Feminist Aspie

A Headcanon Named Autism: In defence of finding our own representation

on July 30, 2015

Let’s start with a trip down memory lane. When I was in Sixth Form, I studied Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire for A-Level English; being one of few people in the classroom who didn’t really mind reading out a particularly large share of lines, I ended up reading Blanche DuBois every lesson. I’ll be honest, Blanche is basically the dictionary definition of “your fave is problematic”, and yet she became one of my favourite characters in the whole syllabus; I sort of identified with her in a way I couldn’t really put my finger on at the time. Before long, I was combing through the text over and over, reading far more articles and criticisms online than was really necessary for the coursework, and developed a theory that I eventually felt confident enough to share with friends, only to receive a perplexed look and a “…Really? Are you sure?” in response.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I’d accidentally reinvented the autistic headcanon.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “headcanons” are reader interpretations and theories that aren’t expressly stated within the media itself (i.e. it isn’t “canon”). So an autistic headcanon basically means “I interpret this character as autistic” and it’s also worth noting that the headcanon-er is usually, though not always, autistic themselves, because we’re the ones most invested in autistic representation. I’ve noticed a strange backlash against autistic headcanons, mostly from neurotypical people. “Stop glorifying/romanticising autism!” they say, just like they do whenever we talk about autism as anything other than the horrifying-tragic-burden portrayed by organisations like Autism Speaks. “Stop mocking autism!” they say, telling autistic people that they’re somehow mocking themselves whilst ignoring all the actual mockery of autism that neurotypical people do all the time. Self-insertion is another accusation thrown around (although somehow never at neurotypical people who insist a given character has to share their neurotype…) but that’s rarely the case; often, apart from being autistic, we aren’t actually all that like our autistic headcanons. It’s almost like autistic people aren’t all the same or something…

Which brings me to the current state of canon autistic representation which, like the representation of many other marginalised groups, is very poor. The main problem, of course, is that there isn’t enough of it. Then, when there is a canonically autistic character, it’s often the same-old-same-old “gifted at maths/science/technology but inept at every single human interaction” stereotype. I don’t doubt that some autistic people happen to fit that stereotype, but when that’s all the representation that’s available, many of us will continue to struggle to relate to even the few characters that are supposed to be like us. They’re often defined by the neurotypical point of view, with little or no mention of traits such as sensory processing issues. They’re also virtually always cis white men. Sometimes, characters are very heavily coded autistic (albeit in very stereotypical ways) to the point that it can’t be an accident, but it’s never expressly stated; this increases the stigma around the autism label (the idea that it’s too horrifying to speak of), allows the writers to be as inaccurate/stereotyping/offensive as they want with no consequences, and allows neurotypical people to continue to ignore autism and even try to take this very limited and very flawed representation away from us. Because yes, many of us cling to such characters anyway despite all these issues, because it’s all the representation we’ve got.

Representation issues are often dismissed as “just fiction” but this does matter; this does have real-world consequences. If, growing up, you are never or rarely shown people like you, it reinforces the idea that you’re abnormal, that you’re somehow wrong. If people like you are only shown to be one narrow type of person, you assume that that’s all people like you can be, and you start to feel that not only are you a failure for not being neurotypical, you’re also failing at being autistic. It also shapes how other people think about people like you; if they are only shown this one stereotype of people like you, they will believe that that’s how all people like you are, and that’s how they will expect you to be. We do get expressly compared to autistic or heavily-coded-autistic characters all the time – if I had a pound for every time my name was put in the same sentence as Sheldon Cooper or Christopher Boone or Sherlock Holmes, I could buy a plane flying a banner which reads “SERIOUSLY I WANT MORE FEMALE AUTISTIC CHARACTERS” – which only goes to show that these characters do send out a clear message about autism, good or bad, right or wrong, to neurotypical people. Personally, I’m frustrated by the fact that so many canonically autistic characters have a ~special talent~ that somehow redeems them; when I was younger I genuinely thought that was true of all people like me (it isn’t; see this post by Unstrange Mind), so as a straight-A student who didn’t (and doesn’t) have any glaringly obvious ~special talent~, I assumed mine had to be school and therefore I would be doomed shortly after I turned 18. And I’m speaking as a white cishet woman who has no other disabilities besides autism; autistic people in one or more other marginalised groups are often rendered completely invisible.

