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Writing a Fantasy Character with ASD/Asperger's Syndrome - All Opinions Wanted!

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by chattwick, Feb 24, 2021.

  1. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    Hi guys!
    Currently, I'm co-writing a TRPG campaign in which one of the main NPCs has Asperger's Syndrome and I'm hoping to ask someone who has been diagnosed with it (or something similar) some questions about how the character might act. Below is a short description of the character as well as some behaviors and ideas we've had.

    Disclaimer: I am aware that it might seem as though he is constantly forcing himself to suffer. This is a main theme in the story alongside many other characters. One of the focuses is evaluating the loss of self in the pursuit of money and power. Overall, I wanted to look into the negative effects of capitalism on the world and the sacrifices people make to conform to it. The majority of the story will focus on his growth from this negative position he's starting in. What I've written below was intended to serve as a foundation to begin creating. It is not meant to show his true self, rather the distorted version the business structure of the continent has formed him into.

    Augustus Ward is a Firbolg CEO that lives in a hyper-capitalist, industrialist fantasy world. The continent itself is undergoing its own industrial revolution (about 60 years in compared to our history). Ward is intended to have Asperger's Syndrome while also maintaining a distance and poor understanding from his own internal self. He was about 30 years old when he began his climb through the industrial business structure and, in doing so, forced himself into a constant state of discomfort in order to succeed. Most of this discomfort stems from his lack of understanding of himself.
    I am very aware of the risks of depicting aspies as having no empathy. I wanted to write Augustus as not understanding himself internally and thus putting himself into high anxiety positions in order to succeed. His character arc centers on him learning to reconnect with the people around him rather than continually seeking wealth and power. It's not that he doesn't care about people, but that he's convinced himself that others should be more like him to succeed/survive in the capitalist world they live in. He has effectively kept himself in a place of discomfort by ignoring his internal dialogue and warning systems in order to follow his main fixation, his business.
    My main questions stem from his behavior. I wanted to write him as being authentic to himself while also being respectful. As he is currently, he's very blunt/honest, quiet unless spoken to or unless he needs something, constantly on alert, hyper-focused on his business, and has a hard time reading others or gauging their reactions. Moreover, with the last point, he's essentially given up on trying to read others and that feeds into his brute honesty. He's focused on conserving time and promptly getting from point A to point B. A main facet of his character growth will be learning more about the main characters and other NPCs and growing his emotional intelligence so that he can be kinder to himself, his workers, and the world around him.

    So far some tendencies that he has in how act and present himself are as follows:
    - Little to no emotion in his voice when speaking with others.
    - This variation of Firbolgs has larger, animated ears that can move. One of his stims is his ears flapping if he's in a state of discomfort or anxiety. Additionally, he stamps his feet and rubs his thumb over his stopwatch in other situations.
    - He has a hard time maintaining eye contact and he'll look past the person instead of in their eyes. As he rose through the corporate structure, he trained himself to ignore his discomfort in order to present himself as a professional. -- Please read disclaimer --
    - His blunt honesty has burned bridges while also given him the perception of being stern and unapproachable.
    - When he gets overwhelmed, he can have a meltdown in which he lets out his aggression on those that work below him or with him.
    - As the story goes on, other NPCs will help ease him into socializing and actualizing his wants and needs. This will arise in platonic and romantic relationships. For example, his future love interest will express that they'd like to be more intimate and Ward will then begin to transition into a closer relationship with them.

    My main goal with this post is to get some insight and thoughts on what I've written above. I truly just want to make an authentic and respectful character. This is my first time attempting to write a character with ASD.

    Thank you for your time!
    Chattwick
     
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  2. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    OK, I'll try not be rude and agressive here. And I'm writing this as someone with dyslexia, and as someone who knows quite a lot of people diagnosed with ASDs.

    DON'T try to write a character with any form of specific diagnosis if you yourself don't have that diagnosis. You WILL offend many of those who have that diagnosis. Its seen as a form of ableism. You only have to read the recent discussions about casting Maddie Ziegler as an autistic character in the film "Music" to see what I mean.

