Five Characters Coded as Autistic

A few weeks ago, I discussed some helpful tips on successfully portraying an autistic character. In that article, I mentioned characters like Sheldon Cooper, who aren’t stated to be autistic but who are coded as such. Since there were some comments about this, in this article I am specifically looking at characters who are coded as autistic.

Coding is when a character is given a set of traits which are associated with a particular group but is not explicitly stated to be part of that group. Even when representation isn’t explicit, coded characters can still spread harmful stereotypes. For example, a character made up of Jewish stereotypes, such as having a big nose and being greedy, would be hurtful to Jewish people.

Let’s start with the piece of controversy from last time: The Big Bang Theory.

1. Sheldon Cooper

The prime example of a character coded as autistic is Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. I talked about Sheldon in my previous article, but I’d like to elaborate on what codes him as autistic, since he is never explicitly said to be so on the show.

Sheldon is completely unaware of social conventions. He is often rude to others without understanding why, dismissing people’s concerns and bluntly stating his honest opinions without regard to how it will make someone feel. He info-dumps about his special interest, astronomy, without realizing that others may not want to hear him talk about it for so long. He has a rigid routine, eating the same foods on the same days and having his own special spot on the sofa.

These are all recognized as autistic traits, although the character of Sheldon dramatizes and misunderstands them. He is also a savant when it comes to math and science, which plays into the idea that all autistic people are geniuses in certain areas.

Because Sheldon is made up entirely of characteristics associated with autistic people, he can be said to be coded as such, and this is why he is harmful.

As mentioned in my previous article, Sheldon is portrayed as lacking empathy and not caring how his actions affect others. This is a view that already harms the autistic community, in that people assume we are callous and robotic. Sheldon also gets away with misogyny due to his lack of awareness of social conventions. He harasses women he is attracted to and at one point compares a character’s behavior to a female monkey and asks invasive questions about her menstrual cycle. In real life, defending someone’s misogyny based on neurodivergence perpetuates sexism and rape culture.

Someone who sees Sheldon and recognizes his characteristics in an autistic person may be influenced by The Big Bang Theory’s portrayal of people with those traits, which only perpetuates the cycle of misinformation about autistic people.

2. Newt Scamander

The new Fantastic Beasts films star Newt Scamander as their hero. Newt is a magizoologist who protects magical creatures. He is also an example of a positive autistic-coded character.

Newt is socially awkward and is often unaware that his actions may cause people to feel uncomfortable, but even so, he doesn’t spread the stereotype that autistic people are unempathetic. He has an intense interest in magical creatures and relates to them more easily than to people, something that many autistic people attest to (with real animals). He wants friends but has trouble gaining them. If you pay attention, then you’ll notice that he often doesn’t make eye contact when it would be expected.

Newt recognizes that he is unconventional, as at one point he says in reference to people liking him “No, not really, I’m annoying.” This is a statement that many autistic people can relate to, which has caused the  character to gain quite a following in the autistic community. In fact, the actor who plays Newt, Eddie Redmayne, stated that he believes Newt to be on the autism spectrum.

Newt is entirely different from Sheldon, as he manages to be socially awkward without being apathetic, misogynistic, or arrogant. He is an example of an accurate portrayal of an autistic character, and it’s unfortunate that this isn’t confirmed in the movie. Having his autism be recognized would make the representation that much more powerful, as there are so few autistic heroes in fiction.

Even though he isn’t said to be autistic in the movie, the portrayal of a socially awkward yet lovable character as the lead role is a great step forward.

3. Christopher Boone

Christopher Boone is the main character in the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. If you ask someone to think of a fictional book about autism, chances are they’ll mention Curious Incident. Christopher never says that he has autism; however, his character embodies autistic traits. He struggles to comprehend social rules and recognize facial expressions, he stims and experiences sensory overload, and he has special interests such as mathematics and murder mysteries.

Christopher is a highly controversial character in the autistic community. While he is a positive character, he is also heavily made up of autistic stereotypes. This has caused many autistic people to reject the novel as an example of a neurotypical man writing about an issue that he doesn’t understand.

The author, Mark Haddon, himself admits that “I did no research for Curious Incident.” The novel is narrated in a stream-of-consciousness style by Christopher, but his inner thoughts are presented as flat and stereotypical. Autistic people often have trouble communicating their thoughts, but our inner monologue isn’t flat and simplistic.

Another issue that many people have with Christopher is that he adheres to the “autistic savant” trope, which is that all autistic people are geniuses who can calculate incredible mathematical equations in their heads. While there are many examples of highly intelligent autistic people, expecting us to have near-magical abilities is harmful. It’s rarely true and puts pressure on a group of people who are already extremely prone to perfectionism.

