How to Create Authentic Autistic Characters with 10 Questions.

As part of my How to Write Autistics series, I thought I’d share a list of questions that can help create an authentic character who doesn’t feel like a stereotype.

And I should point out these are just question that occurred to me. As with anything, other autistics might have their own thoughts. But here we go.

Ten Questions to ask your autistic characters (some might apply just generally to neurally diverse characters):

1. Were they diagnosed late in life or early?

It can affect how they develop coping skills.

2. Are they self-diagnosed?

3. Do they suffer from hypersensitivity? Are they overly sensitive to light, sounds, textures?

For example, I can’t stand the sensation of most fabrics touching my fingertips. It makes drying off with a towel or folding laundry particularly frustrating. I often have to repeatedly dip my hands in water or lotion my fingers to deal with it.

4. What are their special interests?

I hate the term special interest…but obsession sounds equally wrong. Most autistics I know have specific topics or things that qualify as their special interest. Some of us have lifelong ones while others are temporary. Some of my special interests include Bioware Video Games, TV Shows (As Time Goes By  and others), and Football (as in soccer.)

5. How do they stim? Also, how do they feel about their stim? How do those around them react to their stim?

6. What coping mechanisms do they use for dealing with social stresses?

7. How do they deal with meltdowns and/or shutdowns?

8. Are their family supportive of them finding independence as an adult?

9. How do they deal with eye contact?

10. Do they live atypically? In other words, do they try to blend in and mask their neural divergence?

I’m sure there are a ton of other questions.

There’s a brilliant Youtube channel that can be an amazing resource for you (there are others, but this is one of my favourites):

https://www.youtube.com/user/neurowonderful

 

How to write autistics and not rely on tired stereotypes.

Despite mainstream media and their mostly dismal attempts at creating autistics. It’s rare to see examples of autistic characters who feel ‘real.’ We’re not all rain man or white, young, male savants.

We’re real people who are just as diverse as every other subset of humanity.

Many autistics like myself will tell you if you’ve met one autistic–you’ve met one autistic.

When creating neuroAtypical characters, I try to be cognizant of creating individuals, and not carbon copies of either myself or some stereotype I think non-autistics will easily recognise. I will admit many of my own experiences find their way into my stories. How could they not?

In fact, one of my favourite parts of writing my most recent release, The Lion Tamer, was including Alex and Alice. Autistic twins. They’re on different parts of the autism spectrum with their own special interests and struggles.

Neither of them is some off the charts genius.

They’re just autistic.

No massively high IQ required to be legitimate human beings who deserve to be celebrated.

So, here are a few tips on creating autistic characters, or what are some of the pieces/parts to doing so. (And please keep in mind, this is from my personal perspective.)

  1. Talk to #actuallyautistic people, not just autism parents before you start.
  2. Avoid AutismSpeaks.
  3. Stimming. Your autistic character should have a stim. We stim.
  4. Special Interests. I could write an entire post about this.  We have them. Obsess over them. Use them to calm ourselves from super stressful moments.
  5. Emotions are something many autistics struggle with. We can feel quite intensely, but we don’t often understand what we’re feeling. I’ve spent days trying to decipher an emotion before.
  6. Sensation. Many autistics suffer from hypersensitivity. I, for example, struggle with touching certain fabrics. Light affects me. Certain sounds can trigger me into a meltdown.

Just a few thoughts.

Not sure if any of it is helpful.

I might turn this into a series of posts about being autistic/writing autistic characters.

Do you include neuroAtpyical characters in your stories? Do you have characters who have anxiety, or PTSD, or are autistic? Or some other mental disability or illness?

 

 

Normal.

I can’t count the number of times a non-autistic has told me, ‘wow, you seem so normal.’ Or some version of that sentence, when told that I’m autistic.

And I’m not the only one.

I imagine that most adult autistics have heard it at some point–or repeatedly.

So, here’s a list of reasons why non-autistics SHOULD NOT tell autistics ‘but you seem so normal’ or any variation of the same.

  1. Because WE ASKED YOU NOT TO DO IT.
  2. Because we asked you not to.
  3. The implication feels as though you believe we are not autistic enough for you–which makes us wonder what exactly you are envisioning as the behaviour of an autistic.
  4. It’s rude.
  5. But mostly, because autistics repeatedly ask you not to do it.

I mean, I could honestly come up with fifteen or twenty reasons. The most important one remains, autistics continue to talk about why you shouldn’t do it…listen to us.

The most frustrating thing in the world is finding your voice as an autistic and finding non-autistics aren’t interested in listening.

Please. Do better.

Here’s a great video by an autistic activist about what things you shouldn’t say to an autistic:

Can You Hear Me Now?

Sound.

Well, honestly, it’s more the volume of it that has always been a tricky thing for me. Many autistics struggle to regulate the pitch and tone of their voices as well. We often end up too loud or too quiet–never just right.

Monotone is another word we hear thrown at us. It’s part of what I think convinces people autistics have no emotion. Our speech tends to be spoken with little to no inflexion. For what it’s worth, we also struggle to understand the subtle inflexions when a neurotypical speak.  (And let me tell you that leads to a lot of ‘fun’ if you happen to married to one.)

You can’t learn to add the inflexion either.

Trust me, I’ve tried.

Add to these issues my inability to instinctually grasp the flow of normal conversation, you can start to see how difficult group settings can be. I often end up either monopolising it or not contributing my thoughts at all. I never quite know when I’m supposed to interject.

