Autism in Fiction

Inigo Montoya

I kind of tackled this in 2015 with a Questions 3 post.  I didn’t really go into my own thoughts and details though.  Also, I’ve learned a lot and my beliefs back then might have changed.  As my son gets older and grows, I start seeing newer aspects of autism.  This changes how I see it when presented in fiction too.  Although, I want to first mention an early exposure to autism in fiction.

The movie was called ‘Mercury Rising’ and it came out in 1998.  I watched it in VHS in college with a few friends.  We didn’t get very far because it included an autistic child (not played by an autistic child) that broke a secret code or something.  That meant he was being hunted and Bruce Willis had to protect him, which sounded like a cool idea.  The reason we had trouble watching is because they went for the high-pitched screaming autism a lot.  To be fair, this was in the late 90’s where autism was seen differently and we were freshmen in college.  We didn’t know what we were looking at, but it felt like it was too much and broke a lot of the scenes.  Now, I’d have a better time watching it if the overall story interested me.

This experience led to me realizing that it’s difficult to portray autism in fiction because of preconceived notions and beliefs.  Especially back then, people would think of autism in one of three ways:

  1. The Powder Keg–  A person who is constantly on the verge of being triggered into a meltdown.  They can get violent with nearly superhuman strength and nobody can see it coming.
  2. Rain Man–  They avoid eye contact and talk in an almost child-like style.  All of them are amazing at counting, but they can be set off like the Powder Keg.  Only they’re more likely to simply shriek and maybe run away.  This tends to be connected with a non-autistic friend or relative that people are supposed to either for sympathy or respect for since they have such a ‘burden’.
  3. The High Functioning Savant–  They’re autistic, but they’re geniuses.  Sure, they have blunt and quirky social skills.  Maybe they demonstrate no emotion or can be pushed to the point of needing to hide.  Yet, they are incredibly smart and able to solve any problem presented to them.  In fact, autism here is seen as a sign that the person has an incredibly high intelligence.  I’ve actually heard people say that you can’t be a genius without a little autism.

The truth is that all three are stereotypes, which are typically done to give make the character eccentric and stand out.  It gets used to excuse certain actions such as blunt honesty and extreme stubbornness.  Creators might not even say autism, but use the template and expect the audience to make that conclusion.  This can give them some cover to say that they never claimed the character was autistic, so people can’t say it was a poor presentation.  Sheldon Cooper from ‘Big Big Theory’ is a good example where they never said it, but many people believe the character has it.  I will say that they did get him to change and reduce his autistic habits as the show progressed, but this still brings up another issue.

The problem is that autistic characters show up most often in comedies.  Their habits and behaviors are played up for laughs, which can make people feel like autism is funny to see in the real world.  Once they meet someone with autism, they get confused at how it isn’t what they expected or laugh.  This stems from comedy working off exaggerations and cherry-picking, which is common for many groups.  With autism, it creates an issue due to your average person not understanding much of it in the first place.  There’s not a strong enough base to make it clear that what Sheldon does is exaggerated or designed for laughs, so a person may think that’s how it works.  Now, a more dramatic autistic character can be taken seriously, but those types are typically designed to be high-functioning savants.  You run into that misconception issue again.

The best way to tackle an autistic character is to do your research and get a sense of how their minds work.  I believe the foundation is how the character would see the world and react to their challenges.  Their external behaviors are related to that, but an author needs to create some context.  You don’t have to openly call it autism either.  Also, you should make it that being autistic isn’t their only trait.  Show that they can grow and change like every other character because that’s how reality works.  They may evolve differently or in unexpected directions, but they still grow and become stronger.

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Using Lists Within WordPress Reader

Hola, SEers. Not only is it Cinco de Mayo, but it’s also a Mae Day on Story Empire. I’m delighted  you’ve chosen to join me. If you’re a WordPress …

Using Lists Within WordPress Reader
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Teaser Tuesday: A Monster Comes A-Calling #vampires #fantasy

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

Welcome back!  Today’s excerpt from War of Nytefall: Savagery shows a small confrontation.  Noticing that a lot of these are showing what Alastyre is up to instead of Clyde, but he’s the new face.  Also, I can’t show one of the side stories here because it starts with a big reveal.  Enjoy.