But Christopher isn’t all bad. I am in no way claiming to speak for the whole of the autistic community, as we all have unique opinions, but I personally believe that Christopher is a better depiction of autism than many other stories. Unlike many books, Curious Incident humanizes Christopher and doesn’t portray him as incomprehensible. It shows the story from his point of view and emphasizes his own emotional needs, rather than just showing what a burden he is on his parents.

It’s nowhere near a perfect representation, and the author should have done some research when setting out to write a book about a marginalized person, but Curious Incident portrays its protagonist as a human with complex emotions rather than an emotionless robot, which is something too often shown.

4. Tina Belcher

Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers is an adolescent girl who speaks in a monotone and is extremely socially awkward. She has an intense interest in horses and starts groaning when she is overwhelmed. Groaning is a form of stimming, and Tina’s struggles with understanding social cues code her as autistic. Her sister, Louise, even references it, although Tina’s father denies it.

Tina is a wonderful example of an autistic character, because while she is socially inept and sounds unemotional, she is still portrayed as her own person. She’s also female, which is especially rare when it comes to autistic representation.

Tina is also a great example of an autistic person who is interested in sex and romance. Many people assume that autistic people lack interest in sex or are automatically averse to it due to sensory issues. But most autistic people are interested in relationships; they just have trouble bringing them about. Tina is autistic but is also like most teenage girls in that she has crushes and is curious about sex. This shows that while autistic people are different in many ways, they often face the same issues that allistic people face.

Tina also is shown to be confident and to have high self-esteem, another rarity when it comes to autistic representation. An autistic person, especially a woman, who is confident in herself is something that is needed in today’s autistic representation, and Tina Belcher brings that representation to a highly popular TV show. She is a great example of a complex, multi-faceted autistic character.

5. Charlie Kelmeckis

Charlie Kelmeckis is an awkward high schooler from the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. As the title suggests, he’s labeled as a “wallflower,” but he also displays many characteristics of being autistic. Charlie is oblivious to social cues and has trouble making friends. He often doesn’t understand his friends’ non-literal statements and is easily overstimulated.

Charlie also cries in situations that most teenagers wouldn’t cry in, which I as an autistic person can strongly relate to. We often can’t regulate our emotions as well as others, and are more likely to display them when they get extremely intense.

Like Tina, Charlie is shown to be interested in romance and sex, which is underrepresented among autistic characters. While some autistic people are on the ace-aro spectrum, many autistic people crave these relationships and can successfully have them. Charlie also finds a group of friends he can connect to, which is important for autistic people to see. The novel is told from his point of view, but unlike with Christopher his thoughts aren’t simplistic; he just has trouble communicating them. He’s a great example of a complex and realistic autistic character.

The five characters above are just a small sample of many characters coded as autistic. Unfortunately, this type of character is far more common than ones labeled specifically as such. Still, Newt, Tina, and Charlie provide complex and interesting examples of autistic characters and help dispel the stereotypes associated with the community. Characters like Sheldon are still common in the media, but the more positive representation we get, the more autistic people are empowered to control the narrative about us. Do you have any other examples of characters coded as autistic, whether they are bad or good representations? Share in the comments!

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  1. Jeppsson

    I’m not autistic so really take this FWIW, but I recently read Mike Carey’s “the boy on the bridge” and had thoughts about Stephen Greaves similar to what you write about Christopher Boone. Stephen is even said by other characters to be “probably autistic” (due to the post-apocalyptic setting, he’s not diagnosed by a doctor), and even to me, who’s not autistic myself, he came off as stereotypical in many ways. At the same time, he get a lot of page-time from his own PoV; he and Samrina Khan are the two biggest characters with most PoV time. He’s a hero, he’s got complex emotions and motivations, and his bond to Samrina is very strong (they’re not a romantic couple, she’s more like a mother figure who cared for him after he was orphaned as a little kid).

    • Juliette Dunn

      I haven’t read that story, but I might check it out. It sounds like there’s both helpful and harmful aspects to the represntation.

  2. SunlessNick

    The first thought that came into my head as I saw the title was Saga Norén from The Bridge. She’s not explicitly described as autistic, though I seem to recall hearing that Sofia Helin, who plays her, conceives of her as such.

