April 22, 2021

Tonight, I reread a novel from my childhood. It was published 25 years ago, and I read it soon after, but only once. Tonight was my second reading.

I had completely forgotten that it contains an autistic character.

Unless I’m forgetting other examples too, this was probably my first encounter with autism in literature. And tonight was my first time seeing autism portrayed by a neurotypical author for a neurotypical audience since the discovery of my own autism.

It’s fascinating. They get so many things right, and so many things wrong.

The external behaviors are spot-on: Stimming, selective mutism, special interests, flat affect, and unintentional breaking of misunderstood rules. Moreover, these actions aren’t random – he reacts to situations in ways that are consistent with my own experience.

The ways that various other characters treat him also feel authentic – ranging from fear, to disdain, to genuine efforts to connect.

What bugs me, though, is the way the narrator makes assumptions about the autistic character’s internal experience. He is assumed to be childlike, living in his own simple world, unfazed by taunts and teases.

I want to grab all the other characters by the shoulders and say, “He understands so much! He feels so much! Stop acting like he’s a mythical creature who gazes at reality through frosted glass!”

Some other books get it worse, I know. And some get it better. I want to add to the growing list of stories that get it right.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.