So, is it any wonder we resort to finding our own representation? Sometimes we aren’t even looking for it, it just happens, but sometimes some of us do just randomly decide a character is autistic because-why-not, and that’s okay too – because, well, why not? Why is neurotypical the default unless expressly stated otherwise? Believe me, there are headcanons out there a lot more far-fetched than “I see a lot of my own autistic traits in this character” that don’t get anywhere near the same level of scrutiny and people desperately trying to prove them wrong. I suppose if you’ve always been told your neurotype is the default to which everything else is “other”, you’d react negatively to being told you’re not. Autistic headcanons aren’t hurting anyone – unlike the currently poor canon representation, and of course the real-world ableism routinely ignored or perpetuated by the same people who are so against autistic headcanons – so why else would there be such a backlash from neurotypical people?

Representation matters, and I want to see a world where books and TV shows and films depict autistic people of colour, LGBTQIA+ autistic people, autistic women, autistic people with other disabilities, autistic people who can pass for neurotypical and who can’t, autistic people who are verbal, non-verbal, partially verbal, autistic people with all kinds of special interests, autistic people who use special interests in their work and those who don’t, autistic people who are hypersensitive and hyposensitive and sensory-seeking, autistic people of all ages and all occupations, autistic heroes, autistic villains, autistic geeks and autistic sports captains and everything in between, with good qualities and flaws that are related to autism and those that aren’t related to autism at all – realistic, multi-dimensional autistic characters that don’t feel hollow or like the butt of a joke.

I suppose, unlike Blanche, I do want realism. And until that’s achieved, autistic media consumers everywhere will keep working our headcanon magic.

(Also, I’m interested to hear your autistic headcanons, or favourite canon autistic characters – let me know in the comments!)


65 responses to “A Headcanon Named Autism: In defence of finding our own representation

  1. mamadeb says:

    Jane Eyre is autistic. I realized this last summer while I listened to an audio version. I’m a huge fan of the book, and know it almost by heart, but listening to it gave a different perspective. I had time to think.

    Anyway. Jane is considered odd and anti-social. Her abusive cousins think of her as weird and strange. She has definite meltdowns as a child, sometimes debilitating ones, which she refers to as “passions.” Her emotional responses are off – she talks calmly and logically about strong feelings.

    When I realized this, I did a search and found an essay on that very thing. So I wasn’t imagining it.

  2. This is SO interesting! Thanks for explaining “headcanon,” I’d heard the term before but didn’t know what it meant.

    I’ve only found out I’m autistic this year so this isn’t something I’ve thought about too much yet, but it makes perfect sense to me. These days I tend to read more (auto)biography so I’ve started to wonder about real life people that I read about in non fiction, for example Charles Schulz.

    In the biography Schulz and Peanuts, his biographer writes repeatedly about how Schulz had this persistent feeling through his entire life that no one loved or understood him, despite being loved by billions through his work. The biographer also sort of sneers at him for this because to him it makes no sense. But it makes perfect sense to me as an autistic person! And with that and other details I became convinced that Schulz was autistic too.

    As a kid and teen I did not know I was autistic but sometimes I saw myself in unexpected places in literature. I’d have to go back and re-read to see if this is why. But for example, I related strongly to the protagonist of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I couldn’t figure out why I would, since he is a black man in the 30s, and I was a white teenage girl in the 90s, but there was something there that felt like my experience. Another was Anna Karenina. Another was in either Crime & Punishment or the Brothers K by Dostoevsky but I can’t remember now – would have to re-read.

    • Wow, that’s really interesting – I was diagnosed at quite a young age so I’ve never really had the experience of recognising autistic traits without already having the autism label attached, if that makes sense. Thank you for reading! 🙂

    • neurotypinot says:

      I identified with Anna Karenina as well. And Catherine from Wuthering Heights. And Jo from Little Women… I love classic literature. 🙂

    • trisha says:

      I’m interested that you think Charles Schulz might have been autistic. I might look out for his biography. When you mentioned him, the first character I thought of was Peppermint Patty. It’s years since I read the books so I just looked her up on wikipedia and think she might well be autistic. I thought she was great.

      And definitely Jo from Little Women – loved her.

      Oh, and Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.

