Ok so this is actually a list of characters that I have decided are autistic/ neurodiverse – not actual canonically autistic characters. In fact the only media representation of a canonically autistic character I have ever seen is Sam in Atypical – and I really struggled with this series. The only book I’ve read with an autistic character is The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime. To this day I have never – I repeat, NEVER – read a book or come across a media representation of a canonically autistic character who is female or gender diverse. Ever. I only realised that two days ago while thinking about this post and it made me really sad. In many ways I feel the media is moving forwards, and I do not feel I lack autistic representation in my life because I have had the privilege to be able to actively seek that out online. But to have never come across an autistic girl in the media I consume? I’ve heard there is an autistic character in Heartstopper so I will have to give that a watch soon. I’ve realised how much I want to consume content with autistic characters, so for the first time I think I’m going to actively seek that out.
But anyway, what’s the point of this? What’s the point of calling characters autistic? Well, in part for fun. This is simply my opinion and not a critical analysis of any of these characters. But also for representation, in a non-direct way. Resonating with fictional characters and relating to the world through them is a huge part of my neurodiverse experience, so if I can see myself in them a little more by calling them autistic, it’s really comforting. And finally also to raise a little awareness of an ongoing trend of creating autistically coded characters (characters with clear neurodiverse traits) without calling them autistic. It lends itself to another ongoing trend where people love the quirky characters on screen or in books – they even seem to worship them – but in real life people with the same traits are bullied and left behind. Recognising that I, as an autistic person, resonate with neurodiverse traits of characters begs two questions: 1 – Why aren’t characters called autistic? Perhaps because people are afraid to relate too closely to neurodiversity, it threatens them; 2 – Why do we celebrate difference in fiction but create intolerance to it in reality?
With that being said, here are some character I (and other autistics) have decided are autistic:
- Sheldon Cooper – The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon
The fact that the creators refused to admit Sheldon is autistic (like literally entirely based on autistic traits and stereotypes) is a source of great frustration – though it may be because they wouldn’t be able to make fun of him in the same way if he was autistic. But nonetheless, I really love seeing some of my traits on a big screen, especially in Young Sheldon, which at times seems to mirror my own childhood experiences exactly. Though it should be noted that autism is so much more complex and varied than the representation of Sheldon (and other similar characters like in Rainman).
Some of his autistic traits include:
- Sensory sensitivity (sound, taste, smell)
- Different speech and intonation patterns
- Love of routine
- Difficulty dealing with change
- Lacking social skills
- Hyperfixations and special interests
- The list is literally endless
- Wednesday Addams – Wednesday
I mean the character of Wednesday is overall very neurodiverse, but the recent representation in Wednesday on Netflix was really relatable for a lot of autistic people.
Some autistic traits include:
- Monotone speech
- Less facial expressions
- Different way of moving (the iconic dance scene)
- Sensory sensitivities (allergic to colour)
- Difficulty interpreting others emotions – ‘It’s not my fault I can’t interpret your emotional morse code’
- Strong sense of justice
- Matilda – Matilda
I have always been obsessed with Matilda, and that’s probably at the core of why I see her as a neurodiverse character. I think I’ve read the book more than any other book (including in Spanish) and I’ve seen the musical more than any other show. I love it. As a kid I would spend hours staring at objects trying to get them to move with my mind, and I feel as though I’ve had my own ‘Miss Honey(s)’ in my life too.
Some of Matilda’s autistic traits include:
- Strong sense of justice
- The loudness in her head and different way of perceiving the world (‘But I wonder if inside my head/ I’m not just a bit different from some of my friends […] And when everyone shouts / Like they seem to like shouting/ The noise in my head is incredibly loud’)
- Different from her peers and family
- Hyperlexia (can read very well very early)
- Special interests (reading)
- Direct way of communicating
- Sensory sensitivity – to Ms Trunchbull’s shouting and the TV for example
- Hermione – Harry Potter
Mentioning Harry Potter can seem a bit of a tightrope walk nowadays, but it was a very important part of my childhood and forms part of who I am today. That being said, trans women are women – always have been, always will be. So let’s reclaim the narrative further and say that Hermione is autistic! I was so obsessed with Hermione that all the new clothes I bought at 12 were based on her costumes. She was super smart and didn’t let others put her down because of it, and as someone who was often ‘ahead’ in school this was so comforting to see. Also Luna Lovegood is 100% autistic as well and I love her.
Some autistic traits:
- Strong sense of justice
- Sensory sensitivity – notices details others miss
- Lacks social skills (at least in first few books) and skips social niceties
- Special interests and hyperfixations (intense devotion to studying)
- Obsession with learning and following the rules
- Phoebe – Friends
Another one of my comfort shows, I have watched Friends more times than I can count. And the more I’ve watched it, the more I’ve related to and appreciated Phoebe’s character. Watching it again after being diagnosed was really interesting because I remember wondering for the first time about how Phoebe was showing a load of those traits I had just been asked about in my assessment. I’m not convinced she’s autistic, maybe ADHD or something else – but she is definitely neurodiverse. 100%.
- Doesn’t care about social niceties (will just leave or say she doesn’t want to do something)
- Unique fashion sense
- Sensory sensitivity (she can hear music and voices and feel spirits etc, I’m putting this under sensory sensitivity, maybe it’s an extra sense)
- Special interests – guitar
- Different way of communicating
- Moves her hands in different ways
- Wandering thoughts
- Hyper empathy
- Strong beliefs that don’t bend to social expectations
So there’s five there. Is that representation good enough? No, because it’s not really a representation. Is it a bit comforting to think about, personally? Yeah, it is. Can we do better? Yeah, we can. A lot. I’m not looking for a whole series about autistic experiences. But I’d like to see myself in the media occasionally, because there’s a lot of autistic people here in the world. Just for already autistically coded characters to maybe have a moment of recognition on screen, a single mention of it, would be huge. If I – a privileged, white, verbal, cis autistic woman – haven’t seen myself represented yet, how long will it be before we start seeing the Black autistics, non-verbal autistics, physically disabled autistics represented? It might seem like a little thing if you have seen yourself on screen and in books all your life, but it can have such a huge impact. I remember crying the first time I read a book with a gay woman. It meant I wasn’t alone. I enjoy a lot of the media I consume, because I can relate to lots of different people with lots of different experiences, and I can enjoy media I don’t directly relate to. So why are people so afraid to relate to us once in a while instead?
Thanks for reading! Sending all my love and support today xxx