New YouTube Video: Why I Wrote an Autistic Character in Shifting Paradigms

[00:00:00.060] – Danielle Forrest
Hello and welcome. Today, I’m going to be talking about why I wrote an autistic character in my book, Shifting Paradigms. Let’s get started. Hi, my name is Danielle Forrest. I’m an alien romance author. And here on this channel, I do videos about myself, my writing and anything related to those topics. Like I said, today we’re talking about my autistic character in Shifting Paradigms, Victoria. So first off, before we even get into that, I do want to talk about who this character was originally supposed to be. So originally in Shifting Paradigms, the character was supposed to actually be a child prodigy. For whatever reason, I’d had this weird fascination for a long time with the concept of a child prodigy. And so I ended up creating this idea of a child prodigy who is really good with spaceship design, essentially, and physics and whatnot. She ends up building these ships, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I’ll actually put a description on the screen of what actually was going on with that original design. I actually have a screen capture from OneNote of the original design for the character, and I’ll put it on the screen, like I said.

[00:01:24.400] – Danielle Forrest
After a certain amount of time, I had started to question whether or not I might be autistic. Now this was completely separate from the book design. I hadn’t gotten started with writing the book yet, and I had this weird idea about doing a self insert where I put my autistic symptoms into the book for this character and see if people recognized her as being coded autistic. This is not how things ended up being, mind you, but this was my original idea when I started deciding to make the character autistic. I had like I said, I had started to question whether I might be autistic. I had read Wildfire Griffin by Zoe Chant. And that story, I feel like that was the beginning of my whole thinking I might be autistic thing, because after that, I really started questioning. I don’t know. Things started moving in that direction. I started seeing autism as a potential explanation for what I had been experiencing my whole life. I started to actually wonder and question. I eventually learned about camouflaging, aka, masking, which I had never heard of before. I had no idea, because these are things that just weren’t talked about in autism spaces.

[00:02:59.760] – Danielle Forrest
Or even in the general public about autism. It was all the five-year-old little white boy rocking on the floor or screaming anytime someone touched him, or you have the Rain Man. These are the types of narratives that you got, and they’re not great. A lot of the times they’re not even accurate. Like most instances, they’re not even accurate. They’re accurate to maybe a few people, but they’re not accurate to most autistic people. It was something that I didn’t relate to. It wasn’t until I had a character that looks more like me, even if it wasn’t really like me, it wasn’t until that point that I actually started to question. I feel like that was one of the inciting incidences that and reading an article on autistic camouflaging. Those were the things that actually got me wondering. Another thing I started doing at this time was I started watching a lot of autistic YouTubers. This was not something I had been doing before, but I started doing it at this at this point. I like most autistic people when they start questioning whether or not they’re autistic. I got to be really… And I just don’t feel like holding this book anymore.

[00:04:24.210] – Danielle Forrest
I got to be really obsessive about it. When I started really developing the character for this book, I started to put my own characteristics, like I said earlier, into the character. Like, Oh, this is a characteristic that I think might be autistic. I’m going to put it in the character. This is a characteristic, I think, and I was putting my own characteristics in. That’s perfectly fine. I think we all insert ourselves into our writing, at least to a small extent, even if it’s just little memories or little this or little-that and you add in enough extra details that it’s not really recognizable as your own personal story after a while. After a while, though, I got to the point where the character concept, the list of symptoms that I was putting down for the character concept for Victoria was so long, I knew I couldn’t use it. I ended up moving it into a new document and I continued adding to it. Eventually, the document was 19 pages long, and I ended up with an autism diagnosis. That’s also my journey towards getting a diagnosis. There was moving on from why I did it on a personal level to some of the things that I wanted to make sure that I did was I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t doing the same thing so many other people were doing when it came to writing or creating autistic characters.

[00:06:06.620] – Danielle Forrest
I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to be another Sia, for example, even though I wrote this before Sia made that movie. But I didn’t want to be another person creating autistic stereotypes. I didn’t want to use any of the stereotypes that existed at the time. I was actually concerned because of the origin of the character and it plays into the whole autistic superhero type of thing where you have that one trait that the autistic person is really good at and it drives their own worth. But I actually ended up flipping that narrative by making it so that while she might love designing, building, developing spaceships, she couldn’t really monetize it. This is actually a pretty common scenario when it comes to autistic people. They may have special interests, but it may not be something that they can monetize. It’s not something that they can make a living off of. It’s exceptionally rare for an autistic person to be able to take a special skill or a special interest and make it into something that’s marketable in the workforce. I wanted to address that, and I did, by making it so that actually trying to adhere to the standards that the industry expected of her actually resulted in an anxiety disorder and burnout.