      Incidentally, I’ve not been diagnosed as autistic but have been wondering recently after a relative’s diagnosis. I was known as odd as a child and as a bit eccentric now. Only mentioning this as I’m not sure I should be commenting at all. Hope it’s okay.

      • Yeah, Peppermint Patty! It’s commonly thought that Schulz’s characters are based on various people in his life, but he always denied that. I think that they are more likely various aspects of himself. Patty is so great because she is direct and straightforward, says the wrong thing sometimes, cares about people, but also is so confident about being herself. Perhaps she is the person Schulz wished he had the self confidence to be. 🙂

  3. Cyndi says:

    I TOTALLY feel this and this happens to land right on something I’ve been doing since March. Ever seen Guardians of the Galaxy? You know that cute walking plant who only says “I am Groot”? I headcanon him as a high support nonverbal individual who has to fight to have his competence recognized. Here it is what I’ve done so far on AO3:

    http://archiveofourown.org/series/275382 My fics exist to tell other autistic people that it is okay to be your beautiful autistic self. I’ve found that feeling and I want to share it. My fics in no way reflect the experiences of every autistic person out there, however they all involve portrayals of autism that aren’t treated like a tragedy even when the bad sides of it are shown. You won’t see Groot overcoming autism. Nope, you’ll see him overcoming neurotypical/allistic ideals that he has to fit in to be accepted.

    Groot also “blogs” on tumblr as nonverbaltree.tumblr.com (check the rules first :))

    I’d like to warn you that Groot has complex PTSD as a result of abusive ABA-like therapy, and its effects are mentioned often. I never had ABA(I was diagnosed as a teenager and I’m verbal btw), but reading other peoples’ accounts of it and a Judge Rotenberg Center survivor’s harrowing along with bullying and emotional abuse I endured growing up helped me put those issues together.

    THANK YOU for this post, it says what I’ve wanted to better than I ever could.

    • Cyndi says:

      harrowing TALE^ along with…

      That’s what I get for typing when I’m excited LOL!

    • Thank YOU for reading!! As soon as you mentioned Groot I was thinking “oh yeah I’m following a Tumblr about autistic!Groot I’ll need to find the link for you” and then I read on and turns out it’s yours!!

      • Cyndi says:

        HAHAHA! Small world! You might be following my main blog too. It’s butterflyinthewell. (Groot is a sideblog.)

        And P.S. I headcanon the Twelfth Doctor as autistic and he likes the smell of chalk. ;D

  4. chavisory says:

    Some of mine:

    -Olivander in Harry Potter (over whom I was just having this argument today. 😉
    -Pearl in “The Scarlet Letter”
    -Adah in “The Poisonwood Bible”
    -Treadway Blake in “Annabel”
    -Sawyer in “Lost” (I don’t list Faraday because I think we are meant to read him as autistic; Sawyer I think was unintentional, but also the more interesting autistic character of the two because he’s so anti-stereotypical.)

    • neurotypinot says:

      Wow, looking back on when I read The Scarlet Letter, I can totally see that now. I may have to reread.

    • How about the little girl in Member of the Wedding….owwwwww……

    • askajnaiman says:

      Huh. Treadway… I remember that whole bit about “For him MEN were all the same.”

      Wayne knew his father was right. Anyone from Labrador called vegetables by their single name. Cabbage. Turnip. Carrot. No matter how many individual specimens, you spoke of them as an entity. He realised Treadway thought about people in the same way. Men, to him, were one all man. PP. 121-2.

      And he totally doesn’t fit the category himself but he can’t get out of that very narrow definition, either.

      FOR ALL HIS FATHERLY TALK about how Labrador boys had to be part of a pack, Treadway Blake was the most solitary man in Croydon Harbour. The families of solitary people don’t always know they are living with someone unusual. They think maybe lots of families have someone quiet like this. A person who can go days without making any sound other than the scrape of a knife on sinew, the scrubbing of boots on the brush mat, the clink of a cup put back in its saucer. But then they go into someone else’s house and realize other people have husbands, wives, children, who yell and laugh and wrestle with each other and cry out over a foolish thing the cat has done.

      Thanks for reminding me of this book, I should reread it 🙂

  5. neurotypinot says:

    Astrid from the alternate universe in the TV series Fringe, although she’s not in very many episodes. It’s never explicitly stated, but I could tell as soon as I saw her. She does later mention being “not normal,” though.

