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Thread: Might my MC have Asperger's?

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  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW
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    Might my MC have Asperger's?

    I'm writing a MG fantasy about an 11-year-old girl who encounters a Bogle (a mischievous, shape-shifting magical creature) and is out to stop it running wild in her new hometown, while dealing with the fact that the Bogle exists (she's very logical and firmly un-superstitious, so that the discovery that it's real is a major blow to her world-view). A friend of mine who beta-read the first chapter wondered if she had a mild case of Asperger's, and although I hadn't thought of that while writing her, I was interested enough in his remark that I thought I'd ask about it here.

    The MC is a bright and serious girl, with a strong dedication to orderliness (one reason why she's clashing with the Bogle, who's keen on chaos and disorder) and extremely logical. Until she meets the Bogle, she has a firm "Ghosts and other mythical creatures don't exist" outlook (at one point, quoting Sherlock Holmes' remark from "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire", "No ghosts need apply" - she's a big Sherlock Holmes fan and would like to be a detective); indeed, when she first encounters signs of the Bogle's activity, she's certain that there's a mundane, non-magical reason for them (most likely a hoaxer inspired by the Bogle legend) - until she comes face to face with it and sees it in action.

    She's solitary by nature - has no friends her age until she moves to the town where the story's set, never felt any need to seek out friends in her old home town (the closest she had to a friend there was the school librarian at her elementary school, whom she'd assist as a volunteer - she was particularly keen on shelving because every book has its exact place, determined by alphabetical order for the fiction books, the Dewey Decimal System for non-fiction books - and I suspect if she caught any of her classmates trying to stuff a book back in the wrong place, she'd treat them to a very disapproving epic-level stare). In her new town, she does make friends of a sort with two children her age - a boy whom she teams up with in trying to catch the Bogle and a girl whom the Bogle's singling out, playing most of its pranks on her, and who asks the MC for help in figuring out who's been tormenting her - but she thinks of them for nearly all the book as her partner and her client respectively, rather than as friends. (That changes by the end of the story.)

    She's no time for small talk, preferring to immediately get to the subject she wants to discuss with whoever she's speaking with.

    Her first name's Jennifer, and she always thinks of herself as "Jennifer" rather than any shortened versions like "Jenny". (She'll accept you calling her "Jenny", though, without "correcting" you, to avoid wasting time.)

    She always (unless the situation mandates against it - say, if it's PE class) wears a buttoned and collared shirt and a sweater over it - the color of the sweater depending on which day of the week it is (that is, she always wears a red sweater on Tuesday, a blue sweater on Thursday, a green sweater on Friday, etc.); her family joke that you can tell which day of the week it is just by looking at her sweater, without needing to check the calendar. (The school in her new town has a school uniform which includes a green sweater every day - she feels a bit uncomfortable wearing green sweaters when it's not Friday, though since her first day there takes place after she's met the Bogle and has set herself the goal of catching it, she sees it as a minor matter.)
    Last edited by t0dd; 07-08-2019 at 04:55 AM.

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW MaeZe's Avatar
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    Does it matter if you just let the readers decide?
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  3. #3
    Bigger Than A Bread Box Absolute Sage lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MaeZe View Post
    Does it matter if you just let the readers decide?
    This. Although I think it can be a judgement call whether or not to make such a thing explicit in the text.

    I have a friend who belongs to a group of adult autistics, and they wanted to ask me whether a specific character in my second book was autistic. I asked what made them think she was, and they listed a fairly comprehensive list of personality traits, in particular behaviors from her childhood. I hadn't intentionally made the character autistic, but I had patterned her behaviors on members of my own family. And...it's not outside the realm of possibility.

    So people found representation in her, although I hadn't explicitly been thinking "autistic" when I wrote her.

    Whether you spell it out or not, be authentic.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by MaeZe View Post
    Does it matter if you just let the readers decide?
    Yes, that's been my inclination; I was simply curious in a "detached interest" way. I plan to just present this depiction of her in the book and let the readers make their own judgments.

  5. #5
    Ooh, look! String! Kat M's Avatar
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    As a teacher, if I had her in my class without a diagnosis, I might quietly give her some of the supports I give students on the spectrum, and I would mention it to the parents in case they wanted to get her checked out. That said, it seems like it's not greatly impacting her ability to lead a "typical" day-to-day life, so she's more neurotypical than other kids on the spectrum and may just be an orderly person.

    My laywoman's opinion is, decide whether you want to go for representation and then do your due diligence and research—or just go for a character who is very specific about her sweaters.
    Last edited by Kat M; 07-08-2019 at 05:18 AM. Reason: Why is my computer being such a *********?
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  6. #6
    Just visiting Samsonet's Avatar
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    If you want her to be autistic, there's something to be gained by actually using the word "autistic" in the book. Especially with a middle grade book, where an autistic kid reading it will be able to take some satisfaction in having a character who is expressly said to be like them. If you're okay leaving it ambiguous, that's fine too; there's just something a bit frustrating when an author says a character is X but doesn't actually put that in the book. ("Dumbledore is gay," etc.)
    One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
    never doubted clouds would break,
    never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
    held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
    sleep to wake.

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  7. #7
    writing in the shadows aspirit's Avatar
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    I personally don't see how the label would help in this case. The character's traits could come across well to readers who are looking for characters like her, and that's without... and I'm not sure how to phrase this. Neurotypical people seem to latch on to examples for what autistics act like, and that creates arguments when real people don't act the same as characters. I think there should be value to labeling the character. (Note: I'm not sure I feel this way about all aspects of identity!)

    From the sound of it, your character doesn't deal with IEPs, doctor visits, any associated physical limitations, or discriminatory actions from the people around her. She's not learning how to ask for help or how to support kids deeper in the spectrum than she is. I'd be expecting these elements of realism if I saw "autistic" in the character description. (I'd be wary of the story on seeing "Aspergers". That classification hasn't developed a good connotation for children in my experiences.) The Bogle would also take on a different meaning that might or might not work in your story's favor.

    Autistic children have to deal with problems that the typical non-autistic child doesn't, and I don't feel comfortable with that being ignored when defining a contemporary child protagonist as autistic. That's reinforcing the stereotype that aspies are really only anti-social perfectionists.

    Without the label, I'd appreciate the familiar character traits and not watch so closely for symbols and stereotypes.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW
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    Thanks for your comments. Again, I didn't see the MC as having Asperger's - just having traits that a friend thought suggested being on the spectrum - and I don't plan to use such terms for her. (aspirit raises a good point as well - assuming I read your comment correctly - that the Bogle might be seen as a hallucination, which it isn't.)

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