    To try to expand on that a bit. When you have a condition like that its almost impossible to make other people understand how it affects your life and the way you see things. Using my dyslexia to illustrate a simple example. Lots of people here in Sweden think buses and trains with digital colour information displays are great. They can see where they are and get travel information, and they don't have to try to listen to the driver saying things, so they can listen to music or audio books or whatever. But for those of us with dyslexia those displays are a nightmare - impossible to read quickly enough, and often laid out in a way which makes it even harder to read. Yet those who design these things don't think about us dyslexics, not because they don't care but because they don't know and don't understand.

    The most problem most people with ASDs have isn't the political or economic system, its society and its social codes. Those who are diagnosed tend to understand themselves very well, its fitting into society they find hard. Some people with that condition learn to mask it by being intelligent enough to learn to act "normal", so you can't always tell if someone has an ASD. Its true that some people with ASDs are lonely and very focussed on a few things, but many are not and live quite happily with a small circle of close friends and family. Your description above shows that you don't understand any of this.

    More than that, using someone with a diagnosis like that to criticise capitalism shows not only a failure to understand what the condition itself means, but also risks conflating the condition and its sometimes negative aspects with capitalism. That really will offend people with ASDs.

    My advice to you would be to write the character as a person with a series of characteristics, which should be those needed to drive the plot forward. The idea of a cold hard headed businessman learning to accept their soft side isn't a new one, and it gives lots of possibilities for character development. So why would you need to give your character a diagnosis at all?
     
  3. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

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    Agree with this, in general. The main protagonist of my four Donzalo's Destiny books might or might not be on the spectrum but I did not try to 'diagnose' him or use textbook definitions to create the character. Rather, I made him socially awkward in ways that would suggest possibilities about him and, I think, made him a more thoroughly realized and complex character.
     
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  4. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

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    I am going to disagree on this. There is nothing wrong with writing about someone other than yourself. It doesn't matter if it's someone from another gender, someone with a different religion, culture or with a specific diagnosis. It's allowed and there is nothing inherently wrong with doing this. Brandon Sanderson for instance does it in his book, and he does it pretty well (from what I understand).

    But, and it's a big but, you have to do your research. And the further removed from you the character is, the more research you have to do. Writing a character from a different gender is relatively easy. We come across them all the time. We talk to them a lot. And they are not that different. Once you go more distant, you will have to do more research. So, if you want to write about a character with Asperger's, then go ahead, but make sure you are sure about what it means to have it. So, do a lot of research.

    Mad SwedeMad Swede 's example about dyslexia is a good one. I wouldn't write about someone with dyslexia because I know very little about how it really affects a character's life. I wouldn't have even thought about something as simple as a sign you need to read quickly in passing. But if you do your research, you can get those kinds of details right.

    Two more points:
    Once you've written the character, get someone from the group of people you're writing about to read it for you to see if you've gotten it right. So, in this case, get someone with Asperger's to read it.

    And, it's probably smart not to make the story about Asperger's, but rather, have it "just" be a part of the character. Make sure the character is complete, and not just the guy with the syndrome.
     
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  5. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    Thank you so much for replying. I really appreciate your insight! All that follows comes from the desire to want to learn more and keep asking questions. None of my questions are intended to be hostile or contradictory. Truly, I just want to learn more.

    So, that’s exactly why I’ve written this post. I wanted to get opinions and potentially talk with someone with Aspergers or ASD. Similar to what Prince of SpiresPrince of Spires said, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with writing character unlike ourselves. I’m a cis gay man but I still write straight or non-gender conforming characters. However, I do research and talk with those that I’m not like so that I can represent them well. Over the last month or so I’ve been doing social and medical research on ASD and Aspergers and it’s been very illuminating.