    • chavisory says:

      I don’t count her as a headcanon because we are pretty explicitly supposed to believe that she is. The ways that other characters talk about her are pretty overtly autistic-coded.

      I always thought Walter (in both universes) was, too, even though he had a lot of his issues attributed to other causes (drugs, schizophrenia), he was pretty obviously autistic to me even though other characters never talked about him that way. It’s also embodied in his relationship with Astrid in both universes.

      (I also think John Noble is under-recognized as one of the most talented actors alive.)

      • neurotypinot says:

        Hmm. I just got so excited (I like both Astrids so much!) that I forgot we were looking for a headcanon. Oops!

        I definitely agree about John Noble though. He does seem to stim a lot, claps and sometimes hops a bit when he gets excited, and other things I can’t think of right now. I think he takes more of a lead in directing than in acting (he actually didn’t start acting until he was 40!), but yes, he is excellent! It’s uncanny to watch him switch back and forth between silly Walter to super serious-all-the-time-and-I-mean-business Walter in the same episodes.

      • neurotypinot says:

        Thought of a couple more things with Walter: his obsession with Twizzlers (and food in general), his tendency toward meltdowns/anger explosions when overwhelmed (and subsequent need to be alone), and tendency to say “inappropriate” things out of the blue (“Uh oh. . . I just got an erection.” from season one when Olivia is nearly naked and about to get in the sensory deprivation tank, is my favorite).

        I also saw a lot of traits in Olivia (regular universe Olivia), although those are all pretty much explained by the Cortexiphan experiments).

        I am just loving this comment thread. 🙂

      • I loved Fringe! Was so sad when it was over.

        What do you think about Olivia too? Even with the other cause (as with Walter) of the early experiment… her intense focus, her passion for justice, and she seemed like kind of a hyperempath too. I thought her alternate universe version was interesting as a contrast – the extroverted, assertive, popular, total opposite of the main Olivia.

      • chavisory says:

        I never thought Olivia was, although I identified with her a LOT emotionally, in terms of finding out all about what happened to her only as an adult, and having to eventually reconcile two conflicting timelines, and wondering what you’d be like if so much unfair crap hadn’t happened to you. I’d have to go rewatch it (…which I may do tonight), but there was one episode in which she had to get Fauxlivia to really understand why she was the way she was that meant a lot to me.

        But Olivia is obviously neurodivergent, and I did identify a lot with the ways that her lifelong denial or incomplete understandings of her memories of it had influenced her.

        And then that her original timeline (in the world that included Peter) becomes true again just because she remembers it…..that whole storyline really helped glue my whole world back together when I was suddenly dealing with a radically enlightened set of memories post-diagnosis.

    • Writing this blog post has certainly made my to-watch list even longer than it already was… 😛

      • neurotypinot says:

        You will be instantly obsessed with Fringe. I was a skeptic at first, but then I definitely binge-watched that series in no time once I started.

      • chavisory says:

        Fringe is soooo good in so many ways. It takes a little bit, maybe, to get into the vibe of it…it took some time for it to figure out what kind of show it wanted to be and it always suffered from a little bit of genre/mood inconsistency. But it also learned a lot of good lessons from, for instance, the ways in which the X-Files failed in its later years.

        But…really good heroines (multiple!), really good autistic characters (multiple!), really good emotional storytelling even in the face of absolutely silly science-ing.

  6. Andrew Hickey says:

    The Doctor in “classic series” Doctor Who reads to me as autistic, especially Colin Baker’s version — Mel, the most despised of the companions, seems to have some autistic traits too (as do Adric and Zoe, in the stereotyped-supergenius way). Although this may be because I was a Who fan as a small child. When I came to rewatch Colin’s episodes as an adult (he was the Doctor from when I was five to when I was eight), I was amazed at how close his behaviours are to my own self-image, both good and bad — how much of that is because the character is written as autistic, and how much is from unconscious emulation of a character who was a hero at a formative age, I can’t say.
    The Doctor in post-2005 Who, especially Moffat’s scripts for the eleventh and twelfth Doctors, seems deliberately to be written around autistic stereotypes, and so seems far less like a genuinely autistic person.