    She’s got the streotypical complete lack of social skills – this is sometimes framed as funny, sometimes as heartbreaking, and sometimes as just a thing Saga and her colleagues have to navigate. On the other hand, she does understand people in the aggregate – rather than a person – quite well in a profiling sense. She’s very rule-oriented, needs routine, and is overattached to her boss (I don’t mean in love with him, but she regards him as part of the stability of her environment). Most of her colleagues like her.

    I don’t think she was written with representation in mind. The other main detective in the first season was the standard grizzled middle aged guy, and the writers wanted to go against type by making him friendly, sociable and empathic, so Saga was written with no social skills to contrast with that.

    Saga’s backstory includes extensive (although only vaguely described) abuse as a child, enough that you could also characterise her as suffering from PTSD.

    I can’t recall hearing from any autistic critics or viewers what they think of her, but I do know that she’s regarded as iconic in the Nordic Noir genre.

    • Juliette Dunn

      Thanks for sharing that example! I haven’t heard of The Bridge, but Saga certainly seems to exhibit autistic traits.

    • Jeppsson

      I think the writers initially just wanted to make Saga an extreme Swede. The Danish stereotype (at least among people living in the nordic countries themselves) is laid-back, friendly, enjoys the good things in life, not easily worried but take things as they come… The Swedish stereotype is colder, likes being alone, worse at getting friends but much better at planning and keeping things in order… It’s like if you take our national stereotype and turn it up a few notches, you get autistic-coded.

  3. Dave L

    >a character’s behavior to a female monkey

    Also, the woman in question was Black. This was meant to show that Sheldon was either racist or at the very least completely oblivious to racial implications

    In Soon I Will Be Invincible the character Blackwolf was mildly autistic. His condition allowed him to size up everyone in the room, check for weaknesses and plan how to take them out if necessary. Unfortunately, he was a very minor character in a book overstuffed w/ characters and only got a couple of brief mentions

    I know Spock has some stereotypical aspects, though this was from his Vulcan heritage (Sheldon Cooper is a big fan of Spock), and many people with autism or Asperger syndrome related to Data, though his behavior was due to him being an android

    Some modern portrayals of Sherlock Holmes depict him as autistic

    Julia, a Muppet, is a four-year-old autistic girl on Sesame Street who has autism.

    Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds might be autistic

    Kevin Blake from Eureka had autism until the creation of an alternate timeline “cured” him

    Gary Bell from Alphas

    • Cay Reet

      I wouldn’t call Blackwolf a minor character in the story, although he’s not a viewpoint character. “Soon I Will Be Invincible” only has two, though, so everyone but Fatale on Team Good doesn’t have their own viewpoint.
      I agree, though, that he definitely shows autistic traits.

    • Juliette Dunn

      Yes, Sheldon displays many bigotries on the show which are passed off as “cute” or “funny.”

      Spock does include many stereotypical traits, including the harmful stereotype of not feeling emotion, which is a damaging idea to spread about autistic people. Many alien and robot characters seem to exhibit the stereotypes of autism in order to emphasize how non-human they are. However, autistic people are human, and there are better ways to establish how their brains work differently.

      I love Julia! She was created in consultation with actual autistic people, and she’s a great representation that is important in teaching kids empathy. I wish she had been on the show when I was younger.

      I don’t know what Eureka is, but that’s disturbing. To make someone’s brain neurotypical would be to completely change their identity. I don’t know how they portrayed that or what the message was, but I don’t see how that is a helpful representation in any way.

      Thank you for your examples!

    • Rosenkavalier

      This isn’t intended as a criticism, but I think it raises an important point about the way we talk about issues of this kind – ultimately Spock or Data weren’t like that due to Vulcan heritage or being an android, but because the writers chose them to be like that. I think it’s something we need to be careful about, because it seems it’s often used as a ‘get out’ to excuse the inclusion of stereotyped, misrepresentative and outright bigoted portrayals.

      • Cay Reet

        I think the original reason for Spock being focused on logic and suppressing emotion was to make him an opposite to both Kirk and McCoy – both are emotional, even highly so, and he served as a counterpoint. Essentially Kirk-Spock-McCoy were meant as Body-Mind-Emotion.

        Data got his emotionless type partially from Spock, I think. The creators of TNG wanted a ‘Spock’ type (because Spock was very popular with the fans), but not a Vulcan again, and thus came up with an android, since they didn’t need a full culture to explain a machine not being emotional.

        • Alverant

          So what do you think of Data’s attempts to be more than what he is and become more human? If Data is coded to be autistic is the show saying those who are autistic somehow need to be “fixed”?