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Autism and Parenting: Here We Go

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I was asked by Bia Bella Baker to talk about my knowledge of autism.  This was back in March, so it’s taken me a while to get to it.  I actually wrote it the same day, but kept it pushed back until now to work on it more.  The reason is because I find it tough to call myself knowledgeable about autism.  Let me explain:

I work with autistic students who are at various levels of the spectrum.  I’m the parent of an autistic child who is high on the spectrum.  I’ve taken classes on how to work with these kids and learned from own experiences as a parent.  Yet, I can’t stand here and declare myself as someone who can talk about length about autism.  Part of it is because I don’t have it, so I’m still viewing it from the outside.  Also, it’s a spectrum for a reason and that’s because it’s not the same for everyone.  My son responds to a reward system to help him deal with transitions and minimize negative behavior.  Others don’t care about such things, so you need to find alternatives to helping them.  So, I can only talk about what I know, which could be entirely different from another special needs parent.  Guess this is a long disclaimer.

Truthfully, the biggest tool in a parent’s belt is patience.  There will be great days and nightmarish days, but you need to be patient and calm.  Not all the time though because you will sip at times.  It can be stressful and nearly every parent has a moment where they yell or cry or make a mistake.  This can be painful and disheartening, but it isn’t the end of the relationship.  Mostly because it can be a shock to their system, which may trigger a meltdown.  You walk away feeling like you’re a terrible parent.  Thankfully, this is temporary because you remember that you love your child once you calm down and return with a clearer mind.  At least, that’s what should happen.  There are situations where a great mistake occurs.

One thing that I think people believe is that those who are autistic can’t feel emotions.  I’ve met parents of autistic children who act like they’re working with a heartless rock when that’s not the case.  Even someone who is nonverbal has emotions.  They can get scared and angry and sad.  They can be happy and recognize that they are loved even if they don’t understand the emotion.  A parent who loses their patience can do damage if they don’t return to show that they still love the child.  Soft voices, hugs, kisses, or anything that will show you aren’t angry.  It really depends on the child.  This is essential regardless of if a child understands the words because they will read faces and voice tone.  Again, this is from my own experience.

Now, you might be wondering about the picture since I’m saying mistakes happen.  Well, that is true, but there’s a difference between mistakes and being a shitty parent.  I’m being kind of blunt, but I’ve seen it happen.  First, you have parents of autistic children who deny that they have it.  This results in them forcing the child into situations that they can’t handle without adjustments or are beyond the skills that they have.  They won’t suddenly learn everything they need, so damage is done to their progress.  Sometimes it creates negative behaviors that are impossible to reduce or eliminate by the time they are older teens or adults.  Commonly, those with autism need routine or steadiness, so they won’t break away from their comfort zone even if it includes negative behavior.  I feel that this is easier to handle when the child is younger because all kids are dependent on their parents early on.  So, they won’t feel different from their peers when their behavior is being adjusted, rewarded, or punished.

Let’s get to the punishment part now.  By punishment, I mean the removal of something that they enjoy.  I’ve done this before and it’s a habit I try really hard to break.  This is fairly self-explanatory because we’re used to it from long ago.  We do something bad and get grounded or having something we love taken away.  This makes us not want to make that mistake again.  With autism, you’re coming up against a variety of factors that can include impulsivity, inability to connect actions with consequences, and anxiety in regards to transitions. So, they may impulsively do something wrong.  The parent bans their favorite TV show for a month, but they can’t see that this is associated with their actions, especially if their mistake wasn’t TV show related.  All they know is that they are being punished and their comfort zone has changed, so they are upset.  This can be traumatizing and lead to more negative behaviors instead of reduction.  Parents who continue doing this when it clearly increases anxiety become a problem, especially if they refuse to stop in the face of growing issues.  For example, a child making a mistake and going right into a meltdown due to fearing punishment before an adult can respond.

It’s better and more effective to go with a reward system that is immediate.  Stickers, candy, TV time, and anything else that is simple and they love will work.  I’ve done sticker systems with my son to help him with eating.  When he earns enough, he can earn a bigger prize such as a Funko Pop or Lego set.  The reason this differs from punishment is because it’s all positive.  For example, a child refuses to eat dinner and you respond by taking away their favorite bath toy until they do what they’re told.  Even if you get them to eat, it isn’t a strong achievement and can fall apart due to it being a negative creation.  Instead, you tell them that they get a sticker of their choice for every meal that they eat.  Now, failing doesn’t result in them losing something that they already have.  It means they didn’t earn a sticker and can try again the next day.  The more times they succeed, the stronger the positive behavior is.  Of course, it’s important to explain this to them and be consistent.  I was told recently that you want to have the rewards be solely for that event too.  This is why I have candy for my son eating his lunch and stickers for breakfast since the two meals have different issues.