    • Cyndi says:

      Twelve seems preeeeetty autistic to me. I’ve got a headcanon that he likes to stim by smelling chalk. He had fun offscreen in the Caretaker episode with all those chalkboards he got to clean. Imagine him picking up the chalk sitting on the shelf or opening a new box of it and sniffing gently like one might sniff perfume or a flower. 😛

    • THE DOCTOR WHO COMMENT HAS ARRIIIIIIIIIIIIVED *cue fanfare* To be honest, I (somehow) hadn’t properly considered autistic!Doctor until Twelve last year (although, as you say, based on very stereotypical traits) but these days I can pick that up somewhere or other in most regenerations.

      On a very vaguely related note, another big (undiagnosed, unaware, learned to pass for NT and heading for burnout) autistic headcanon of mine is The Thick Of It’s Malcolm Tucker…

      • Yeah, Twelve does come off a bit autistic at times, but then some of his behaviors happened just after he’d regenerated. The I’m not a hugging person scene comes to mind. The Doctor has long been portrayed as half out of his head for a bit after regenerating so I think we can write that one off as a post-regeneration quirk. Plus the dude is an alien from a race known to be a bit reserved and detached. If anything I think his quirks speak more to carrying a heavy load of guilt mixed with PTSD.

  7. alexforshaw says:

    Sam Tarly in Game of Thrones feels autistic to me. He’s socially awkward and has a lot of anxiety, but is fiercely loyal, almost obsessive about learning and good at seeing patterns that others may miss.

  8. Juliana says:

    Autistic headcanons, I love them very much!

    I wish to agree wholeheartedly with whoever said Ollivander from Harry Potter reads as autistic. (The notes on wand woods on Pottermore support that, IMO.)

    I also passionately believe that Gelsomina, the protagonist of the 1954 Italian movie “La Strada,” is autistic. It’s ambiguous what the director (Federico Fellini) and the actress (Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina) actually had in mind, especially because we are talking about a movie made in the 1950s, but it’s noted early on that Gelsomina is “not like other girls,” and there’s some evidence that she might not be capable of speaking when she’s too emotionally overwhelmed. Also, the way she moves reads as very autistic to me–I saw the movie in the context of a class on Italian cinema, and the teacher thought Gelsomina’s movements were just “dainty,” but her body language struck me as remarkably similar to my own.

  9. Shane Thomas says:

    There’s Saga Noren in ‘The Bridge’ (and the subsequent version of the character in the numerous remakes of the show). I confess to being a big fan, but she comes under what you described as being “coded autistic”, so she’s probably a my-fave-is-problematic creation. Although, it may be something that gets explored further in the show as it’s only 2 seasons in.

  10. Brenda says:

    Great post!! And I’ll definitely add my voice to the Fringe love.

    As for personal headcanons, Jordan C Price’s Victor Bayne, from her PsyCop series, always comes cross very strongly to me as autistic. The author even has a canon autistic character in another series, but Victor is never labeled as such and from things I’ve read, I don’t think the author intended Victor to be autistic, but to me he’s classic.

    A little farther out there (and probably another ‘my-fave-is-problematic’), but for me just as strong identification is Castiel from Supernatural. Even though he’s an angel and not human, he still feels very autistic to me (though more consistently in the first two seasons than now).

    I am another late diagnosis (at 50), so it makes me wonder about some of the characters I loved from when I was younger, so I might have to revisit some of those again. But I have a special place in my heart for Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds (even though he was, at least in the first 5 seasons, intentionally coded very heavily as autistic), because it was participating in a discussion on a message board about whether the character was, in fact, autistic (since its never explicitly stated in show canon, and there are still a lot of fans who have no idea that the character was conceived, written and portrayed as autistic from the beginning, and will actively and passionately argue against it) that I met and talked to an autistic person that suggested to me that I might be on the spectrum as well, which led to me… discovering something very important about myself. So, I wholeheartedly agree that representation in fiction is vitally important.

  11. chavisory says:

    Oh, I forgot one of my recent favorites! Banquo in Macbeth!

    He talks about birds…a lot. He’s really kind of ingenuous, and the trap that Macbeth eventually sets for him is so very designed to be terrifying to him specifically in that it presents a dilemma that there is no safe answer, escape, or solution to. Macbeth threatens his son, and then presents a word problem that has no answer.

