Still Scratching My Head on Darwin

Just picked a random picture for this post, which connects to the weekly subject of autism.  Last year, I mentioned that I might be creating an autistic character because I noticed he had similar behaviors to my son.  To be fair, I played this character in a game back in 2001-2002 and have been designing him since.  So, him and his behaviors predate my son.  That is actually not what this post is about though.  It’s just that it seems to always come up.

Anyway . . .

The challenge I’m having is that Darwin Slepsnor could be autistic, but I’m not sure and I don’t know where to go with it.  I worry because he is kind of a comedic character even though he’s the main hero.  This is because he’s impulsive and jumps to conclusions that he refuses to let go of, so he can be kind of silly.  So, I worry that I’m not heading in the right direction, but this is a key part of his personality.  Unlike Luke Callindor and Clyde, Darwin was a helpful, carefree goofball who was excited to be on an adventure that he barely comprehended the scope of.  He was with friends and had fun with a slight emotional distance from the negative things.  It will definitely be a different hero than what I typically write.  Yet, there are what could be autistic tendencies:

  1. Rigidity in Thought–  In the game, the group came across a bridge that was clearly broken by the boulder sitting in it.  Darwin didn’t roll well because he didn’t have a lot of common sense, so he said a dragon did it.  The rest of group argued with him and pointed out the boulder, but he simply stated that the dragon obviously dropped the boulder.  So, he would adjust, but stick to his first answer, especially if he was excited or annoyed.  Is this autistic?  It shows how he won’t budge from what he wants or thinks even if it’s wrong.  I’ve seen this in many autistic students.
  2. Lack of Social Grace–  While he has a general concept of how to act in public, Darwin doesn’t understand limits.  He will ask awkward questions and make comments even if they are not on topic.  If people get annoyed, he won’t really understand why until someone explains it later.  He might get upset himself because he’s gotten himself in trouble.  Sometimes, an autistic child has been scolded or punished so much that even the thought that they made a mistake will cause a meltdown.  Given that Darwin’s parents aren’t going to think much of him and see him almost as an embarrassment, it could be that this is the case.
  3. No Sense of Danger–  Darwin won’t always realize that he’s in physical trouble, especially if he’s focused on something else.  Not sure if this is a standard autistic trait, but I’ve seen it with kids crossing the street.  They’re focused on getting to their destination, so they go without looking.  I guess this is more about not being fully aware of their surroundings when their minds are on something else.  Darwin can be rather oblivious to details unless it’s something he’s really interested in, so this could be a part of it too.
  4. Savant?–  I really worry that I’m doing this with him because he’s going to be a unique type of caster.  He might just be a channeler with a specialty, but it’s one that has never been seen before.  Darwin has no training and works off instincts, which could work in regards to magic since those with natural talent (Song Casters, Channelers, Cronus, etc.) are similar.  They can create new spells on the fly too.  Maybe this isn’t as big an issue as I thought.

Those are what Darwin can do, but I really don’t know if that means he’s autistic.  Weird how I’m analyzing a character in my head.  The problem is that he doesn’t really have meltdowns and I haven’t given him any sensory overload issues.  From my own experience and training, those with autism do best with routine and stability.  So, would someone with autism go on a series of adventures where there is no routine and an almost constant stream of new experiences?  That sounds insulting, especially after taking my son on trips, but those didn’t involve magic battles and demons.  We also had an itinerary that gave him an idea of what’s happening.  These adventures could be Darwin trying to push out of his routine since he now has magic and gets a taste of helping others.  I feel like I should give him some meltdown triggers if I want to go this way such as sensitive to smells or a tactile issue.  A restricted diet could work, which makes him difficult when camping.  Again, I have to figure out if he’s going to be on the spectrum or not then if such a person would go on an adventure.

Could I be overthinking this?  I won’t be using the term in the book because I don’t think it would get used in Windemere.  That also places a lot onto Darwin’s shoulders, which is dangerous for a character I write with humor.  Maybe I should just write the character and see where the pieces fall.  The outlines are coming along slowly and I’ve made marks of areas where I can put things if I want.  Guess I just needed to vent a bit because I don’t want to insult anyone, but I also want Darwin to come out right.  Feels like this is a part of him that I need to figure out and he’s being difficult.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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14 Responses to Still Scratching My Head on Darwin

  1. V.M.Sang says:

    Does it matter if he fits into a particular niche, in this case, autism? Since you say the word isn’t used in the book, people will put him into whatever niche they feel he fits in. And should he be in a niche at all? He’s who he is. Unless you want to make him autistic, and use characteristics that are definitely autistic, I personally don’t think it matters.

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    • I do think it matters for consistency. That’s the whole problem. The way I played him in the game and the way he should be in the book have some autistic tendencies. Not my intention, but it’s how he came out. This means he can’t operate the same way as my other heroes unless I eliminate the tendencies, but that means he’s no longer Darwin. The word doesn’t have to be used for it to be present too. I think it’s better that way because it normalizes autism instead of making it an outlier that requires a spotlight.

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  2. Writing the character and then see what happens sounds like the best course of action. Have a super week.

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  3. I read what VM Sang said, and kind of lean that direction. Not explaining everything allows readers to draw some conclusions on their own. Let him be who he needs to be. He’s got to be viable already or you wouldn’t be dwelling on him to this degree. I’m sure you’ll handle it well.

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    • I get it, but autism can be a loaded subject. This is regardless of it being mentioned or not in the story. For example, Sheldon was never stated to be autistic, but many people use him as an example of one in either a negative or positive context. Given how Darwin acts, that’s what I’m considering, especially since my son is on the spectrum.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I guess my question would be, do you WANT to create a character that closely mirrors your own child? Because writing about real people has its pitfalls.

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    • This is the thing. Darwin was created before my son was born. The only reason I recognize the autistic habits that the character has had since 2000 is because my son has them. This means the question turns into: Do I totally alter the character and rewrite his entire series to suit a new personality because I happened to have a son who mirrors Darwin? Also, a character who sets out to help people, stays positive, faces his fears, and saves the world while having autistic habits doesn’t sound like a bad thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The traits you describe Darwin as having are not universal/extremely common in autistic people, nor are they exclusive to autistic people — plenty of non-autistic people have those traits, too. I think you should just write him the way he is. Some readers will perceive him as autistic because of that, and some won’t.

    (I happen to be autistic, and I would never ‘see myself’ in a character with rigid thinking and no sense of danger, for example. Other autistic people may read about this character and think, ‘I can sooooo relate to that!’)

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    • True. The reason I say it is because my son is like that. Also, many autistic kids I’ve worked with have those traits. So, to me, he can turn into a fictional example, which modern society seems to put under a bright spotlight. That worries me due to my anxiety and other issues.

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  6. Victoria Zigler says:

    I think you’re overthinking this. Plenty of autistic people do have those traits, but so do many people who aren’t autistic.

    So, the way I see it, you have two options:
    1. Just write him as he is, and let people draw their own conclusions as to whether you meant him to be autistic or not.
    2. Openly state that he’s autistic, or openly say that he isn’t.

    Either way, write him as you see him, and just keep his personality consistent throughout.

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