          • Cay Reet

            I haven’t said he was coded as autistic in the first place. I have said that Spock was meant to be the logical part of the human character to function together with the other aspects personified by Kirk and McCoy. I haven’t said he was autistic, either. Then I said that Data was partially modelled on Spock, because the character was highly popular and TNG wanted someone similar. An android is an easy excuse for having a ‘logical, not emotional’ character without having to add another Vulcan or to invent another highly logical species.

            Clearly, an android is something different from a human and, as a learning machine, it makes sense that at some point he would want to understand what emotions are – understand it by experiencing them himself, hence he tried to gain them.

    • Juliette Dunn

      Thanks for the links! Yes, while representation is slowly getting better, there are countless terrible examples.

  4. Kim

    Parker, from the tv show Leverage is coded autistic (baring the first episode, but some other characters are a little inconsistent with their portrayals after that episode too). She’s socially awkward, interested in little besides her favorite pastime (stealing–she’s the thief on the crew of heroic criminals), but she’s also shown to care about the people she loves, develops a romance with the crew’s hacker, and generally grows as a person throughout the show. I’m autistic and she’s on of my favorite characters in any medium, and I think of her as a positive portrayal.

    • Juliette Dunn

      She sounds great! I especially like how has loving relationships in the show. That’s important in debunking the “emotionless” stereotype. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Tony

    I’m autistic and I also got autistic vibes from Zuko on Avatar: The Last Airbender and Sarah in Labyrinth. Those probably weren’t intentional, though (and a lot of Sarah’s awkwardness can just be chalked up to smol Jennifer Connelly’s lack of acting experience).

    • Juliette Dunn

      Thanks for your examples!

      • Tony

        Ooh, another example I just remembered is Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes.

  6. J. M.

    I like when a autistic-coded character is portrayed positively. I hate Sheldon Cooper’s misogyny, though, especially as an autistic female. And, like Newt Scamander, I also relate better to animals than people.

    • Juliette Dunn

      Yes, portraying autistic people as not “understanding women” makes me think that many of writers forget that autistic women exist too. I definitely relate to animals better than people as well. They are much easier to understand and show exactly what they mean with their body language rather than concealing their true emotions.

  7. Adam Reynolds

    Abed in Community is one who has actually been called this, though they used the older term Asperger’s. He generally relies on obsessive pop culture knowledge as opposed to understanding of real people, which is played both as a source of comedy and drama depending on the context. One amusing bit was his deconstruction of detective characters who use mental illness as their superpower, in an episode that was a parody/homage to serial killer movies, except that the serial killer was the ass crack bandit.

    Ironically he is also the only one in the group that tested as normal when they all took a psych test.

  8. N

    From what I can tell Lan Wangji, the second protagonist in the show The Untamed, seems autistic coded. He’s an unambiguously positive character who doesn’t like eye contact, really likes rules (although that’s also a function of being raised in a discipline obsessed environment), does not communicate his feelings verbally or through expressions (mainly actions), is uncomfortable with social situations where he has to interpret social cues from strangers. He is however shown to feel deeply even if he has trouble showing it, his son was clearly raised in a loving environment (and is probably the best adjusted kid in the show honestly), and he memorably breaks a lot of the rules imposed on him by others as he develops his own understanding of morality. And for all his discomfort with social cues he grows to be arguably more empathetic and less judgemental than many of the politically-savvy friendly characters. He doesn’t have a demonstrable “weird” special interest, but he is fond of rabbits. I don’t know if the coding was intentional or if we’re reading too much into it? For what it’s worth his love interest is ADHD-coded and there’s another positive character who “thinks differently” because his “soul was partly stolen by a fairy”.

    • Juliette Dunn

      Thanks for your example! Whether coding is intentional or not, if you connect and relate to a character then headcanoning them as autistic isn’t reading too much into it at all. I haven’t seen this show but from what you describe it sounds like the character is autistic. That’s cool that this show has neurodiverse characters, even if they are not directly stated to be as such.

  9. Em

    (This got long, sorry in advance folks)
    Gotta throw in some of my favourite autistic-coded characters here, I guess

    – The Doctor, more or less all incarnations. Eleven is my favourite example (also my favourite in general but still), and Thirteen is a really good one as well. Could write an essay, not going to.
    – Spock. Looking through previous comments, that particular example seems a little controversial. He is actually not compleletly emotionless, although I see why people percieve him like that. The reboot makes it pretty clear that he does have emotions – very strong ones at that – but simply keeps trying to push them down and hide them. Kind of relatable, if I’m gonna be honest.
    – Connor from Detroit: Become Human. Yes, he is an android and that’s not ideal. But compared to most other androids in the game, he is wayyyy more autistic-coded from the very beginning (hard time dealing with people and emotions, loner, sees the world in black and white, sarcasm flies over his head, stims with a coin…) whereas the rest seem “neurotypical”. Also, he’s snarky, funny and has a compelling story, and is a major favourite for many players, soo… I’ll keep him, thankyouverymuch.