  12. AJ Patterson says:

    I saw Man of Steel the first time the other day, and Superman in that film feels like he could be read as autistic; especially in the overwhelming difficulty of intense sensation, the retreat to solitude to cope. Superman as autistic is actually kind of compelling, I think.

  13. Joanna Swan says:

    Hi, you asked us to tell you about our own autistic headcanons. I am an actor and have been performing a one woman show called “Margery Kempe of Lynn”. Margery is a real character from medieval english history. She was a religious mystic who continually flouted church authority (she went on pilgrimage without getting permission from her confessor) and was in danger several times thoroughout her life of being burned as a Lollard heretic. After 20 years of marriage and 14 (living) children she asked her husband to take a vow of celibacy alongside her, to allow her to live a more “chaste”, therefore “holy” existence (this did not stop her “fancying” other men if she thought they looked like her idea of Jesus, with whom she was literally in love having believed he had come to her in visions and given her permission to take him as a lover!). Not being “of faith” myself, I needed to find a point of empathy with Margery in order to play her sympathetically and realistically. I therefore cast her in the mould of Aspergers, which of course I know about having been diagnosed in 2013 at the age of 37. I took the angle of here is a woman who just does not fit in with her own society and does not see things the way others see them or tell her she ought to see them. She is incredibly sensitive and sees and hears things others cannot, whether coming from her own psyche, from God or from some other place beyond the normal reach of human perception. She suffered “hysterics” comparable to meltdowns (she would weep uncontrollably at the though of Jesus’ suffering during the Passion, and she suffered terrible post natal depression making her suicidal). She said what she was thinking, speaking the truth as she saw it where a more “normal” person might see the danger in doing that and “temper” their arguments. Here is what a reviewer said about the Margery I created from my “Autistic Headcanon”:

    “It must be challenging to portray a character as hysterical as Margery, without losing the sincerity of her belief.

    Swan adeptly managed this and, rather than being alienated by her lamentations, the audience empathised with Margery’s torments.” http://www.lynnnews.co.uk/what-s-on/lifestyle-leisure/kempe-play-at-king-s-lynn-festival-1-6873402

    Job done!

    Kind Regards

    Joanna Swan

  14. Moxie Peever says:

    My first autistic headcanon was Mable Pines, in “Gravity Falls.” She has that quality of Abed Nadir of wanting to make real life more like the things she sees in movies, magazines, and other media. Unlike many other representations of autism, she is a kind-hearted, caring person who genuinely wants everyone to be happy. The first friends she makes are two of the misfits/outcasts of the town, an Asian girl and a trans girl. Every time that I have seen Mabel tempted to something that was in any way selfish, she ended up making a choice that respected the feelings of the people who matter. If I had been born a girl, I would like to think that I would be like Mabel Pines.

    Also, the only outfit she wears is a skirt with a sweater, but the sweater is different for every episode. It reminded me of how for a long time with me, the clothes I wore the most were jeans with a T-shirt, and I had a collection of at least 50 or 60 T-shirts. I did this because it was the most acceptable way I knew to dress myself. Trying to wear nicer clothing, to try to look classy and sophisticated, never really felt like “me” and usually ended up looking not quite right. I have since given up on any attempt to look “normal,” though, and try to wear what I am going to feel most comfortable in.

  15. Silverarabian says:

    Hermione and Luna from Harry Porter are mine. I’d never thought about Ollivander, but now that I do, I see that one as well. Also, groot and drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. Four (Tobias) from the Divergent series seems in there too; I’ve seen others say that every divergent is, but I’m not completely sure personally about the rest, need to read up on theories first. I haven’t found any others that I personally identify with, though I’m going to write a few small, and maybe one large, fic where Hermione is autistic and potentially includes Luna as well.

