Geek culture has more than its fair share of autistic characters. Indeed, many autistic people see themselves in Mr. Spock and the Doctor from Doctor Who even though it’s not Autistic Acceptance Month (at the time of writing this) it might be fun to list our top 5 autistic characters in geek culture. Please note that not everyone on this list is confirmed in-universe as autistic. Why not comment on your autistic headcanons below and let’s see if we can get a conversation going? On that note, let’s begin.
Abed from Community
Although Community isn’t technically sci-fi. I feel that Abed (Danny Pudi) is an important enough character to justify being on this list. Troy Barnes’s (Donald Glover) best friend is awesome because of his absolute self-acceptance. Abed is aware that he is different from others but this does not affect how he sees himself. While he is frustrated when others don’t understand him. He is still their friend and is kind and caring towards them; at least in the early seasons. Abed understands the world through movies and pop culture. On a lesser show, this could just be played for cheap gags but here it’s an essential part of who Abed is and what makes him awesome. By Community’s finale, we see Abed take his first tentative steps away from his worlds of fantasy and into the real one. It is heartwarming to watch.
Denise from On The Edge of Gone
Denise is a great portrayal of an ordinary autistic teenager. We see her heroism and desire to help and protect her family throughout this book. Of particular note are the moments when other characters speak down to Denise, or announce that she “can’t be autistic” because of her actions during the novel. This really hit home for me. Denise has no special skills nor is she a plot device. The moment when Denise goes into shutdown after apparently failing to do what she set out to was very relatable. It’s important for audiences to see neurodivergent people as people first and foremost. Corinne Duyvis‘s novel shows us a heroine who doesn’t have all the answers, who melts down when she realises she’s been lied to. Denise is on this list because she busts every Hollywood autism stereotype there is and makes us root for her as she’s doing it.
Dr. Evianna Talirr from The Outside
This character is one of two villains on this list. She is aloof and abrasive. Beneath this, however, is an autistic woman wronged by society. Ev is certainly evil and callous. At first glance we see a typical emotionless autistic villain in the style of Crake from Margaret Atwood‘s MaddAddam trilogy. Then the author Ada Hoffmann treats us to a tender scene in which the protagonist Yasira Shien muses on what has made Dr. Talirr the way she is; and if there is any hope for change. As an autistic person in a world not designed for my neurology, I have to believe there is hope. The Outside is bursting with ingenious concepts. Its emotional core; that of being different in a world that doesn’t understand or accept difference, is every bit as as significant as the science fiction elements. This is why it is great sci-fi.
Tetsuo Shima from AKIRA
The second villain on this list. Although Tetsuo can be seen as representing a mentally distressed character rather than an autistic one. I included him on this list because I saw my teenage self reflected in his inferiority complex and rage at the world. Society in the ’90s did not understand autism and neurodivergence. I identified with Tetsuo’s self flagellating anger and his desire for revenge on the world as well as for its respect. Central to Katsuhiro Otomo‘s AKIRA is a tender brotherly relationship between protagonist Kaneda and Tetsuo pre-psychic abilities. Which Tetsuo recognises and remembers albeit too late. It’s important to remember as autistic people that there are always people who are willing to help us even when it feels like the entire world is against us.
Sherlock Holmes from Elementary
My reason for including Jonny Lee Miller‘s Holmes in lieu of Benedict Cumberbatch‘s version is because I feel that Miller’s Sherlock is a better autistic portrayal. He is clearly emotionally scarred from other people’s reactions to his neurodivergence. Moriarty (Natalie Dormer) emotionally abuses and gaslights Holmes. Causing him to spiral into drug addiction. Sherlock is painfully aware that he is different from everyone else. As a result he is diffident and uncomfortable in his own skin. Despite this, Elementary’s Sherlock Holmes is a good person who cares about others. This is the kind of autistic representation we have always needed.
What characters do you headcanon as autistic? What do you think of the ones I have listed here? Please leave a comment and remember, the meaning of life is…
Check out our article on physical disabilities in sci-fi here
Check out our disabilities in comics and graphic novels article here