Updated: Sep 1, 2022
Professional book editor in the UK details how to develop fictional characters with autism spectrum disorder to ensure that they're realistic, relatable and representative!
Have you read any novels that include characters with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Do you know of any books that have characters with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Can you list any fictional characters on the spectrum from any books you have read?
I think I know the answers to these questions:
You haven't unless you've sought them out specifically.
Nope, maybe one, at a push, two?
Again, nope, maybe one, at a push, two?
I can't force you to read or write books that include characters with autism spectrum disorder, but this fantastic community deserves more positive recognition within the fictional world. Maybe then, people on the spectrum wouldn't feel so alone, and more neurotypical people would understand them a little better.
With this in mind, I hope to spark some ideas of how to create lovable, relatable, and realistic characters who have autism spectrum disorder, while also leaving you with a myriad of questions to think about when doing so.
By the end of this post, you will hopefully have a clearer insight into how to write characters with autism, and how to fully develop a character in creative writing.
Everyone with Autism Spectrum Disorder is different. As said by Stephen Shore: "Once you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism."
As a result, some of the traits, actions, behaviours, and coping mechanisms I proceed to discuss may not resonate with you or relate to someone you know, but that's because everyone with autism is affected differently.
There may also be things in this article that you deem stereotypical, so I apologise if I cause any offence. My goal is to try and give people a broader understanding of the autism community and how best to provide them with a realistic voice in more books and literature.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you decide to make a purchase through the products and services I recommend. I only recommend things that I truly love and use, so I hope I can recommend something to you that you can love too! :)
Whether stereotype or truth, many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder speak and communicate differently to neurotypical people. Some may be extra talkative, some may only feel comfortable conversing with the ones they're familiar with, and others may not talk at all. Some may have more of an informal vocabulary, some may repeat certain things, and others may struggle with pitch and tone.
When creating your characters with autism, try to keep the following questions in mind:
Are they talkative? If so, with anyone or only those they know? Are they non-verbal? How do they communicate? Echolalia? Do they repeat words or phrases?
Are they more socially reserved?
What's their vocabulary like?
What's their tone like? Does it fluctuate, or are they quite monotone?
Is their processing speed slower than their friends? Do they struggle to get the words out sometimes? Do they need a little extra time to find the right words?
Do they often ask the other characters to repeat things to gain a better understanding? Do they repeat things back to the other characters to make sense of things?
Are they sometimes mistaken as being rude when they're just a little blunter than others?
Demeanour, Mannerisms & Coping Mechanisms
Some people on the spectrum may carry themselves differently to neurotypical people, in their attitude, posture or body language, so it's essential to get this right when creating and describing your characters to make them believable. The media frequently portrays people with autism to rock back and forth when stressed, and while this can be a common coping mechanism, it's not the only thing that should be associated with the community.
Have a think about what effect autism has on the individual's everyday life and the people connected to them; for example, their family, their friends or their colleagues. Perhaps begin by thinking about the simple things like school for younger characters or shopping trips and social gatherings for older characters. How do they feel in these situations? What sounds do they hear? What smells do they face? What foods can they eat? What foods can't they eat? What have they planned for their journey? What routes do they take? How do they carry themselves when doing different activities?
Have a think about the following questions:
Are they relaxed when they move, or can they be quite rigid? Do they repeat specific actions?