  16. I’m surprised no one has said Fox Mulder yet. He is so obviously aspergers it almost hurts. The series came out before most people knew what Aspergers was so he was supposed to just be something of an awkward genius. The fact that he has fixations, is terribly honest, has a flat effect, is poor at reading people over-all, was always a misfit, has certain rituals, is somewhat of a hoarder, has issues with executive reasoning skills, lacks guile in general, is very sincere, loyal to a fault, and as a child made his parents call him “Mulder” instead of by his first name just makes it so obvious to people who know the symptoms.
    People fight this one by saying that he was just so traumatized by his sister’s disappearance that he became that way, but that doesn’t make sense. The show states that he was always odd, but that his sister understood him and so they bonded by that. It also wouldn’t explain his obsession with all things paranormal, just aliens, if that. Really, it is obvious that while finding out what happened to his sister is important to him, he is just flat out obsessed with paranormal events and the possibilities of government cover-ups. He can even become so obsessed with non-alien, non-sister related cases that he won’t sleep for days, put himself in danger, or disobey authorities to the point of ending up in jail. That is not the behavior of someone who is only in it for his sister.
    It has also been suggested that Scully may also have it, and she may. Maybe that is why she and Mulder can work together so well.
    At that point, though, it would mean that in the 90’s everybody was obsessed with a show that was really just two Aspergers adults going around trying to figure out the mysteries of this world, and unravel the lies meant to keep them away.

  17. mentallysubnormal says:

    I just read Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee and realised that Scout (from that book, and also.To Kill A Mockingbird) is autistic – she ‘s a tomboyish iconoclast who hates injustice and sees through her community’s hypocrisy. And she rubs off kisses [grin]

    Given many people see Scout as an author avatar (though I vaguely remember Lee says she identified herself more with the mysterious Boo Radley) and given Lee’s unusual personal choices, I think there’s a fair chance.

  18. On another blog, I’m on, there’s been discussion about Beth being autistic.

  19. Beth Freeman says:

    Not a fictional character. Elizabeth the first. David Starkey’s book of her. Hmmm. Very untypical of her time.

  20. Commenting on my own post is probably breaking some sort of rule but I just remembered another one – Julie from Trollied, anyone?

  21. Rachael says:

    I see Brian Lane from New Tricks ( a T.V show in the U.K about retired police officers who are chosen to work in a newly-formed department solving unsolved cases) to be Autistic. It could be seen as a bit stereotypical as he is good with technology and is obsessive – yet canon says he has O.C.D and is a recovering alcoholic. He is also seen breaking down at some points and doesn’t fit the commonly-seen stereotype that Autistic people don’t feel emotions or empathy. He also has fantastic memory – but is also seen as being kind to people has some strong moral principles. Be also tries cooking (not to great success) and redecorating the kitchen. He also has some friends and is married.

  22. I’ve seen one female aspie in fiction. It was in a local Soap Opera on TV. My main problem with her though was that her character was basically just a Spock who threw tantrums all the time and didn’t understand humour. Most of her aspie traits were negative besides the stereotypical science/math genius. It was nice to see probably the first ever female aspie in media, but that was it, she was still completely indistinguishable from every single stereotype. The only thing that didn’t make me confuse her with Sheldon all the time was the fact she was female.

  23. One of my pet projects. I saw the “Letters From Aspergia” post about the subject before this one.
    My running list is as follows:
    All of the candy people from Adventure Time (cute vocal stimming!)
    The “I like trains” kid from asdfmovie (yeah, trains, I know.)
    Temperance “Bones” Brennan from Bones, and her assistant Zack Addy
    Big Hat Logan from Dark Souls (he wears the titular big hat for sensory reasons – that’s canon)
    L and Near from Death Note
    Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy
    Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series
    Yang Wen-li, Oberstein, and Eisenach from Legend of the Galactic Heroes
    Suzanne Warren from Orange Is the New Black
    Herman and Newton from Pacific Rim (one of the reasons they’re drift compatible)
    Ferb from Phineas and Ferb
    Chell from Portal
    5, 9, and 12 from Terror In Resonance (well, all the numbered people, but only those three are alive)
    Clementine from The Walking Dead

  24. Inari says:

    My main autistic headcanon is Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space 9, and the way he moves from the first show to the latter (getting a different job) and how he struggles with his upset routines, and only ever drinks prune juice, and his special interest in Klingon culture (he is a Klingon that was raised by humans).

    Also Garnet from Steven Universe. I have also seen other people headcanon the other gems Amethyst and Pearl as autistic too (overall this show is very exciting in terms of all sorts of representation).

  25. I headcanon Elsa from Frozen as autistic, to the point where i am writing a very long fic exploring just that. This was an important article. Thank you

  26. Lenyberry says:

    Some of my headcanons are:

    ~ River and Wash (Firefly). I feel like River is pretty obviously supposed to be autistic-in-canon, but she’s never explicitly stated to be so IMO she still counts for the headcanon list.

