This seemed like a good start for the autism positivity theme I mentioned last time. “Autistic” goes in quotes because these aren’t necessarily characters written that way on purpose, in some cases maybe not even characters I think would get an autism diagnosis if they were real. The nature of fictional characters often means they’re not much like real people anyway, so of course it’s not going to be a perfect fit. And there aren’t all that many autistic characters to choose from, let alone ones that are done well, although that’s changing. So what I’m considering here are autistic traits, ones that help me identify with a character and feel that part of myself is being well represented.
I’m going to stick to characters that have affected me personally, so some of the better-known characters who are regularly considered autistic, even in the canon, won’t be here. I frequently see Temperance Brennan (Bones), Moss (The IT Crowd), Abed (Community), Max (Parenthood), and Sherlock Holmes (…all the versions) on lists of autistic fictional characters. I’ve seen about 1-3 episodes of all those shows, mostly because I was told there were good portrayals of autistic characters, but not enough to know them well. And I think I’ve read all of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but that was before I knew anything about autism so I didn’t notice those traits, and they’re mostly not ones I share. From what I know, I would agree that they’re all good depictions, they’re just not ones that have been especially meaningful for me.
5. Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory)
*sigh* Yeah, he pretty much had to make this list. I’ll admit to still really liking this show despite lots of disappointments. I agree with criticisms that this series often seems to mock geeks (in an affectionate way, really!) more than celebrate with them, as well as that they almost lean towards progressive ideas and diverse representation but then shy away from it and turn it into a joke instead. It’s not perfect, but I still enjoy it. At its best, it offers lovable characters who have grown quite a bit over the course of the series and have very strong, touching friendships. And it’s fun.
Chances are, if you know anything about the show beyond “some geeks live across the hall from a hot girl,” you know something about Sheldon. If you’ve seen any of the “soft kitty, warm kitty” merchandise or heard/read the word “bazinga,” you’re seeing Sheldon references. I don’t think he was meant to be the main character of the show, the Leonard/Penny romance drama seems to have been the original point, but Sheldon kind of steals the scene. Every scene. Somewhere along the line, he seems to have become the public face of the show.
He has a rigid schedule and way of doing everything, and therefore the rest of the group winds up following that too. Every day of the week is planned out in terms of what they will eat (and what utensils are appropriate for what type of food) and what activity they’re going to do. Unless it’s more fun or leads to better jokes if they suddenly just decide to have a marathon or something. I suppose it’s more accurate to say Sheldon is as flexible as the jokes demand, but generally they’ve made this adherence to strict order an important part of his character. He doesn’t get sarcasm or many unnecessary social rituals, but if you tell him something is required by tradition he’ll get on board anyway. Good functioning hack.
Sheldon’s sort of a polarizing figure. There’s a lot of disagreement on whether or not the character’s autistic as well as whether or not it’s a positive depiction. To me he seems mostly like a sitcom-style stereotype of an autistic person, so of course it’s not going to be perfect. But I do identify with a lot of his “weird” or “obnoxious” traits, and I appreciate the fact that even though people find him annoying, he’s also well-loved in both the show and the fandom. It’s not one or the other, people are still worth loving even if they get on your nerves. It’s probably fair to say Sheldon’s equally frustrated by his NT friends, but learning to appreciate people who are different from ourselves is an important part of growing community and an important theme of the show.
4. Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter)
Luna is another character that pops up a lot in people’s autistic headcanons. I agree with them and also consider her one of the best parts of both the books and movies. She’s delightfully weird. She has unusual interests to a level that some would probably consider excessive (after all, it seems to be the thing she’s most known for, enough to have earned her the nickname “Loony”). She eventually names her child Lysander Scamander, so she’s either extremely cruel or just totally fails to understand social concepts like teasing/bullying. (Okay, that one was a joke, and I have some fairly odd names picked out for possible future children myself, so I don’t have room to judge.) Although I don’t remember these things personally, this wiki page points out that she wanders off in the middle of conversations sometimes and is noted for being blunt. Yup, sounds about right to me!
She’s another example of a “weird” character that a lot of people seem not to like, but ultimately she’s valued by the protagonists and is shown to be a good person. It’s easy for people to ignore her because she doesn’t conform to the ways people expect her to act, but people who put in the time to get to know her even while being a bit uncomfortable at first are usually glad they did. There’s a lot of hope in her story for someone who’s always felt on the outside of just about every group and can’t figure out how to connect with people in the same way others do. Getting to know people isn’t easy and sometimes it’s even hurtful, but when it works it’s worth the effort.
To be continued…