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Portraying Asperger's syndrome in a fantasy world with a non-human character

Discussion in 'World Building' started by rktho, Jul 16, 2018.

  1. rktho

    rktho Troubadour

    In my book, all my characters are dragons. They live in cities dotted about wherever there is a convenient resource-- a river, game for hunting, both, etc.

    My protagonist's cousin Davard is different from other dragons. He has high functioning Asperger's syndrome, but nobody in this medieval dragon world knows what that is, so it's not mentioned by name in the book. I'm wondering what I could do to show Dav's Aspieness beyond just having him state that he's not like other dragons. I know how I want Dav's strangeness to affect his life; it's the specifics I need to get a handle on. So here's a little info on his life so far.

    Dav is the youngest of two in a family that likes to move around. He's lived in three countries and has excellent linguistic skills (there's a great imbalance between his linguistic capacity and his math skills.) His father is a shy metalworker (whose shyness seems disappears whenever he's called on to pretend to be someone other than himself) and his older brother is an apprenticed tracker in the Inquisitorius. The only members of his own species that Dav has lived with his whole life are his parents and brother. So his social skills are even more lacking with his own kind than with other dragon races. However, Dav has lived in his own society long enough that he's become normal-- at least, normal enough not to suspect he isn't. Which is the problem. As a high-functioning autistic, people get turned off by any weirdness he exhibits because they assume it's intentional. And even if they realize it isn't, it still creeps them out. This is the case with Narta Arsetvisha, the girl he's in love with. He's known her for eight years and had feelings for her for nearly that long, and was best friends with her brother. When her brother left to take an apprenticeship in the Inquisitorius, Dav's relationship with Narta suffered and he realized he had been making her increasingly uncomfortable without picking up on the warning signs. He hasn't told her how he feels, but at this point, he wouldn't be surprised if she knows; whether she does or not, it's clear she doesn't have feelings for him.

    Enter Gazi, my protagonist's best friend. She takes an immediate liking to Dav because of his friendly personality, and he hasn't done anything weird enough to turn her off yet. They bond enough that Dav confides in her about Narta. By now Gazi's noticed some of Dav's odder habits, so she feels like she's come to understand Dav and is anxious to help him overcome his awkwardness in any way.

    So... what habits would a dragon with Asperger's syndrome have? How would that condition manifest itself in a dragon in contrast to a human?
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    I don't see why you have to make his autism so different from a human's, especially if you want it recognizable as autism. Maybe Dav stims, or has a hoard of super specific items. He could be especially sensitive to texture, both good and bad.
  3. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    I only have one friend who knowingly has Asperger Syndrome. The main ways it affects him (and the traits with which some people pre-diagnosed him) are: a slightly monotonous tone to his speaking; dyspraxia; a really strong interest in various really specific things (one year he became obsessed with canal boats and the next he decided he was going to rule the lumber industry).

    All traits which are quite distinctive - and would be interest to describe in their head - but wouldnt affect your character’s ability to perform too badly.
  4. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    There are several users on this site with autism (myself included). I'm sure we can provide a long list of things to include. ^^
    DragonOfTheAerie and rktho like this.
  5. HI i'm a dragon with asperger's! I actually have a thread about it in the Writing Diversity guild. We can talk about it here or there, whatever.

    I think it's awesome that you're doing this and i'll be happy to help.

    Social awkwardness/having a hard time understanding the "rules" of social interaction is a part of Asperger's but it's only part. Asperger's also includes sensory sensitivities, special interests, sometimes coordination issues, and other things that i might be able to touch on but I can really only speak from my experience.

    As I was growing up i was perpetually the "weird kid" and just didn't seem to fit in anywhere, though I had no idea why. When I was little i talked more to adults than other kids. I had a lot of experiences being bullied, ignored, or excluded by kids my age. Part of it was probably that I talked like an 1800's professor. In my poetry i still portray myself as an alien or astronaut a lot because I still feel fundamentally *different* than other people. So that could be a place to start. Your character feels *different* and often lonely even when surrounded by other dragons. They might wander off on their own at gatherings. I was like this, a lot.