    From the other forums I’ve participated in and blog posts I’ve read, I was under the impression that ASD can materialize in different ways. My main intent for Ward was to try and understand how his ASD affects him socially. Part of his growth is finding that group of close friends and shedding his negative coping mechanisms. I mean this genuinely, but is it not okay to show any character in a bad spot? I don’t think having an ASD or Aspergers should shield characters from a growth arc in the same way a character with BPD should always have a healthy mental state in a story. Literature and writing is all about exploring the lives (at many different points) of characters unlike ourselves to broaden our understanding. I’m not sure I understand how “I don’t understand this at all” as you said. Would you be willing to elaborate? (I really do just want to learn more about your perspective and how I might have misinterpreted it)

    Would you elaborate on the failure of understanding ASD/Aspergers by using it to emphasize the bad parts of capitalism? I think my misunderstanding comes from not seeing how it would differ from using another group of people, say queer people, in the situation. From my current stance (though this can change) I don’t think having a character that’s changed themselves to try and succeed should limit who the character is at heart.
    Additionally, I agree that the issues with capitalism can be seen as stemming from his ASD/Aspergers but that would come from the nuance in writing rather than the subject at hand.
     
  6. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    Hey! Thanks for responding.
    I totally agree with your stance. I’ve been doing a lot of research and that’s what’s brought me here as well. I’m still looking around for someone with Aspergers that I can ask actual questions from. As helpful as it is to discuss it online, I don’t think anyone has yet to comment that has been diagnosed with it, so the search continues haha.

    With your second point, I more than agree. Ward is more of a minor character than a main focal point. The main characters will have interaction with him fairly often, but he is by no means the main character, nor is his ASD going to be. As I was initially writing him my co-writer pointed out that he had a lot of characteristics like someone with Aspergers. So, after realizing that, I started to do more research and we came to the conclusion that he likely would have Aspergers if such a diagnosis existed in the world of the story. In a roundabout way, now I want to make sure I don’t poorly present his original character in a way that could be seen as being insensitive.

    Thanks again for the insight. I appreciate it!
     
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  7. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    I see! For those I’ll be writing with and making the TRPG plot for, I don’t intend on ever just going “Ward has Aspergers so he does X thing.” I’ve been doing research so I can learn what the behaviors he might do are and thus describe him authentically.
    I like your point about it making your character more realized and complex. So far Ward has grown a lot in just the last month of conceptualizing him. Especially with the consideration of having an ASD.

    Thanks for your insight! I appreciate it!
     
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  8. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    THAT YOU KNOW OF!

    I'm sorry to shout, but not everyone with a diagnosis is comfortable with revealing it to others. Not even those of us with dyslexia. Don't assume that those commenting aren't diagnosed - you can't see them, so you read only their comments and you can't tell what they're like in real life.
     
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  9. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    I wonder if your research is as complete as it should be. One of the things that really upsets many of those I know who have ASDs is the way in which their condition gets reported and commented on when someone with an ASD does something like shoot a whole load of people. Instead of saying that the shooter had mental health issues the reports tends to say out front that the shooter had Aspergers or autism. The problem with that (in their eyes) is that this reinforces negative perceptions, preconceptions and predjudices about people with ASDs; if you see some of the comments "normal" people make after incidents like that you'll understand what I mean. You risk doing exactly the same thing when you use a character with an ASD as part of your criticism of capitalism, particularly when you're making the character so much of a go-getting capitalist businessman.

    And no, neither you nor Prince of SpiresPrince of Spires understand. You've no idea what sort of predjudices people with ASDs or conditions like dyslexia meet every day. For me, its people saying "oh you're dyslexic" and then assuming I can't read or write. Reading to me. Trying to write for me. Assuming that because I have difficulties reading and writing I'm somehow stupid. I've had it up to here with people trying to do things for me - and with those who try to speak for me and other dyslexics. They're not trying to be patronising, they mean well. But I can actually speak for myself, even when I'm writing. All I need is a little extra time. For people diagnosed with ASDs its even worse.

    When you write that your character doesn't understand himself internally you're proved my point - and the point of those who see your sort of writing about someone with Aspergers as ableist. Because the thing about having a diagnosis is that you get support to help you understand yourself and your limitations - and your abilities. Very few (in fact, none that I've ever met) give up on themselves and their relationships in the way that you want your character to do.

    I'll say it again - DON'T give your character a diagnosis. Just give them a series of characteristics and let the readers and players make up their own minds.
     
  10. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    Thanks for the reply. I’ll consider and think about what you’ve told me :D
     
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  11. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Howdy, Apergers Queshire here. What negative coping mechanisms do you mean? And what exactly is he supposed to grow from?
     
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  12. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    Hello! Thank you for replying!

