THE FANTASTIC AUTISTIC
A Creative Writing PhD Project at The University of Manchester
Depictions of autism are inadequate. Almost all of them. In many cases autism gets boiled down to a very simplified vision of what is in actuality a hugely complex and wide-ranging condition. In other cases, a character is 'a bit autistic' without ever being properly outed as such, demeaning the richness of real autism while treating it as a handy resource to be cherry-picked of its most seemingly desirable features.
Worse still, some narratives fantasize about cures, or go too far the other way and glorify autism to impossibly angelic levels in the interests of perceived karmic balance. In the heady realm of fantasy and science-fiction autism barely features at all, except with a vague wave towards the telepathic child, the emotionless robot, or the aloof super-intelligent alien - another bag of problematic archetypes.
But I believe in the richness of storytelling, the brilliance of autism, and the unique powers of the fantastic. Frankly, I think there's a better way to do all this.
I'm writing a novel. It is going to be weird, it is going to be unique, it is maybe going to be unfilmable, unpublishable, totally incoherent and rubbish. Or it might be OK. At the very least it will try and do something new in its representation of autism and autistic individuals. It will blast apart cliche, it will not shy away from complexity, it will wrestle with autism rather than reduce, belittle or idolise it.
I'm writing a research project. I'll look in deeper detail at these problems of representing autism and try to uncover why the failings happen and how playing around in the slipstreams of the fantastical genres might help to lead us to a brighter path.
You can contribute. Follow along with my research on my video blogs, and keep up with all things autism on the twitter account: @Fantastic_Aut. You can also check out the academic output (conference papers etc) on Academia.edu. I will also happily take correspondence - if you want to chat about autism, fantasy and the connection between the two, send me a message on my contact page.
This is my older sister Jenny who is autistic. She has been a profound influence on my life and my writing since day one. I owe my weird side almost entirely to her and I wouldn't change it for all the world.