    ~ Willow (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

    ~ Ianto (Torchwood). A specific not-autistic-despite-kinda-fitting-stereotypes-headcanon I have though is Toshiko, I just read her as being an introverted tech whiz with PTSD and severe social anxiety.
    I kinda wish I had one for Doctor Who, since I love that show, but even the Doctor just doesn’t quite work for me even though I can see why people would headcanon him. Guess I have to settle for just a really good one on the spinoff though.

    ~Tony Stark (Iron Man, Avengers)

    ~ Claire and Gray (Jurassic World)

    ~ Asher (The Giver)

    ~ Ripley (Alien)

    ~ Sam Tarly (Game of Thrones)

    • Lenyberry says:

      Further pondering on “why don’t I headcanon the Doctor as autistic” led me to the conclusion that it’s mostly because I don’t feel like human neurological definitions can really be applied to non-human characters.

      Then relatedly I realized (jumping off on a bit of a tangent) that I kind of headcanon that autism is the closest human brains get to what’s typical for Vulcans (not the same thing, again, because it’s not fair to assume that species from different planets would have comparable neurology, and holy crap does the idea of even nudging into the “autistic = alien” territory bother me… but at the same time I can’t deny that the headcanon works), and that realization led to a new headcanon of Amanda Grayson (Spock’s mother) because she’s obviously comfortable living in Vulcan culture and neurotypical humans would probably have a really hard time with that.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        But things like love, anger, humour, depression… these are all human neurological conditions, too. If we assume that aliens are capable of having the particular neurology that allows guilt, or jealousy, or curiosity, why not the particular neurology that makes sensations intense, or that allows us properly to understand scope, or that makes us communicate more directly?

      • Lenyberry says:

        Because it’s really egotistical of us to assume that alien neurology would be identical to human. And I’m not saying aliens couldn’t have very similar neurology. Just that it shouldn’t be assumed.

        If you wanna headcanon things differently from me, I’m not gonna tell you you’re wrong. It’s all headcanons about fiction anyway.

  27. It’s interesting you mentioned Tenessee Williams because we just watched “The Glass Menagerie” at school and I really wondered whether Laura was autistic as well as having seveeere anxiety.
    And about being compared to Sheldon Cooper? Happens all the time. All the time, although I suck at physics.

  28. […] A Headcanon Named Autism: In defence of finding our own representation – I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments on this post, with lots of other people sharing their autistic headcanons! […]

  29. formerhacgirl says:

    Jess from New Girl has always read as autistic to me. The way she moves and how she acts when overwhelmed are just a little too familiar.

  30. 022364 says:


    first, I have to say I find headcanons interesting, whether true or false, it brings new perspective, and we often are set in our own representations, autistic or not – open-minded or not.

    I read a couple of times that Dana Scully from The X-Files would be an Aspie, or a mild Aspie. I have to disagree with that, although I can find traits of Broader Autism Phenotype BAP in her – aloofness/pragmatism (even some language pragmatism)/rigidity. I am a lot like that, so maybe that’s why I don’t see it, others did though, huh.

    I find Brenda Leigh Johnson from The Closer pretty much more to be a likely candidate for Asperger’s.

    In any case, whether these two (fictional) women are on the autistic spectrum, it shows that autism in general is not just a set of traits or dysfunctions, difficulties, whatever you name it. And each person with autism, just like each neurotypical person, are different. That’s logical, I have trouble understanding why people would see it for NTs and not for… anyone else not comforming to the norm.

  31. Kenna says:

    Star Butterfly from Star vs. The Forces of Evil.

  32. thecfssaga says:

    Mine are Arthur Weasley (Harry Potter), Tim (The Goodies) and Ron Manager (The Fast Show).

  33. […] Source: A Headcanon Named Autism: In defence of finding our own representation […]

  34. Michael says:

    Hi, I just wanted to say thanks for posting this. I am not autistic but am gay, closeted and Indian. I often turn to headcanons because I find them empowering and immersive, I’m also very sensitive and am aware of how certain people react to such. This piece really hit the nail on the head in terms why any kind of representation is vital for ostracized groups, thanks so much for posting. Love your blog!

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When I understand, I feel better. This condemns me to a lot of reading and thinking.


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