I’ve just kind of ranted here, so I hope I made some good points.  Parenting an autistic child is always a challenge that changes as time progresses.  You find new methods or the child develops new habits, so you never know what the day will hold.  That’s why patience is important as well as accepting that this is how your child is.  Not to the point where you don’t try to help them learn and develop coping mechanisms.  Acceptance means that you understand that things will difficult and you need to focus on the child that you have instead of the one you wished you had.  That sounds cruel, but I’ve met a few parents of autistic children who talk about curing them and gaining the child that they always dreamed of.  Hurts my heart there because while these parents are thinking of a child that doesn’t and will never exist, they are ignoring the unique child that they have.

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Capturing Emotions by Using Personal Experiences

Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about ways to capture character emotions. I briefly touched on using personal …

Capturing Emotions by Using Personal Experiences
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Into The Dark by Robert Hookey #newbook

Today I am delighted to welcome Robert Hookey (known in some circles as The Hook) to Fiction Favorites. I am happy for a couple of reasons. The first…

Into The Dark by Robert Hookey #newbook
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The Spy of Windemere . . . Sort Of

James Bonds

Long ago, I was in high school.  Not the greatest intro to this post, but that’s when this character first arrived.  You can guess the inspiration.  If ‘Immortal Wars’ came from my love of superheroes and sci-fi, ‘Mylrix’ came from fantasy, and ‘Sin’ came Legend of Zelda then this one came from the oddball interest.  James Bond!

You see, I didn’t get into the James Bond movies until high school when my parents rented ‘Goldeneye’.  I was amazed at the action, humor, and colorful characters.  I began watching the older ones whenever I could find them, which lead to me wanting to write my own spy novels.  Of course, it’s the kind of spy who everyone seems to know the identity of and blows up half a city by the time he’s done.  Mostly, I wanted to write action scenes with modern weapons and high risks.  You didn’t get that when you were working with either fantasy or immortals.  Guess this series was my earliest ‘Bedlam’ deviation.

Well, I had a blast designing him and added him to a crossover series as well.  I even tried to play him in a superhero role-playing game, which failed horribly.  All of the superpowered characters began threatening each other and trying to fight, so the story never got off the ground.  It was a shame because that version gave me a great idea of the spy’s abilities if he started with enough training.  This was also the beginning of his slide into mental obscurity.

I jumped entirely into fantasy and began merging my worlds into Windemere.  It was easy for the vampires and other fantasy worlds to carry over.  The superheroes are doable even if they still give me issues.  The alien bounty hunter is a possibility with some stretching unless I leave her alone.  Even the magic-based cowgirl has been transferred over.  The spy . . . It was that damn gun and dependence on high tech.  Not only for his actions, but his stories.  I had bizarre missiles, space adventures, computer viruses, motorcycle chases, and a wild array of tools for every adventure.  For some reason, it never seemed to work when I had him do it with magic.  Just didn’t feel natural for him.

The result was that I began harvesting him.  Slapped his name on another character.  Gave his appearance to another.  It really hurt to cannibalize him for other series.  That might be why I kept going back and gave myself some outs.  Deep down, I knew I wanted him to come back.  His name always ended up on the list of projects too.  Little did I know it would take about 15 years for things to snap into place.

You see, I wanted a good foil for Sin when he showed up in the Sister Cities during ‘The Ether Thief’.  I needed someone fast and cunning with a range weapon, but also one that could see through most of his tricks.  Another thief didn’t fit the bill because I wanted them on the other side of the law.  This brought my spy back into action along with the creation of the Peacekeepers:

This is the group who protects the Sister Cities of Serab.  This would be Gaia, Spellstream, Freedom, Everthorne, Nevra Coil, and Gods’ Voice.  Peacekeepers are a special force of agents who are sent to investigate suspicious activity with the direct orders of the Serabian Duke.  They use six-shooters, which makes them the only groups who are able to use firearms in Windemere.  The technology is heavily restricted by magic and the gods, who can erase it if they feel it’s getting out of hand.  This is done through bullets dissolving within seconds of being fired, pistols exploding if they are touched by the wrong person, and memory wipes on anyone who retires.  It felt like this was a place where my spy could thrive.

Of course, I didn’t think I’d give him his own series until I finished outlining all of ‘The Ether Thief’.  I saw an opening to give him a spin-off.  Without going into spoilers, I found a way to give him a 6 book (1 for each main movie Bond) series like he used to have.  Took me 2 weeks to pour through the old adventures and come up with fantasy equivalents for the threats.  I’m going to keep these simple too with each one being only 14 chapters.  I just want to have fun writing this and hopefully people will enjoy it.  Won’t be something I write for a long time.  All I have right now are characters and the titles:

  1. Arctic Heart
  2. Narcissist Way
  3. Void Contagion
  4. Rage Balance
  5. Greed Drive
  6. Chamber Chase

Hopefully, I can get it all outlined by the summer.  It’s what I do when I have a free period during work.  So, it might take a while.

