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I’m Kat! Professional Storyteller & Neurodivergent Creative

Alien 👽 Robot 🤖 Psychopath 🔪

Published about 2 months ago • 3 min read

KAT VANCIL

THE STORYTELLER'S SAGA

QUEST 56

Alien. Robot. Psychopath. Um…what? 😟

Let me explain, Reader.

It’s a joke among autistic individuals. Because until recently, the only representation we got in visual narratives such as movies or television, came in the form of autistic-coded characters. Which were—you guessed it— aliens, robots, or psychopaths.

Which as you might understand, isn’t the greatest. It’s dehumanizing, to say the least. And deeply problematic, especially if you’re a young child.

Just imagine growing up watching this sort of poor representation in narrative media. It’ll have an effect. Trust me.

Because I can tell you right now, there’s not much worse than identifying with the actions and thought processes of a character, only to have them presented as wrong, objectionable, or inhuman.

That’s not to say there weren’t shows that tried to do better-ish…

…but they unfortunately fell woefully short.

Take the much-beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation for example.

I’ll admit I didn’t watch this one as a child, Reader. But it was eye-opening to see how me and fellow autistics viewed the show vs. our neurotypical peers.

For the most part, I found Data to be the only relatable character in the show—aside from Wesley. The things he said and did seemed entirely logical and rational to me, despite him being an android.

And that’s the problem.

Without fail, there would come a point in the episode when his actions were contrasted against another “human” character(s) or even alien character(s). And what was supposed to happen was that you—like the other characters—would find Data’s actions or reasoning objectionable or comedic. Thus proving the superiority of humanity over the machine…I guess? 🤷🏻‍♀️

But I couldn’t see their point.

Because I couldn’t see myself in the other human characters. I could only see myself in him.

And when you can only see yourself in something that is portrayed as inhuman there’s a problem. Not with you, but with the story itself.

But I don’t want you to think I hate Star Trek. That’s not it at all. And the franchise has taken note of past mistakes and made a major course correction with Discovery and Strange New Worlds to be more inclusive with its spectrum of representation across the board.

And for neurodiversity, it comes in the form of Sylvia Tilly (Discovery) and Spock (Discovery & Strange New Worlds). The latter whose character backstory has been expanded to include his neurodiversity. Difficulties he was forced to hide while being educated on Vulcan and helped shape him into the person he is.

Which is the type of stories we want to see, right?

Characters like us, that struggle to fit in our schools, workplaces, and cultures that may not welcome us as we are. Characters who are forced to mask as a means of survival in a demanding societal environment.

Other exceptional representation can be found in shows like Atypical. Which follows the journey of a penguin-obsessed young adult and his family as he tries to become independent.

Or Extraordinary Attorney Woo, that follows a rookie attorney at a major law firm in Seoul as she tries to navigate the workplace (and a world) full of neurotypicals who seem prejudiced against her.

And Violet Evergarden, which follows Violet’s journey to reintegrate back into society after a war where she fought as a child soldier and lost both her hands. With new hands made of metal, Violet works as a typist as she tries to discover what it is to love.

The above are just 3 shows featuring autistic leads you can watch right now on Netflix. And both Discovery and Strange New Worlds are currently available on Paramount+.

Part of me wonders if this shift in storytelling is due in part to the way we’ve classified autism over the last 4 decades. Because in just the last 40 years, we’ve moved from classifying autism as a mental illness, to a disease, to a disability, to a neurodivergence.

And as of today, we know that 2.8% of the US population—roughly 1 in 36 people—are autistic due to proper access to testing.

1 in 36.

Essentially as our awareness of the amount of autistic persons grows, we as a society gain a better perspective on what it means to be autistic.

And a greater awareness leads to an end to the demonizing of autistic persons in storytelling.

Your cohort in storytelling,

Kat Vancil

🐱

PS 👉 Does the idea of trying to summarize your 100K fantasy tome make you cringe, Reader? Maybe fill you will dread? Or even make you consider writing a whole new book to avoid writing marketing copy for the one you just finished?

You’re in luck! I’m putting together an easy-to-follow mini-course to take the pain out of writing those book descriptions for your sales page and website.

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I’m Kat! Professional Storyteller & Neurodivergent Creative

Here to help you vanquish those story construction obstacles, slay that imposter syndrome clawing at the back of your brain & stomp boredom flat with heart-pounding Boys Love fiction. Join the Saga and choose your inbox obsession, whether it’s helpful advice to get your writing unstuck or an episode of my weekly Boys Love Fantasy series to devour during your coffee break.

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