Yeah, I changed the title. It was just so long before. And didn’t really emphasize that this list is about characters that I personally see this way, that make me feel represented as an autistic person, rather than whether the character is meant to be autistic in the writers’ minds.
Picking these two was hard. I’ve had the first planned for a long, long time, since before this blog even existed. I didn’t have a context like this list in mind, I just knew that one day I wanted to write about why the character was so important to me. But I had a lot of possibilities for these two slots and kept changing my mind about who to include. I had some rules to help, like I preferred only one character per series (more on that when I get to #2), wanted to avoid non-human characters because there are already stereotypes that autistic people are emotional robots or somehow less-human than neurotypicals, and didn’t want characters where I’d have to spend a lot of time arguing the case. The “humans only” rule has been amended a bit – they can be non-human, but their autistic traits can’t be primarily explained by that status. With that in mind, here’s the next two.
3. Castiel (Supernatural)
When the actor got the part, he was told that there should be an otherwordly feel to the character and that he’s curious about humans. Apparently in his mind that meant the character has a disjointed monotone sort of speech, often seems to be looking past the other characters (typical adaptation used to avoid eye contact but still be looking “at” the other person), and is completely disconnected from popular culture and slang. It all worked pretty well to portray a character totally out of touch with humanity, but without the supernatural explanation he’d definitely just read as autistic. Still, if he was the only angel in the series I think the interpretation would be that this is just how angels are, because the way they do things is so different from what humans do.
But he’s not the only angel in the series. And as far as I can remember, every other angel interacts with humans much more naturally, picks up on the slang quickly, and in general acts a lot like all the other (human) characters in the series. Furthermore, Cas doesn’t even get along all that well with other angels. It seems he’s just a bit odd everywhere he goes. His understanding of right and wrong is too rigid for the other angels in season 4, while his tendency to do things his own way without asking for help causes rifts between him and his closest friends/supporters later on. I can relate to that and I’ve had a few complaints about it from my own friends and family. It’s not that I think I’m better than anyone else, it just never occurs to me that asking for help is an option. I don’t think socially.
Does Cas have an angelic form of autism? It’s hard to make any sort of assumption like that, we don’t really know enough about how angel society works. But it does seem clear he’s a bit different from most of them in ways that are similar to autistic traits in humans. And this doesn’t go away when he spends more time around other people, although he does learn to adapt and starts to mimic some of his companions’ behaviors. Cas’ difficulties in communicating and connecting even with people he cares for very deeply resonate with me, and his inclusion kept me watching through a lot of questionable storylines that probably would have turned me off the show otherwise.
2. Leslie Knope (Parks & Recreation)
Leslie Knope was not originally the character I had planned to include from this show. Ron Swanson came to mind immediately after I decided to do the list. I looked online for other people who shared my interpretation of him and found them…but also lots of people saying that just about every character on the show is autistic. Huh. I don’t agree on all of them, but I can definitely see why people would read most of the characters that way. Rather than claiming that all the characters are autistic, I’ll just say it’s definitely an autistic-friendly show. Lots of people who don’t much care for social interaction (or love social interaction but are not so good at it), have intense special interests, and are very glued to their routines. And they all accept and support these things in each other even if it bothers them. It’s comfortable viewing for me.
Leslie showed up the most in my search. Until it was pointed out to me, I never saw Leslie as autistic, but now I see it more in her than any other character from the show and can’t unsee it. It seems strange to me that I didn’t notice it before, because I did notice some of the stronger traits many times and just never connected the dots. (I’ll probably talk more about women and autism diagnoses in some other post, short version is they get missed a lot and I think that’s what happened here. Few autistic female examples = greater chance of missing them when they’re right in front of you.) Every time she brought out a new binder, I just felt happy. Like hand-flapping, grinning-ear-to-ear happy. I love well-organized things. When I discovered Google Keep, I spent about a day making color-coded lists for everything. It is a little crowded now, and I’m thinking it might be a good idea to have a single physical copy for my long-term goals and projects, and leave Keep for things that are important just this week or month at the most. Hmmm.
(Actually, earlier today I was upset about my lack of life skills and the worry that I might never be able to fully care for myself let alone kids. While talking to my partner about it I mentioned that I need Leslie Knope style binders for things like managing my diabetes and housework. Makes the whole thing seem so much easier and more fun. So my current project is figuring out the best way to do that.)
Her lack of social skills is obvious enough that I’m not going to say much about it, because what’s much more interesting to her is her devotion to her special interests. She’s great at what she does, because she really loves and believes in government. This is the thing she wants to do with all her time, both at work and at home. It’s what she’d be doing anyway, and she’s been playing politician since she was a little girl, but she was lucky enough to find a way to make a living at it. That’s my dream as well (getting a job that feeds into my own interests, not government :D), and though I haven’t been able to manage it yet I’m starting to feel more positive about it. The intense focus a lot of autistic people dedicate to their projects has huge potential for the workplace, and it’s nice to see this sort of passion celebrated and rewarded on TV instead of only seeing the “negative” autistic traits. Now if only these characters were officially described as autistic so people who don’t regularly see these traits can have a more positive image of what autism means, that would be perfect. But this is a good start.
The plan was to finish my list with this post, and then the next post would be a follow-up where I talked about some of the issues behind autistic headcanons. You know, the need for representation vs the difficulties in actually finding a well-researched, intentionally autistic character, let alone one who gets away from stereotypes and is also a fully-developed character like any other. It’s a tough balance. I think I’ll still talk about that in the next post, along with my #1 and some honorable mentions. See you then.