    And last but absolutely not least:
    -Leo Fitz from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Absolute sweetheart, socially awkward darling, wonderful amazing gold-hearted Okay, I’ll stop there. Just had to get it out. But seriously, he is Very autistic-coded – google “aos fitz autistic” and like, the first thing that shows up is a long meta tumblr post analyzing his autistic traits. Good stuff.

    I have a lot more headcanons, and a whole bunch of characters in my own sci-fi story in progress, but I’ll stick to the more obviously coded ones for now.
    Yes, I see that I only have one human character out of four. Yes, I see that the Thirteenth Doctor is my only female example. I blame it on the writers. (My own main character and her mentor are both autistic women. I can’t seem to write neurotypical POV characters, but I honestly prefer it like that.)

    Time to stop rambling and hit submit. (That’s what happens when you’re both autistic and ADHD)

    • Juliette Dunn

      Thanks for all the examples! It’s a nice list. And yes, it’s definitely a problem that most autistic coded characters are male, white, and cishet, or non-human (or both). I’m very glad that you write neurodivergent characters; we need more of them

    • ALB

      I *love* the idea of the Doctor (or specific incarnations thereof) being coded autistic! I’ll have to think further about it, but saw it instantly.

      Maybe you should write that essay…

      • ALB

        Wait, gotta make that two hearts

  10. Yoshi Goodman

    I was surprised not to see Temperance Brennan from the show Bones show up in the comments, though maybe I missed it.

  11. Annie

    My favourite autistic-coded character in anything has to be Holby City’s Henrik Hanssen. They may never use the word “autism”, but still, he’s a textbook case: struggles with socialising, has sensory issues, lacking in empathy*, uses echolalia, stims a lot, etc. etc. He also canonically has OCD, which is often comorbid with autism.

    (* – He is also literally the only character I’ve ever seen who portrays that properly. The show constantly points out that just because Henrik can’t empathise with other people doesn’t mean he can’t be kind to them and care about them. It’s some pretty groundbreaking stuff honestly, and basically a giant middle finger to Big Bang Theory.)

    The actor, Guy Henry, plays it really well, too. It’s not some half-assed “oh, I’m playing an autistic character! I’ll just act like a robot then, same thing right?” kind of thing, it actually feels /real/. It’s almost hard to believe he’s not autistic IRL, and I don’t say that lightly. The ways Henrik moves and talks are so much like the ways I (and other autistic people I know) move and talk. There was even one episode where Henrik had a meltdown and even that – something I never thought an allistic actor could pull off – was perfectly acted. It’s amazing.

    (Henrik is also Jewish and implicitly bisexual, so that’s nice: no straight-white-male stereotype here!)

    • Makhno

      Re the “lacking in empathy” thing: autistic people lack _cognitive_ empathy. Affective empathy is a whole other kettle of fish.

      I’m (probably) not autistic (have been mistaken for it), but I am low-cog-high-affect, and learning about the distinction was a real lightbulb moment. One of many happy legacies from my time working in disability support.

      • Annie

        Actually, that’s not 100% true. I’m autistic and I don’t feel affective empathy. The character I’m talking about doesn’t seem to either (there have actually been scenes in the show where he’s talked about not being able to share in people’s feelings). So it was an accurate descriptor here.

        To explain it with an analogy: empathy in autism is a bit like sensory sensitivities – lots of people are very hyper-sensitive to empathy/sensory stimuli respectively, but there are also people who are very under-sensitive. (And then some people are both hyper-sensitive to some types of sensory stimuli and under-sensitive to other types – and the same goes for empathy, which is where the low-cog-high-affect idea comes in.) Autistic minds tend to work in extremes like that.

  12. Kristen

    Great article! I don’t think I’m autistic, but I have very strong social anxiety and see some similarities between that and traits a couple of my friends (who have Asbergers) have. It’s interesting to see the protagonist from the Perks of Being a Wallflower on your list. I think I relate the most to Newt, though, because I love animals, have to force myself to make eye contact with people, and care about others’ feelings yet feel awkward making friends.

  13. Javi

    I am autistic and I love Sheldon Cooper. Which entails with to the reflection that there is no such a thing as “the autistic community”.

