The Appeal of Other Worlds
Speculative fiction is appealing on many levels for people with autism. The worlds, the people we follow, the use of escapism. It influences how we interact with the world and people outside of our heads, in the friendships and bonds we form. I’ve seen it as a reader, a writer, and with my own life.
Life is messy, filled with overstimulation, relationships that are difficult to puzzle out, and a world and society as a whole that doesn’t make sense.
Speculative fictions bring order and makes sense, where life doesn’t always match up.
They are designed and crafted that way. New, wild, and crazy universes for any reader, neurodiverse or neurotypical, need the rules explained to understand the story. Some level of suspension of disbelief is required, as a writer I need to plan out the possibilities and universes for the readers to understand and follow. As a reader with autism, that framework is comforting and amazing.
The worlds and their structure aren’t the only comforting things.
We get to watch the social interactions of the characters where what they are feeling is laid out plainly. Anger, love, joy. Books give you how the characters are feeling or tell you the cues that make it clear. It can even be a good source of learning how a being shows emotion. Something for everyone to think about relating to real-life situations. I know I’ve learned so much from the books I have read.
Speculative fiction gives autistic readers protagonists, antagonists, and side characters we can relate to more than we can most people. They are more likely to have spectrum like tendencies. It is both a flaw and a feature of creating characters. When making characters, they need to be fascinating and move the plot forward. They often have focus interests that are slightly unusual to give readers an idea of who they are. They usually have relatable traumas and dramas, to draw us in. They have solid goals for us to follow and make neurodiverse choices to propel the plot in exciting ways.
Everyone can relate to some of those aspects. You want everyone to want to follow the characters. As someone with autism, I often feel a deep connection to the protagonists because I have focused interests, trauma from living in the world in general, and I make choices that can often bring me outside the normal but make sense for me. In books and stories, it is laid out plainly for me to see and that empathetic feeling is not shunned or misinterpreted, or rejected.
Reading is also more than just a pastime.
It is a coping mechanism. Much of my time is spent in my own head, focused away from the crazy world and overstimulating environments. Zoning out, daydreaming, working on my own fantasy ideas. Books aren’t loud, bright, overly stimulating. They are socially more acceptable than staring into the distance, and people give you quiet and don’t try to interrupt or talk to you. It is both a shield and a way to focus your attention away from things that might be overstimulating. A way to calm yourself down when the real world is too much, and you can delve into a world where things make sense and are laid out plainly.
For a task that we do alone, reading and writing speculative fiction brings people into a community of shared experiences well. One that allows people to grow and build connections. For people with autism, this is a welcome creation. We are free to talk about the book, genre, author, and be accepted. Hours of conversation on Heinlen, Asimov, Rowling appropriately shared within a group, allowing us to form connections with neurotypicals and other neurodiverse alike. As a writer, I’ve found myself building more relationships through my work.
Perhaps this is the greatest gift of reading these books.
The fan clubs, conventions, discussion groups. Books and their abilities to draw people out of their shells and into safe, controlled environments, yet that same private escape. It is a valuable social tool, one that can help nurture a social life for those living on the spectrum.
Not only am I autistic, but I have an autistic son. He gets lost in his thoughts about science and science fiction. I read Harry Potter, Dinotopia, and other books to him and watch as he gets invested. He’s heard my own work and liked it, went “Wow, you wrote that.” For me, it has strengthened my value in my own writing and helped build a deeper connection with my son.
Speculative fiction is a tremendous social tool on almost all levels for those of us with autism.
*Kit Falbo lives in the pacific northwest and writes books, guest blog posts, and occasional social media replies. Father, partner, homemaker, daydreamer. He graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in psychology. Follow him at @WritesKit on Twitter.
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