I tend to speak too quietly to be heard in a group situation. I know don’t regulate my own volume well, so I prefer to err on the side of quiet. There’s nothing so embarrassing as shouting when you don’t know you’re doing it.

That’s the thing about being an autistic adult.

I’ve lived long enough to understand when I’m standing out–and not in a good way.

The other additional issue with group conversations for an autistic is that we usually need time to process what is being said in order to respond. If you have three or four people conversing, it becomes impossible for me to register everything being said and formulate a response. I get overwhelmed and since group settings don’t happen in a void–my brain is usually trying to decipher this through the prism of all the other sounds in the surrounding environment.

On any given day, I probably ask my husband to repeat himself at least twenty times. Not because I didn’t hear him the first time, but usually I need the extra time to process what he said. I often end up answering his question in the middle of his repeating it for the second time. It frustrates him.

And it frustrates me as well.

If I could tell the neurotypicals in my life two things, the first would be to have patience with the neurally divergent.  We’re doing our best.  Our best just might not be your idea of ‘best.’

The second thing would be–don’t tell us that ‘we’ll be fine’ when we’re expressing a frustration or concern. It feels dismissive. For most autistics, dealing with ‘normal’ life isn’t a matter of ‘it’ll all be fine.’ We’re going to push through the situation and on the other side of it, we’re going to struggle to decompress.

That’s the thing I think a lot of neurotypicals miss out on completely.

Can I go out in public and deal with large crowds?

Yes, I can. I’ll probably look just like everyone else when I do it as well–unless you know me well and are looking carefully.

But what you don’t see is me afterwards.  The migraines. The long, long hours I spend watching the same episode of a TV show over and over until the stress bleeds off.

So, don’t be dismissive. Sometimes autistics just want to know their fears have been heard. Maybe instead of ‘it’ll all be alright,’ you could say ‘wow, that sucks’ or ‘That’s rough. Can I help?’

This ramble was brought to you by the letters R and T.

 

 

The Anatomy of a Relationship

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At the root of any romance novel is the relationship between the main characters, we tend to approach reading (and writing) them with a particular formula already set in our minds. Like most things in life, anything straying outside of the norm jolts us out of our fictional daydreaming. It takes a bit more effort to understand and appreciate the beauty of them.

From the outset, I knew Elaine and Alim from The Misguided Confession wouldn’t fit the standard mould. Their romance is real and built strongly by the both of them. It’s just not like others.

Elaine is quirky, offbeat, autistic, and romantically different. She expresses her emotions in a way some might find unusual. Her relationship with Alim might be considered equally eccentric.

Of all my characters, Elaine has the most in common with me. As we’re both autistic, I modelled many of her interpersonal struggles after ones I had faced with my husband. Well, minus the creepy zealot who wreaks havoc on Elaine’s world.

In the process of writing The Misguided Confession, I wanted desperately to stay faithful to showing the truth of a relationship between an autistic and a neurotypical (or non-autistic). It’s not typical. It’s certainly not easy, but most definitely real—real love.

Love is often a finicky business.  Alim learns early on, as did my own husband, that often a relationship with an autistic requires a healthy amount of compromise. Elaine feels emotions deeply but doesn’t always know how to identify or express them.

They soldier on together. Their souls and hearts meeting in ways they never imagined possible. Maybe it’s not typical, but it works for them. It’s deep, meaningful, and special.

My hope is when readers approach the novel—along with Elaine and Alim’s relationship—they do so with open hearts and minds.

Love is love, after all.

Love is love.

 

Five Ways to Handle Grief.

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Someone very close to me passed away this weekend. I’ll be travelling for the funeral later in the week. I’m not looking forward to it if I’m honest. I’ve never been good with grief, my own or that of others. Most Autistics struggle with identifying and dealing with emotions, our own and other people’s. I never know what to say. I know I’m feeling sad, but that is about the extent of my capacity to deal with grieving.

So here are five things I do to help myself:

  1. Chocolate. What? It helps everything.
  2. Write. I’ve found it a great relief to channel the turmoil within into my writing, does tend to make for more dramatic stories though.
  3. Reading, losing myself in someone else’s story.
  4. Movies, see above.
  5. Friends. Neurotypical friends in particular are a great help because they often help me muddle through figuring out my own feelings, and can help me understand how to respond to others.

How do you deal with grief?

A Friendship Guide

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I think I’m going to start giving this out to my friends.

How to nurture a friendship with me, your friendly neighborhood autistic.

1. Remember that my brain works differently, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work at all, and it doesn’t mean I’m not human.

2. Remember that I find you as difficult to understand as you find me.

3. Vaccines didn’t cause my autism.

4. You are not a little autistic, unless you are actually autistic.  You claiming to be what I am, isn’t showing empathy.  It’s brushing under the rug the things I deal with.

5. Don’t hug me unless you know for 100% certainty that I’m okay with physical contact from you.

6. If I’m not talking, it’s not personal, I might’ve just reached my social engagement limit for the day.

7. Yes, certain sounds really do bother me as badly as I act like they do.

8. I’m not throwing a temper tantrum.  I am having a meltdown because I have gotten so much input, my brain can no longer process anything.

9. I would love to talk about my special interests and obsessions with you.

10. Don’t promise me you’re going to do something then not do it.

And most importantly, remember that I’m an actual person with feelings and emotions.  I might not always understand them, but I have them.  I need friends just as much as a neurotypical does.  It’s just a little (or a lot) harder for me to find, make and keep them.

I need friendships which are reciprocal with people who are patient and understanding.