    • Juliette Dunn

      We are all individuals and have different opinions, yes, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an autistic community. You don’t have to agree with every single thing a community thinks in order to be a part of it. There’s no rule book that says “Thou shalt not praise Sheldon Cooper.” Being a part of the autistic community just means you are autistic and connect with other autistics. The diversity of opinions just goes to show that we are full, individual humans.

  14. ryan

    I’m autistic and the two characters that instantly pop into my head are:

    Spike from Land Before Time. DEFINITELY not perfect rep (especially for a non-verbal character), but the first two movies* were a huge part of my childhood so I have a soft spot.

    And Billy from the Power Rangers remake. This is cheating a bit because he explicitly says he’s “on the spectrum” at one point, but he’s still the best rep I’ve seen in mainstream/non-indie/self-published media. It’s not perfect, the social awkwardness is played up a bit too much for my taste, I have mixed feelings about making him the Heart of the Team character, and he’s, well, a he, BUT:

    He’s NOT a white guy, he’s portrayed extremely sympathetically, and whatever I feel about his heart of the team status and *plot point I can’t talk about because spoiler*, it puts him in a feminine-coded role that he actively embodies. He does emotional labor, which is really nice to see from both a male character and an autistic one. It’s a nice break from the “autistic people are emotionless, borderline sociopathic automatons” trope (stares at sheldon cooper and fervently wishes the show was never made).

    Another thing I really like about the movie is that no one makes a big deal out of it. The other characters just roll with it. There are plenty of criticisms to level at that movie, but I will always unapolagetically love it for Billy’s character. The nostalgia (MMPR was a special interest of mine when I was a kid) is a nice bonus, but Billy was so great I’ll always enjoy the movie based on him and his arc…

    …it’s also why I’m so mad they scrapped plans for a sequel and decided to do another reboot if they do another one at all.

    As for curious case of a dog in the night, I have to admit I vehemently disagree with the article. It’s one of the very few books I’d poof out of existence if I ever got a magic wand (the rest of that list is comprised of everything Ayn Rand ever wrote)

    Kaia Sonderby wrote a couple of novels with an ownvoices autistic lead and while they’re not perfect, they’re the best book!rep I’ve ever found. Well worth picking them up if you can.

    *I’m aware that more sequels exist, but we don’t talk about those.

    • Juliette Dunn

      Thanks for your thoughts! I loved The Land Before Time as a child; it was one of my favorite movies, and I agree the sequels are nothing like the original and quite annoying.

      Thanks for your input on Curious Case. This was just my personal opinion, and everyone has their own. I completely understand why you hate it and would wish it wasn’t written. The author did a disservice by not doing research. Also, 100% agreed on poofing Ayn Rand’s books from existence. Worst author ever xD

      I’ll check out the Kaia Sonderby books, thanks for recommending them!

  15. Angelo Pardi

    Honestly Sheldon Cooper looks like an average hard scientist to me, which also happen to be a jerk and particularly talented.
    I mean unless like half the PhD students in my laboratory are autistic, Big Bang theory just does a good job of portraying caricature scientists.

    (Also as far as I remember Sheldon is only ever attracted to one woman – he is still a chauvinistic prig though.)

    • Bubbles

      I actually have to wonder how probable it would be for half the PhD students in a given laboratory to be autistic. I’m not entirely sure.

    • Dinwar

      It may be that certain labs attract that sort of personality. The scientists I’ve interacted with (in school, the private sector, and in my personal life) have been very different from Sheldon–easy-going, open to change, willing to cooperate, etc.

      Honestly, the movie “Evolution” is a more accurate depiction of the average scientist in my experience than TBBT.

  16. Dernhelm

    As someone with an Asperger diagnosis, I think one of the best scenes illustrating why I’ve spent so much time trying to hide it comes from this scene in Hotel Transylvania 2:

    Basically, Mavis is a vampire married to a human, and when meeting his parents for the first time they try to show how “progressive” they were whilst being completely patronizing and also inviting over other human/monster couples that have nothing in common with Mavis other than being monsters, just based on the idea that monsters will naturally get along or similar.

    Basically takes me right back to all the times in school when they’d try and lump me in with mentally disabled kids and physically disabled kids with otherwise normal intelligence, and because of my diagnosis many people seem to simultaneously think that I’m a math and coding genius (I’m not, I hate math) whilst also being too dumb to have normal social interactions with people.

    It’s funny how Mavis isn’t coded as Autistic in any way, but that scene really resonated with me.

    • J. M.

