I was doing some research on autism because I wanted to write a character with autism and as I was researching I discovered that I do I lot of things that where listed in my research, my most obvious ones being arm flapping, feeling uncomfortable with eye contact, being unable to eat certain food because of texture, and repeating phrases almost word for word. I tried telling my friend about this and she said to just ignore it because I didn’t act like her cousin who has autism. Any thoughts?
those are all pretty common traits for autistic people, but i think when writing an autistic character it’s important to go beyond the typical traits because the only representation we get is stereotypical (btw, all autistic ppl are different and saying they should all act like someone’s cousin - which is a rly common comparison - is ridiculous). so i’ll help break down the traits into what they come from? because i think understanding what makes these common traits gives your character more depth.
- arm flapping
- this is stimming, aka sensory seeking behaviour.
- most stimming is repetitive movements, so leg jiggling and arm flapping, rocking and bouncing are all common body stims.
- people stim for different reasons, but when i analysed a survey of 1026 people, the main purposes were quite clear. firstly; it’s part of our body language. it helps us communicate and express ourselves in the same way that people smile when theyre happy.
- secondly, it helps regulate our emotions. this can be happy ones (i flap hard when im super happy because it’s too much happy for my body to hold inside!) or negative emotions (works like self-soothing and helps calm us down). regulating emotions can be especially helpful to autistic people as many of us experience alexythmia and so find it hard to identify emotions
- thirdly, it is a way of interacting with the world. it can root you to the present or ground you. this links to coping with negative emotions, but also coping with the world that’s busy and overwhelming and not suited to our needs
- finally, it’s also a way of focusing, because it lets u get some of ur extra energy out so it doesnt distract u, or it just helps u focus anyway. there are more reasons why people stim (u dont have to be autistic to stim) but those are the main ones
- uncomfortable with eye contact
- that one is to do with a lack of understanding social cues, or struggling with social skills
- well, that’s what it says on the DSM, but personally i know im meant to make eye contact (it’s not a lack of understanding) its just so deeply uncomfortable it like makes my skin crawl. no thanks.
- unable to eat certain food
- this is to do with sensory issues! sensory issues make up a big part of what it is to be autistic. here’s a pretty good post explaining stuff to do with it
- if sensory stimuli get too overwhelming, it can cause a sensory overload. these are awful, and things you would normally have quite a high tolerance for may suddenly seem like hell. for example, i am personally okay with overlapping noise like lots of people talking most of the time, but as soon as i start to overload, or im having a sensory-bad day, that becomes physically painful for me.
- repeating phrases word for word
- this is called echolalia. u can check the tag for a better understanding
- this is when you repeat a word or phrase over and over. It is a type of echo-phenomenon that that specifically involves it being repeated out loud, but most people (including professionals) use it to cover thoughts as well.
- it can be either involuntary, for stimming, or for communication. I’ll explain each one:
- involuntary - you know when u get a song stuck in your head? like that but words or phrases. it can go on for minutes or hours or can just be once at a repetition, like an echo. often it can be out loud too, eg. i sometimes just echo whatever my mum says to me for no particular reason when im tired
- for stimming - repeating a nice sounding word or phrase can be a great stim! especially words that are fun to say
- communication - repeating things you’ve heard can be used for communicating. some autistic people are entirely echolalic, which means they only communicate verbally through echolalia. echolalia can be immediate or delayed. examples of each of these would be:
- immediate: “shall we go shopping?” “shopping.”
- delayed: “can i have some of your drink?” “take a fucking sip babes”
hope that helps! also, @scriptautistic is dedicated to helping people write autistic characters, so take a look through their blog!