[00:07:48.340] – Danielle Forrest
She ended up having to leave home at 16 to try to get away from all of this. Even then, they wouldn’t leave her alone. That was something I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t hitting any stereotypes. That was one of the things that I wanted to challenge. Also, when I started actually picking the specific traits I was going to use for her, one of the things I wanted to make sure was that I wasn’t self-inserting. I had gotten beyond this point at that stage. I’d no longer wanted this to be a self-insert. I didn’t care about knowing if people thought I was autistic based upon the characteristics. In fact, I didn’t hide it anymore. I wanted to make sure that people realized that this character who maybe doesn’t seem autistic to some people, recognizing that it is autism. She is autistic. She is specifically intended to be autistic. I included a note at the beginning of the book that says that she’s autistic. I’m going to open up to that bit. Here’s the foreword. Hello, friend. In this novel, the main character, Victoria, is an undiagnosed autistic woman. I’ve done my best to avoid common and harmful stereotypes like you’ll see in Rain Man, Music, and The Good Doctor, as well as attempting to clearly indicate good and bad approaches for interacting with an autistic person.

[00:09:29.750] – Danielle Forrest
I’m pretty sure I wrote this book before Music existed, but I think I did all the editing afterwards, so there is that. These are, of course, not exhaustive. And if you would like other resources, I would recommend Yo Samdy Sam, an autistic YouTuber, or ASAN, Autistic Self Advocacy Network. At all costs, do not consult resources coming from Autism Speaks, as many see the organization as a hate group focused on autistic children. In the past, they have created campaigns featuring the following themes: Autism will destroy your marriage, autism will bankrupt you and your parents, and parents fantasizing about killing their autistic children. With that awfulness set aside, I hope you enjoy the book.

[00:10:11.030] – Danielle Forrest
I wanted to make it very clear after I had finished writing and editing the book that this was an autistic person. I didn’t want there to be any question at that point. This is who I was writing. One of the private bits of feedback I received was about someone whose daughter was on the spectrum and how much they loved Victoria and how they really appreciated having characters like this being created with different viewpoints. And so when her daughter gets older, she’ll be able to have people in books and movies and TV shows, et cetera, that actually look like her and act like her, et cetera.

[00:10:57.840] – Danielle Forrest
I love that. That was the feedback that I really liked the most when I was getting feedback from the book, when I was getting the first reviews in. It wasn’t even the actual review. It was private feedback that I received from the reader. And that is part of what has been moving my narrative forward when it comes to writing is I feel like that was a turning point. At that point, I started really thinking to myself, I want to give these other voices voice. And I’m in a unique perspective that I can give voice to, for example, autistic characters, autistic people, and make it be realistic, because I am an autistic person. I can’t guarantee that I can get every character autistic right, because, for example, I’m not fully nonverbal. You wouldn’t know it from my videos, but I do have periods of time where I am nonverbal. In fact, I had a period of time one time after in a very stressful situation where I was nonverbal for a whole week. But I don’t know what it’s like to be nonverbal. I tend to call it intermittently nonverbal. It’s not the same thing. It’s very different.

[00:12:38.510] – Danielle Forrest
And so my experiences are not the same as some other people’s. And I just want to use my own personal life experiences, my own personal identities to help create narratives and create books that feature characters that are often ignored. When I was reading Wildfire Griffin, that was the first time I had ever read an autistic character, I think. It was definitely the first autistic character I had ever read who was a romantic interest. Including a main character who was autistic in this book, it really felt significant. Just the same as with writing a trans character. It felt like something that I could add to the world that isn’t currently being done in an effective manner. I think that it’s a character that people can relate to, even if it’s something that they don’t personally experience. That’s one of the challenges, I think, is when it comes to writing characters who are different is creating an experience, creating a character who is different, but also relatable. And if you heard that, my dog is being a little… She, I think, wants attention. Anyway. Say hi puppy. Say hi. She getting attention. She getting attention. Yes, she is.

[00:14:37.650] – Danielle Forrest
Yes, she is. She’s getting some screen time, isn’t she? She’s like, what are we doing? What is this thing in my face? Anyway. That’s really all I had to say for today. Thank you for joining. I hope you liked the video. If you did, consider liking, commenting. And let me know if there’s any books with autistic characters that you’ve read that you really like or any TV shows with autistic characters you really like, let me know in the comments. And if you enjoyed the video, consider subscribing and hitting the bell if you want notifications. And you’ll find some links in the description of various ways to get in touch with me, as well as links to any books that I referenced in this movie, in this video. And on the screen, you’ll find some more videos to engage with me with. So until next time, bye.

Discover more from Danielle Forrest | Sci-Fi Romance Author

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.

Related posts

Let me know what you think...