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Goal Post: Didn’t Achieve a Single Thing

Where to even begin?

Well, I didn’t really achieve any of my goals from last week.  Even the time with my son thing because there was so much to do.  I could count all the studying and homework, but that was most of the time.  Today is the first day I get to relax with the little guy since Sunday.  It’s been that crazy, which means there isn’t much to really report here that would be of interest.

The big reason is that work was busy and that issue I mentioned last week was still rearing its head.  It might have solved itself.  My son had a lot to do as well.  Two tests yesterday and two more coming up.  We’ve been studying and he’s been going to extra help, so we’re exhausted by the time we get to our nightly cartoons.  He has little kid energy to get through things, but I’ve got tired father fatigue.  I tended to pass out soon after he did, so I had no time to myself.  At most, I wanted a random sitcom while letting the anxiety fade away.  No energy to outline, work on puzzles, or bike.  Ended up dozing off on the exercise bike during my one attempt on Wednesday.  Figured that was a sign things weren’t going to be happen.

I am happy to report that my son passed the 2 tests he already had.  So, I will say the fatigue is worth it.  He earned some video game time this weekend, but we still have to study for the other tests.  Going to a place where you can see wild ospreys and other wildlife in about an hour, so we get fresh air.  It’s the ‘May the 4th Be With You’ sale at the Lego store too, so that’s a stop.  Snuck a Lego set for myself into the house too.  I’ll post that when I get around to completing it.  Guess that brings me to another idea I’ve been toying with.

I have an Instagram account, but I’m not a picture person.  I can’t put pictures of my son up there without incurring the wrath of his mother.  Not that I’d really put him out in public like that anyway.  I keep trying to put up book covers, but that’s going slow and it’s tough to do by phone.  Beating around the bush here.  I’m thinking of posting the puzzles I finished on there.  It’s kind of lame and has nothing to do with my writing, but it isn’t like I’m getting sales.  People liked the Lego stuff I posted a few days ago, so I figured why not do the puzzles.  I should try to upload more of my books too.  Legends of Windemere is there up to 6.  Have no idea how to do the story thing either.  This is just a thought that I might put into action over the summer.

Did I say I’m using June to do a poem every weekday for one of my books?  Not sure if anyone reacted to that.  Looks like I have another post about Darwin coming a week from tomorrow too.  Going to let it stay even though I brought him up last weekend.  He’s fairly complicated, which I didn’t expect.

Oh, I’m thinking of changing up Do I Need to Use a Dragon? (Fantasy Writing Tips) in terms of art.  Still having trouble finding an artist.  Might have someone over the summer.  My plan now is to have the cover and 4 inside pictures include Fizzle.  I was going to do him on the cover and end then my series (Legends, Nytefall, Ichabod) being shown for each of the big categories.  I realized that this book isn’t primarily about marketing myself, but sharing my experience.  Fizzle is a fan favorite and I think it works better if he’s the focal point for the art.  Makes it easier to come up with ideas.  Locks him in as my mascot too.

Nothing to report as far as TV shows.  Finished ‘Ranma 1/2’ and ‘Shadow & Bone’.  Both were fun.  I had a little trouble with ‘Shadow & Bone’ since it jumped around a bunch at the beginning.  The timeline seemed off with the stories and I found I liked The Dregs with their heist more than the political/social stuff.  I liked the magic system though, so it kept me going through the slower parts.  Not sure what I want to watch next since I don’t want to dive into a big series.  ‘Castlevania’ Season 4 comes out on the 13th, which I have off from work.  So, I want something that can tide me over until then.  Maybe I’ll do ‘Fire Force’ from beginning to end.  That’s about 52 episodes.  Final season of ‘Lucifer’ is at the end of the month too.  Summer will be either ‘Black Clover’ or, dare I try, ‘Inuyasha.  Not sure how many people get any of this.

So, goals of the week?

  1. Studying with son.
  2. Fun this weekend
  3. Outlining ‘Tales of the Slumberlord’
  4. Puzzles
  5. Resting up
  6. Work, which will be busy
  7. Really should do laundry
  8. Swear something else is happening this week
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Betrayal by Accident: That Make It Any Better?

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We all hate it when characters turn out to be traitors.  Betrayal is rarely applauded beyond it being a surprise twist.  At least, it should be, but it can be tough.  Many times, a character who turns out to be a traitor is clearly the type and you can see signs that it’s coming.  Audiences cheer for them to meet a messy end because they’ve caused so much pain and damaged the hero’s progress.  So, what about when a betrayal happens by accident?  Is that the same?