    Negative coping mechanisms that he currently has are suppressing his emotions altogether and ignoring his own internal dialogue/not giving himself room to breathe. He focuses most on work and doesn't take the time to prioritize himself. In his background, he was raised by a loving mother and family that never sought to change him but encouraged him to accept himself through understanding and healthy coping mechanisms. However, his family didn't understand his fixation with the industry he later works in. As an individual, he faltered when sought validation from his career.
    He is intended to grow from this current state as well as to regain his ability to communicate and find community with peers and loved ones. Inevitably he'll be able to be himself without feeling that he has to conform to fit the needs of an intense capitalist structure. In tandem with his growth, his family realizes that they were in the wrong for trying to dissuade him from his interests.

    Before continuing too, something I failed to talk about in the original post is that the themes and main conflict of the story do stem from capitalism and how it encourages/forces the sacrifice of the true self. Ward isn't the only character that has had to deviate from his true self in order to succeed. One character is coming to terms with their queerness for instance and battling internalized homophobia. By the end of the story, the capitalist government and structure will have been dismantled and all the characters will have been given the chance to grow into a comfortable space for themselves. The queer character will have found love and acceptance and Ward will no longer repress himself and stop putting himself into uncomfortable and anxious situations for the sake of success. As far as antagonism goes, where Ward and this other character are at the beginning is meant to be bad. It is not meant to be a good standard of living. I want to highlight that unchecked capitalism leads to bigotry. The 'normal' that capitalism purveys is not healthy and hurts the characters in the story.

    After other discussions in this thread, I'm mostly looking for a conversation and ideas on how to approach his character. I like him a lot and I've put work into him. I don't intend on shelving him or being made to feel that I shouldn't write him.
     
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  13. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Huh? From the description you've given it doesn't sound like he's suppressing his emotions?
     
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  14. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    Mainly, he's suppressing his compassion for others. He has the faulty world view that workers should complain less and deal with what they are given, similar to how he 'overcame' his own personal issues. As it's written, this is ableist. He suffered to be where he is at. But his arc follows him learning that what he did is not a good standard. That world view was instilled into him by other workers and high officials around him. He was trying to conform into a bad system.
     
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  15. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Hrm..... Can you give a specific example of the kind of thing you mean?
     
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  16. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    I apologize, I'm not sure what exactly you're referring to. Like, how he treats his workers? Or his personal issues?
     
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  17. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Both could be helpful.

    Like, how he treats his workers and the sort of suffering he's gone through to get where he is.
     
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  18. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    Oh okay gotcha. So to really drive the capitalist ideas home, Ward is anti-union at the beginning. Anything that he perceives as being detrimental to his company he is against. So, workers wanting better pay or safety at the workplace often aggravates him. Once Ward meets the main characters and some other NPCs, this flawed observation will change. He'll realize that treating his workers well appeals to his kinder side and makes the company better.
    Early on he doesn't allow himself to be comfortable for the sake of working harder. He's sensitive to loud noises yet forced himself to work at a steel mill. He's trained himself to look over people so that they perceive he's looking them in the eyes. Otherwise, he prefers to avoid eye contact cause it makes him uncomfortable. As the plot develops, he gives himself the breathing room to relax and leave overstimulating places and learns better coping mechanisms.
     
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  19. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    My credibility- I major in "abnormal" psychology or nuerodiversity if you prefer. I myself have ADHD which is a close cousin of ASD. I also have a few asd aquaintances.
    Whoa, okay so... how old is he? You have mentioned already he is a CEO so not under 25 I am guessing? He would not be "In the process of learning emotional intelligence" he would need to be well past this.

    Also, ASD and ADHD are comorbid. If you have ASD there is a 30-50% chance you are also ADHD. Just a little FYI.

    All that aside if we remove his ASD what is he? What is his favorite color? What about favorite foods? Are there any things he is especially good at or enjoys? You have to develop a non-ASD persona and add ASD traits too. Am I ADHD yes, do I like working with animals. yes. What's my favorite color? White. Why? It is the presence of every color. There is more than just this guy is ASD that you would want to add so he doesn't come off flat.

