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?

 

 

My Year of No.

Several friends of mine tend to have a ‘word of the year’ that seems to sum up how they intend to approach a new year. I usually don’t. For 2018, I had one word on my mind – No.

No.

No.

No.

This is my year of No.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself (and other autistics) is we loathe confrontation so much that we end up saying yes when we’d rather say no. We get roped into doing more and more if only to get out of a conversation or argument. Being afraid to hurt someone’s feelings is also part of it.

Last year felt like a year of yes. It was completely unintentionally. And by the end of 2017, I felt exhausted physically, emotionally, and every other way you can. I’d pushed myself to do more and more and more. And had less and less and less as a result, if that makes any sense at all.

So this year is my year of no.

I’m not saying yes to getting involved in things (whatever they may be) when I’m honestly not interested or if it pushes me beyond what’s healthy for me.

I’d actually started doing it in November of last year and ended up writing the best novel I’ve ever written to date.

If life is all about balance, a bit of no sometimes helps keeps you from tipping over.

(That made no sense.)

How about you?

Do you struggle with saying no to opportunities even when you should?

Do you have a word for the year?

 

 

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:

Yes, but no.

Does life ever smack you in the face with a reminder that you’re human and only capable of doing so much at once?

Yes?

Me too.

When you’re an autistic adult, you learn quickly how to carefully choose how to spend each day. There’s a limited amount of energy I have. I can’t afford to waste it.

It can create a bit of a conundrum in my life. I tend to get obsessive in my desire to get everything done right this second.  It’s not always easy to balance that with the need to organise my time better.

I’m not brilliant at creating balance.

At. All.

Life bashed me over the head with a reminder of that this month. It’s not always possible for me to do what non-autistic authors can do. It’s just not and I should honestly stop trying.

It’s not as if I forget, either.

Sometimes it just nice to act as though I’m not different and things don’t require extra effort for me.

 

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.

 

 

It’s alive! The Misguided Confession.

 ON SALE FOR 99c 
Title: The Misguided Confession
Genre: British Paranormal Romance
Release Date: November 12, 2016
Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing
Designer: Claire Smith
Add to Goodreads TBR

Elaine Gibbs has been defined by other people’s words for much of her life: autistic, shifter, adopted, genius, Royal Marine. She has spent a year having her entire world spun around and just when she hopes things have stabilised, a zealot threatens everything she holds dear, including her life.Alim Kader grew up knowing his family’s expectations and is required to fall in line. Life, however, threw him a massive surprise in the body of the most fascinating woman he has ever known. Now if he could only convince her that his sole desire is to stand beside her, not rescue her.

Will love be enough for two people from different worlds to brave a storm of evil and come through the other side unscathed?

 

 ON SALE FOR 99c 

 

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Dahlia Donovan started out working in the insurance world. After ten years, she morphed her love of investigating accidents and studying people into writing about them. She’s a bit of a hermit and despises being in front of a camera. Her life wouldn’t be complete without her husband and her massive collection of books and video games.