Autism Awareness Month – Asperger’s in Writing

If you’ve been a reader for a very long time, like I have, then over time you’ve no doubt loved many quirky characters in the stories you’ve read. They’re like the salt added to a recipe you’re cooking, to give it more flavor. The character whose lack of social insight gets him or her into trouble with others, often with comic results. The hero’s handsome geeky friend who somehow attracts females but once they get chatting with him they drift off in his direction.

There is argument within the field as to exactly what constitutes Aspergers Disorder and is it truly on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was a psychologist for twenty-five years during which time there initially was NO diagnosis of Aspergers. The fact that Aspergers has now moved on the latest Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM) to the Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the code removed for Aspergers, doesn’t convince me that the diagnosis will stay there. There is a movement among people some to not consider Aspergers or mild autism as a condition but simply a variant in functioning. That is how it was treated in the past. Quirky kids, unless there was indeed a developmental impact (and per the diagnosis there is supposed to have been significant developmental impact) weren’t labeled.

Think about some of these characteristics and whether you have observed them in others, for example readers, writers and librarians: Excessive (obsessive) single interest, (books!), difficulty in social interaction (too busy reading or writing!), tendency to predominate conversations with long one-sided topics of their interest (usually their latest or favorite book), excessively involved in routine and order – ok, well that last one might only apply to the librarians! As a former psychologist, I’ve found these characteristics to be with some frequency observed in all those groups. But unless these individuals also manifested a significant developmental delay, they wouldn’t be diagnosed. Furthermore, you wouldn’t say they are on the ASD spectrum! They simply manifest some traits which can both help them in their vocations but possibly affect social relationships. Check out this online summary.

If you check out that article on Wiki, you’ll see that there are many more difficulties involved with those diagnosed with the disorder. I get concerned that writers who choose to include a character in a story, should be sure they’ve got it right as far as the criteria. I usually prefer to write stories where we have characters with all types of characteristics and issues and it isn’t necessary to identify the disorder. I’ve also noticed other authors doing the same. Readers comment in Christian readers Facebook groups things like, “I thought this character might have Aspergers.” I don’t think for the reader that having a label or diagnosis is that helpful in the vast majority of cases. The descriptions of the behaviors can allow the reader to draw her or her own inferences. After all, people have reading those kinds of books for hundreds of years without the need to have a character diagnosed!

What do you think? Do you prefer to draw your own conclusions about characters without an author spelling it all out? In my novel, Saving the Marquise’s Granddaughter (White Rose/Pelican, 2016) my heroine has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which she overcomes with God’s help. And since she lived in the 1740s we don’t have a diagnosis – just a manifestation of her symptoms!


ECPA-bestselling author Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D., is the award-winning author of a dozen Christian historical romances. Twenty-five years as a psychologist didn’t “cure” her overactive imagination! A self-professed “history geek,” she resides with her family in the Historic Triangle of Virginia. Carrie loves to read, bake, bead, and travel – but not all at the same time! You can connect with her at www.CarrieFancettPagels.com.

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One thought on “Autism Awareness Month – Asperger’s in Writing

  1. I’ve been thinking somewhat along the same lines. Not with reference to fictional characters, but that’s certainly a legitimate concern. Identifying a character as specifically this or that “disorder” is like taking the reader by the neck in order to force the author’s view on them. Aside from taking the reader out of the story, it’s insulting, as if the reader can’t come to their own conclusions.

    I read a lot of Aspie blogs and one of my concerns is that practically every human characteristic is sooner or later turned into a sort of proof of Asperger’s. You have extreme anxieties? Proof of Asperger’s. Intense interests? Proof of Asperger’s. I often get the feeling that a lot of this is a defense against any accusation of not “really” being an aspie. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but I’m sure you get my point.

    Good post.

    Like

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