actually: the autistic character makes fun of themselves, then later a friend makes the same joke, and is surprised to see the autistic friend get upset.
Thank you, @catie-cat-cosplay for the tag! Rules: Answer 20 questions and tag 20 amazing followers you would like to get to know better
NAME: Araina NICKNAME: A, Rain ZODIAC SIGN: Leo HEIGHT: 5'4" ETHINICITY: British ORIENTATION: Demisexual Bisexual? FAVOURITE FRUIT: Raspberry FAVOURITE SEASON: Autumn FAVOURITE BOOK: Too many to count but probably The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami FAVOURITE FLOWERS: Columbine, Forget-me-nots, I like little wild flowers FAVOURITE SCENT: Frying onions, lavender and freshly baked bread FAVOURITE ANIMAL: all animals FAVOURITE BEVERAGE: cranberry and raspberry juice, coffee (stupid coffees where there is a tonne of sugar in)
AVERAGE HOURS OF SLEEP: 10 hours….
FAVOURITE FICTIONAL CHARACTERS: A long list of anime characters… Ronald Weasley (but pretty much all of the HP characters), Holden Caufield (catcher in the rye), Naoko (Norwegian Wood) NUMBER OF BLANKETS YOU SLEEP WITH: 1 DREAM TRIP: JAPAN!!!!!!! BLOG CREATED: I think this blog was created before christmas? winter 2016 NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS: barely any xD but you are all awesome
Did a quick redraw while I wait at the airport~ I didn’t know what to draw and I found an old drawing so why not redraw it I’m so glad I got better at coloring like the old one I just chose a darker shade of the color and that doesn’t really look good lol