    People with Asperger's can have trouble understanding facial expressions and also recognizing faces. I'm not sure if your dragons recognize each other by sight or by smell or something else or a combination, but I can confirm that I'm kind of face blind. As in, can see and even talk to a person several times before being able to recognize them by their face. I often rely on how people wear their hair and things like that to recognize people. Picking up on others emotions can also be hard for us. If eye contact is part of your dragon's body language, you might have your character dislike doing that because it feels uncomfortable. I've heard some people say making eye contact takes up too much energy and if they try to do it while talking to someone, they won't understand anything that person says! That could be a funny scene. But I would say think a lot about dragon body language and how your character could have difficulty performing or understanding it. Especially where there is any vagueness or ambiguity. For example, if a dragon might lash their tail back and forth in anger or excitement, your main character might have trouble telling which is which.

    Whenever there is subtext in conversations, exaggeration or sarcasm or some kind of non-literal language, or any kind of joking, we can struggle. I was always the last to get jokes. It was hard for me to tell if people were being sincere or subtly mocking me or making a joke at my expense, so I eventually became really defensive and started overcompensating by assuming EVERYTHING was a joke. I remember one time I was waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom and a girl said "there's another bathroom down there" (pointing down the hall) but i didn't go and look because I thought she was making fun of me. In hindsight I have no idea why someone would joke about that, but I guess i've become really defensive about not being laughed at.

    Please note that Aspies can BE sarcastic without UNDERSTANDING sarcasm all the time. It sounds contradictory but it's true and it can be hilarious. Sarcastic dragons are the best dragons so keep that in mind.

    People sometimes say that people with Asperger's lack empathy. That's not really true. Some of us (i had a friend that was like this) have a hard time understanding why something we say or do might upset someone. We might have trouble being conscious of our tone or say something insensitive without meaning to. But something that i don't see represented much is that it's also possible for people with Asperger's to have seemingly *too much* empathy. I'm kind of like this. Other people's feelings can be overwhelming. I feel empathy for everything from bugs to inanimate objects and it can really be annoying. I've had an anxiety attack hearing something that happened to someone else described. I honestly feel more feelings on behalf of other people than I do for myself. It can actually be crippling. I'm really really emotional as a result of this, so if your dragon has a hard time with emotions that can be part of his Asperger's.

    I have a lot more to say but i'm on mobile right now and it's a lot so, I'll get back to you in a little. I hope what i've said so far is helpful!
    Ireth and rktho like this.
  6. rktho

    rktho Troubadour

    I haven’t read it yet but I will after posting this reply. It looks super helpful! I have Asperger’s myself, but since I write my characters as neurotypicals (crazy how we’re how we’re able to write normal characters when we can’t understand normal people in real life) I’m afraid if I don’t write him right he won’t stand out as neuro-atypical.
    DragonOfTheAerie and Ireth like this.
  7. Oh, I didn't get that you had Asperger's...was that in the post or is my brain doing me a disservice lol
  8. Anyway, some more stuff:

    Sensory issues are part of how I experience Asperger's and stimming is tied into that. I can think of several ways you can incorporate that into a dragon. Dragons are usually scaly, so i don't imagine they're super sensitive to touch but their wings are made of skin so a dragon's wings might be a locus of sensory sensitivity. You might have your character constantly folding and unfolding and fidgeting with his wings. You could also have your dragon be sensitive to sound or smell. Your dragon could hate being in big, echoey places or cities and be really tired and want to be alone after being around lots of other dragons. It takes me time to recover after being exposed to lots of stimuli and loud stuff is physically exhausting. Since dragons probably have better senses of smell than humans, being really sensitive to smell seems like a good trait to include. Remember, we aren't all sensitive to the same things.

    As for stimming, you could have him fold and unfold his wings, scrape or rub his scales a certain way, tap his talons/claws in a certain sequence. Or if you want him to display something possibly self destructive, for when he's very stressed out and overwhelmed, you could have him bite at his forefeet or something.

    I have serious issues with telling the difference between right and left. If you could think of a way to include this, that could be a potential trait.