This can come in many forms, but the key point is that the character who turns out to be a traitor didn’t do it with evil intentions.  It could be that they saw the betrayal as necessary to protect others or themselves.  Maybe they were doing what they thought was right and it turns out to be a decision that brands them a traitor.  For example, making a deal with a villain to give them what they want in return for the other heroes surviving.  This stems from a desire to not lose friends, so it isn’t evil.  Audiences will say its foolish, stupid, and short-sighted since you don’t trust the villain of a story.  I think this ignores the fact that characters aren’t supposed to act like they’re in a fictional tale.  That’s why these kinds of mistakes happen.

Still, some people will turn rather angrily on these characters.  It can reach a point where they’re hated more than the original villains.  This makes it difficult to push for their redemption in the eyes of the entire audience.  Authors may see this as a reason to not even try, but that may be a mistake.  This is a great arena for character development on all sides:

  1. The accidental traitor will realize they did something wrong.  Will they try to fix their mistake or accept that they are now with the bad guys?
  2. Those who were betrayed will have emotions to sort through as they change their plans.  Do they becoming angry, disheartened, give up, or find the strength to continue fighting?  What do they do about the traitor and do they realize it was a mistake?  The act of forgiveness is not an easy or universal one.
  3. The villains who masterminded the betrayal may see potential to use their new agent for other purposes.  They wouldn’t cause this event and then act like it never happened.  It was a decisive blow against their enemies, so they are going to think of milking it for more.

Foreshadowing might be necessary to show signs that the character has the personality to commit an accidental betrayal.  Instead of making them selfish or evil, an author can go in the opposite direction.  These characters can reach a point where they want the fighting or suffering to end.  Maybe they refuse to let their new friends die, which they fear will happen if they continue.  It can be seen as a lack of faith in others, but it stems from a fear of losing what one truly cares about.  This is why a deal for the safety of others can be a driving force, which is typically something the villain lies about.  If you make it clear that this was not intentional then most readers will come around and be ready for a redemption arc.  They will want to see the traitor back in the fold after either reversing the damage or preventing another loss.

Personally, I enjoy these twists because they can throw off a story and create a lot of character development.  Relationships are strained even among those who were betrayed because of disagreements in how to handle it.  This allows for a story that is going too smoothly or reaching a point where evolution is difficult to get a necessary jolt.  Now, you have more to work with and it isn’t a typical betrayal.  Being an accident creates a different set of emotions and various responses for the audience to follow.  You can’t really leave the traitor alone until the finale because they aren’t a true villain, but they aren’t a hero any more either.  They land in this limbo that they have to pull out of in order to choose a side once more.  Also, I really do enjoy redemption arcs.

What do you think of accidental betrayals?

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Immortal Wars: Light, Blood, & Tears Part 16

(Disclaimer: A warning to those who continue.  This is a sequel to a previous story.  Both of these were written in the mid-1990’s.  While the first one was slightly edited and vanity press published, this one has not been touched in over 20 years.  I figure I should do something with it and people may get a laugh or fright from how I used to be.  Every author comes from somewhere, so this is part of my origin.  To that end, I am deeply sorry for whatever nightmares I will inflict on the literary world and the American English language.  Enjoy?)

PREVIOUS ENTRY CLICK HERE

“Well, I hope you’re happy.  I now have a lot less respect for you as a murderous immortal,” mentions Cybro as they continue walking down the street.  Draveon just smiles and makes a low snorting noise.

They turn around the corner and see the restaurant that they were looking for.  There is a very large crowd standing right outside.  There are also cameras going off in the crowd and every now and then the sound of girls screaming can be heard above the crowd.  The two immortals are left extremely confused.

“Come on,” whispers Cybro.  Draveon follows him up to the crowd and they try to get through the crowd.  The crowd seems to get thicker and thicker around them as the crowd of people swarm them.  Draveon and Cybro suddenly realize that these people are not attacking them, but asking for autographs.

The crowd starts yelling things like, “You’re a lot bigger in real life.  What’s up with those red contact lenses?  What happened to your accent?  I thought your hair was short instead of long.”

“Sorry, people.  My friend and I are in a rush.  We are very sorry, but we have to go now,” announces Cybro as he gets out of the crowd and into the building.  Draveon manages to get through without giving in to the urge to crush the entire crowd.  Once both of them are safe inside the restaurant they get a table far in the back and somewhat shadow-covered.

“You know what?  I miss when we were still fighting those muggers.  At least criminals I can understand better than fanboys,” whispers Draveon as he takes a deep drink of water.

“I have to agree.  I wonder how Adriana and Tegam are doing.”

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