Monday, February 24, 2014

Characters Who Are Neurodiverse

Over the weekend of the 14, 15, and 16th I attended a science fiction and fantasy convention called RadCon in Pasco, WA.  And somehow I ended up on a panel called "Writing Neurodiversity" all about:
Creating neurodiverse characters with autism, Aspegers, ADHD, bipolar, OCD, and synesthesia, can give your writing new dimensions. Come learn the right way to represent these unique strengths and weaknesses.
And, it seemed, I was there as the bipolar representative (I was diagnosed Type II bipolar about five years ago).

It was a very interesting panel and I learned a great deal about autism, Aspergers, and synesthesia (there were two women on the panel with synesthesia, which is a very interesting phenomena in which letters and words and sounds manifest to them as colors or smells or some other sensation in addition to just the primary sensation).

The problem is, the panelists agreed, that portrayals of people with these conditions (I hesitate to use the term "mental illness" because it's often more like a "mental difference" than a negative thing) in popular culture are cliched and "flat" (my term).  The character is defined often by their condition. "Monk" is OCD, Sheldon Cooper is Aspergers, etc.  But the real-life experiences of these people is so much more than their condition.  I know this personally because I am more than my bipolar.  Yes, when I'm not on my meds I can have crippling depression mixed with manic episodes that would have probably destroyed my marriage if it weren't for the infinite patience of my wife.  But I am not just my bipolar.

As much as you wouldn't write a cliched character, you shouldn't write cliched persons with these conditions.  And that means research.  And the best place to research is in the writings (blogs, etc.) of people who have these conditions and talk about what it is like for them.  Yes, some scientific investigation is appropriate but if you want to know what it feels to have Aspergers, then find a blog by an Aspy.

I've never written about being bipolar on this blog before so this blog would not be a good source.  But I am sure there are many blogs written by people with one of the four times of bipolar (as I said, I'm type II).  Your character with a neurodiverse condition needs to be as layered, nuanced, and complex as your character who is does not have such a condition.

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