      Dude, as another autistic person, I feel your pain. Something like that happened to me, too. My middle school years were awful. But yeah, I don’t tell people that I’m autistic immediately either, because they’ll usually say, “Oh, you don’t look autistic!” or “Don’t worry, you’re awesome” as if being autistic and being awesome were mutually exclusive.

      • Dernhelm

        Yes, and this is why I’m so frustrated at seeing Aspergers syndrome being merged with the autism diagnosis, because it essentially lumps everyone on the spectrum into one single stereotype, and that stereotype often boils down to a teenage boy (because girls and old people on the spectrum are invisible) with a Spock haircut who is a genius at math/computer programming/some other stem-field but can’t speak normally and acts like a gorilla if he’s disturbed by something random.

        Like, I can’t identify with any of that, so I’ve seen people who just assume I don’t have any diagnosis and I’m just stupid when I find situations where I’m required to guess what others think of me stressful, or that I’m just oversensitive and think too much when I see patterns others don’t pick up on, and my main problem when talking to other people isn’t that I can’t talk normally, or is afraid of talking at all, but that I end up talking too much and annoying people by ranting about something that doesn’t interest them, and not realizing it before I’ve already ruined the situation.

  17. Alex McGIlvery

    From a somewhat different angle, I have had the privilege of working with a couple of authors who identify as being on the spectrum. It was fascinating to see how they put together their characters, and how they portrayed characters who were not on the spectrum.

    I also noted in the comments that the best representations of characters on the autistic spectrum are those where the character is themselves first, and autism is only a small part of that. They are recognizable, but don’t fit the assumptions. A goal I strive for with all my writing.

    Thanks for a great discussion.

  18. Kathy Ferguson

    Thank you for this interesting analysis. I wonder what you think of the idea that Seven of Nine is, metaphorically, coded as autistic? The lack of social skills, complex inner life but difficulty communicating it, scientific brilliance, use of general intelligence to analyze or compensate for interpersonal deficiencies…these could suggest she is “like” an autistic person but the possibility never comes up because all of her traits are full explained by being raised by the Borg. I find her very likable, even with the ridiculous outfit. So could we think of Seven as an indirect way of presenting autistic traits in a positive manner?

  19. ALB


    Murderbot is clearly autistic, and I love it. This passage:

    He said, “Why don’t you want us to look at you?”
    My jaw was so tight it triggered a performance reliability alert in my feed. I said, “You don’t need to look at me. I’m not a sexbot.”
    Ratthi made a noise, half sigh, half snort of exasperation. It wasn’t directed at me. He said, “Gurathin, I told you. It’s shy.”
    Overse added, “It doesn’t want to interact with humans.”

    Gurathin turned to me. “So you don’t have a governor module, but we could punish you by looking at you.”
    I looked at him. “Probably, right up until I remember I have guns built into my arms.”

    Murderbot is introduced as a robot, but it becomes clear that it’s very much human in its thoughts and emotions, although physically heavily augmented.

    Media, mostly soap operas, are its self-soothing mechanism, which is another big tell. I’m autistic/ADD and married to an autistic, and I totally understand that *mediated* human behavior and emotion — safely distanced by a screen and a pause button, and safely controlled by a predictable narrative arc — are a lot easier to handle than real humans.

  20. Ennis

    The titular character of Doc Martin is almost outright stated to be autistic, and I think one of the most nuanced portrayals I’ve ever seen (I’ve been binging the series lately). He has a neurotypical love interest and their relationship is… interesting. I actually get a bit stressed watching it sometimes because I completely understand where he’s coming from and it’s hard to watch the clash of personalities precisely because it feels so realistic.

  21. Elena

    I just wanted to know : how did you code those characters as autistic?
    I hope you see this message and will be able to answer, it’s for a school work

    • Julia M.

      I’m autistic, and what makes these characters code with me, is that many of them stim, like I do, many of them are socially awkward, and a lot of them have stereotypically “autistic” behaviors, like an obsession with math.