    Furthermore, he would not have violent rage episodes toward workers. I assume he has a buisness fixation or something akin to where he knows a lot about buisness, well he would know this makes hostile work environments and that it decreases over all successfulness. He would have a different outlet be it hunting, excersise or some kind of hobby fighting.

    Also, his stims would be VERY small and subtle, tapping a finger or foot not "twitchy" as again he is trying to blend in and would be quite successful at it if he is a CEO. He would probably work out in the mornings or nights.

    He would come off cunning, quiet, and almost dangerous as you need to be this way in a buisness world to thrive. Point being the described symptoms are WAY TOO aggressive and direct also MOST ASD, ADHD, and many many other mask in public (like everyone now due to covid lol). If you have questions or want further input lemme know.
     
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  20. chattwick

    chattwick Dreamer

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    Hey! First of all, thank you so much for replying and for such interesting and thorough observations/input. I really appreciate it!

    I hadn't thought of him having ADHD but I'll have to do more research into it. From the very basic understanding I have, I know that it would already suit him fairly well alongside the traits I've already decided for him. I think after more research I can make sure it's implemented properly. So, thank you for letting me know!

    My co-writer and I actually began writing him without the intent of having an ASD/ADHD and ended up realizing that a lot of his traits and the way he acts align with symptoms.
    Firbolgs in this world live up to 500 years old, and he's roughly 90 right now. When he was 30 he began his career journey and left behind a caring and loving home to live alone. In this world, Firbolgs are nature-oriented and focus on those disciplines. His family didn't understand his fixation with steel metallurgy and the science behind it and tried to curve him toward traditional values that they uphold. In that time he was with them, he learned how to handle his symptoms and his family made him comfortable with himself. He learned how to live life happily, but in pursuit of his job and conforming to it, he lost that skill set. Part of his character growth will be re-discovering these aspects of himself after 60 years of subduing them.
    And as for the background of his character. He is super passionate about steel, transfiguration magic, and locomotives. He loves to talk and read about it while spending time at home. He's got his own workshop where he invents and builds his own trinkets and items to make his life easier. He also enjoys fashion and being able to dress nicely/groom himself.

    You assumed totally right! He is very focused on his business. As my co-writer and I had discussed, his outbursts aren't violent at all. He's known to chew people out if they step out of line (at least in his eyes) and has accrued a reputation because of it. In his world, it's still early on in the industrial revolution, so modern business practices aren't common knowledge back then. Moreover, the company has pretty bad employee retention. But due to societal standards and the period, there's often a new hire to fill in those that have quit, so Ward doesn't worry about it as he would if it was a modern time. I was thinking that Ward cares most about the steel and locomotives his company creates, not necessarily the business itself. The business is simply a means of him getting what he needs for his fixation. Don't get me wrong, he's still rather apt at being the CEO, but is less willing to devote as much time or thought to it. This also leads to his aggression and defense of his company; he doesn't want to focus on issues with the business itself unless it is in jeopardy. I'm still playing with the idea of there being a CFO that is attempting to give Ward what he wants while also keeping the company from derailing.
    A main part of the story will be the development of unions and worker rights. Ward's company is the main focus for the story and I intend on him seeing the error in his ways and supporting the unions as time goes on.

    His stims were the most intense as a child and resurface when he is alone and people don't see him. As his arc progresses, he regains that confidence to stim in public without worrying about what other people think of him. At this point, he has a better community to lean on, and the toxicity of trying to be 'normalized' is removed and he sees/feels that there isn't anything wrong with the way he acts.
    It's interesting that you say they're very subtle. Other sources I've seen/spoken to today have said that stims can be pretty obvious. I was thinking that his main public stims would be rubbing his thumb on the face of his stopwatch as well as his ears animating. Firbolgs in this world have specific animals they 'descend' from magically. Ward and his family's animal is a deer, so his ears twitching wouldn't be seen as very out of place. But, going off of what you said, he'd likely have his less subtle stims alone or with close peers.
    People do observe him as quiet, cunning, and almost dangerous as you said; I like that observation a lot! When he's presenting to business partners he masks much more than when he is with his closer co-workers that he's grown comfortable with.

    Wow, you've helped me think about a lot. Thank you very much! I look forward to seeing what else you think about what I've written!
     
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