    Special interests! I feel like this could have something to do with a dragon's hoard. You could have your dragon memorize a ton of information about each item in his hoard and have it organized in a really particular way...
    rktho likes this.
  9. rktho

    rktho Troubadour

    Actually, I'm pretty sure dragons would be just as sensitive to touch as humans. I did a Google just now and reptiles don't have less sensation of touch than other animals. But yeah, the wings would definitely be more sensitive. I like the idea of Dav fidgeting with his wings and/or tail. I'm not sure about aversions to wide spaces or fear of cities, since my dragons are fairly claustrophobic and since Dav enjoys city life so much-- although, in the past, he has lived in the mountains and in cities made for dragons three quarters of his height, so it could work, but I want him to be a little more adjusted than that. Sensitivity to sound and smell-- I think he'd hate snuffling (which would drive him crazy if a couple were engaged in a noisy display of affection or, even worse, if he caught a cold) and perfume would be a turn off for him, especially if it was heavy. He'd prefer a female dragon's natural smell. It wouldn't bother him a ton like snuffling, he just wouldn't think it's attractive. As for a smell that would drive him crazy, a food he hates would be the way to go. I just don't know what that might be. As for being around a lot of other dragons, I think he wouldn't usually go out of his way to be social, but if there's a festival or something and there's nothing better to do at home, he'd go happily, but frequently excuse himself away from the crowd for several minutes on end to be alone with his thoughts. Otherwise, he loves chatting with other dragons, and he also loves impressing them. As long as he's in an extroverted mood (which he experiences in short bursts) he can be outgoing to a fault-- a fault I will elaborate on in a bit. But frequently, more than enough to worry his parents at times, he shuts himself up in his room and just reads, sometimes even with company over. As for interests, Dav's kind aren't the hoarding kind. (But he's lived with the hoarding kind, so he could have picked it up.) But Dav does have a hoard of a sort that he carries with him in his mind-- all the places he's been or wants to go, he prides himself on knowing everything about. It's a skill the protagonists find useful when they're looking for lodgings and he happens to have a friend who will room them for free, or where the best food can be found, but Dav can also be distracted by sightseeing stops or come off as a know-it-all if he starts rattling off about the city. Dav is also a creative type, chiefly channelling his energies into storytelling-- he has a few bards whose poems he enjoys immensely and for the longest time I have imagined him writing a novel he started decades ago and can never seem to finish.

    Alright, so those are quirky traits that will definitely set him apart from the other characters. Now I need a couple more habits for a different reason. Because his strangeness is integral to his love life.

    Dav's cousin, my chief protagonist, can't breathe fire, so he always gets rejected by female dragons. But Dav is jealous, because no female has looked his way as far as he knows (for that matter, I don't even know) and at least the females that reject Ginzaekh show interest in him until they find out he's flameless.) No one Dav has ever had feelings for has ever reciprocated them, and Dav has never been on the other side of that situation. Every female he's developed feelings for has been pushed away by his weirdness, which really amps up when he likes someone a lot. And then there was Narta. Narta is the daughter of a family Dav is very much attached to-- whether he's attached to them because of Narta or Narta because of them, he can't tell, but if it's not both, it's probably the second one. But Narta's family really likes him, and Narta seems to like him too. So he develops feelings for her. But he keeps them secret until he's ready to reveal them, unaware that Narta figured out long ago. Then Narta's brother, Dav's best friend, leaves to an apprenticeship, which is a wakeup call for Dav, and he decides he should have told Narta a while ago. So he tries to tell her, but he never gets the chance because he makes her so uncomfortable she starts avoiding him. He realizes too late what he's done and to his even greater horror realizes he's been doing it all along and she's just been pretending things are fine. I need a habit or multiple habits that would cause Narta to be disconcerted by Dav. I don't think just knowing he has feelings for her will cut it, since she knew for a long time and didn't mind him then even though she didn't feel the same way. I need something that seems innocuous on Dav's side and creepy on Narta's. I'm thinking of having Dav follow her around awkwardly, trying to get her alone so he can talk to her, but I feel like I might have trouble pulling off stalking sympathetically.
  10. Writer

    Writer Dreamer

    I am an autism parent. I think the concept has merit because the world will be seen differently and the actions of the character(s) need to have a basis.
    rktho likes this.
  11. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

  12. rktho

    rktho Troubadour

    Thank you, CupOfJoe, very cool!
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