      • Elena Thonner

        Thank you so much for you reply!
        Sorry I’m just answering now… If you have examples from recent movie characters, don’t hsitate, I’m doing my thesis on this subject to try and change things slowly (like you know, autistic kids are often depicted in horror movies and stuff…). I know the way autism is represented might have an influence on how people understand and see the whole thing, and my goal is to show the viewers how different and diverse ASD can be

  22. Juniper

    There’s a few important notes to grasp in the vast differences between Sheldon (who’s interest is Physics, not astronomy- just a side note) and Newt. First, I do find Sheldon to be written in an unsuitable manner, eccentric in ways that aren’t real, but this is fantasy. However, it’s important to note some very extreme differences between British Culture and American. In the US there exists a consumerism that is unprotected from corporate rule and a DIY society with an everyone for themselves sort of untethered individualism. Someone who grew up in this may not realise they’re playing as part of a very competitive structure and without understanding social nuances may do it very poorly. There is also this reward for “selling” one self. These things are quite the opposite in the UK. One is rewarded for acting with humility and cleverness and ethically and the consumer is much more protected, including their privacy. This creates a completely different behaviour of engagement. In the US you are rewarded for assertion, go big or go home. In the UK, a type of discreet covertness almost. And it might only be the savant who can be let wild in the US to find a degree of success, it is worth noting that with Newt must learn to fight and Sheldon ethics.

  23. Jeppsson

    I have another character for your list! Nicholas Cage’s unnamed main character in the movie “Willy’s Wonderland”, which Husband and I watched yesterday.
    Seems like it got a lot of bad reviews, but we thought it was really entertaining. It’s a horror-comedy, and really over-the-top, but all the actors play it straight, without the quipping and genre saviness you see in something like Zombieland.
    Anyway, a bunch of people online, both autistic and non-autistic ones, explicitly say they thought the MC was autistic. (Spoilers below)

    Cage’s MC runs over some spikes at the road outside a small-town in the middle of nowhere. The car mechanic says that both towing and fixing the car – he says he found additional faults with it that must be fixed – will cost around a thousand dollars, but alas, the ATM is out of order, and they don’t have internet access. Unsurprisingly, MC doesn’t have a thousand dollars ready in his wallet. Still, he is offered to do a job in exchange for the repair – clean up a very filthy theme restaurant called “Willy’s Wonderland”, owned by a friend of the mechanic.
    The restaurant owner tells MC not to push himself too hard, and be sure to take a break every hour. Still, if he keeps at it all night, he should be done by morning, at which point he gets his car back.

    The MC doesn’t speak a word throughout the movie, and keeps the same facial expression almost all the time. He also sticks rigidly to the agreement, even after the animatronic robots in the theme restaurant comes to life and tries to kill him. There’s a teenage girl, Liv, who breaks into the restaurant (since the mechanic and restaurant owner locked the doors behind him), and gives a long expository speech about how the robots are possessed by evil spirits, and how his car was broken on purpose and he was tricked into accepting the cleaning job in order to be a human sacrifice for the spirits. But even after she tells him all this, he continues to clean. He does end up fighting the robots, one after the other. Every time, he manages to destroy the robot, bins it, and keeps on cleaning.
    He also sticks religiously to the instruction of taking a short break every hour, during which he drinks a can of soda (apparently, he only drinks a single brand of soda – he’s got a bag full of these cans) and plays some arcade game before he resumes cleaning. At one point, his watch alerts him that it’s soda-and-game-time when he and Liv are in the middle of a monster fight, so he leaves Liv to it, until the break is over, at which point he rejoins the fight and kills the monster.

    Long story short, but all Liv’s likewise teenage friends are incredibly stupid and end up killed in classic slasher-movie fashion, but Liv makes it to the end (we ealsy learn she’s an orphan whose parents were sacrificed when she was little). When the evil cult members return with the MC:s car (they really have fixed it up, but only because it’s a nice car and they intended to keep it for themselves), and find out that not only is he alive and all the possessed robots dead, the place really IS cleaned up and absolutely spotless, they’re so dumbfunded that they just hand him the car back.

    Liv decides to go with him, and the last we see is that he gives her one of his precious sodas.

  24. Rose Keith

    Unfortunately, there is no realistic way for Newt to be confirmed as autistic within the films; “Fantastic Beasts” takes place in 1926; autism was not described until 1943 (the word autism was first used in 1908, but at that time was used to describe withdrawn behaviour in studied schizophrenic patients). Actor confirmation and intent in portrayal are about the best we can get, since within the setting there wasn’t the language or awareness to identify, let alone understand, what was different about him.
    I can actually imagine this being used compellingly in other people’s works, particularly given how a diagnosis is often a relief for autistic people, as it gives them a clearer model for understanding themselves, and lets them know they are not alone in many of the things which set them apart. So I imagine it could be an interesting aspect of an autistic character in a historical or fantastical setting in which autism is unknown to show them struggling to make sense of themselves, wondering whether something is wrong with them, if this is just who they are, if there are others like them, and without any clear answers available. It could also be interesting to see how other characters, both those close to them and strangers, react to and interact with them, and how others view this thing for which they have no name or even clear definition.

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