This summer we are featuring a series of interviews with contributors to Invisible. Invisible is a collection of essays about the importance of diverse representation in science fiction and fantasy. Ada Hoffmann’s essay, “Autism, Representation, Success” talks about how autistic characters are represented in fiction. We are so happy that she was available to do an email interview with us. My questions are in bold type and her responses are in normal type.
You talk in your essay about the enormous pressure people with autism face to be “successful”. What would a middle ground look like to you? And are there terms we can use that would be less limiting than “successful” or “high functioning” and “un-successful” or “low-functioning”?
I’m not sure if a middle ground is actually what I’m looking for. Instead I think I’d like to see more variety. People who speak fluently and at length, people who don’t speak aloud, people who can speak aloud a little or people who lose their language at certain times. Wealthy geniuses, people who never manage to hold a job, people who slip in and out of employment, people who work at an ordinary job and have an ordinary life despite their non-ordinary minds. Those aren’t the only two metrics, and being at the “high” or “low” end of one metric doesn’t mean you’ll be in the same place on another. Rather than having only two diametrically-opposed options for what autistic people can be, I’d rather see a wide pool of diverse individuals with diverse lives – because that’s what we have IRL.
In your bio you describe yourself as having Aspergers’ Syndrome. Do you think that the change to the DSM V that eliminates “Aspergers'” as a diagnosis will have a positive or negative effect on how people who don’t have autism perceive people who are on the spectrum?
When the DSM V announced they were eliminating Asperger’s, my supervisor at school said, “Congratulations! You’re cured!” He meant it in fun, and didn’t know enough about autism to know why that was an offensive thing to say.
Joking aside, though, I’m not sure it’s making that much difference. At the time the change happened, I suspected that it would make it harder for Aspies to be taken seriously, and reduce the availability of diagnoses, since the new criteria are in some ways more stringent. But terms like “Aspie” have saturated public consciousness and the diagnosis rate continues to rise. I’m not sure that most people are even paying attention to the DSM, frankly.
What draws you to science fiction and fantasy?
One answer: I grew up with it. My parents are geeks who have huge shelves of science fiction at fantasy at home. Sharing and passing down their geekdom was a major family-bonding activity. I feel comfortable with genre fiction, not because it is necessarily written with my comfort in mind, but because it’s where I come from.
Another answer, equally true: Life is weird, people are weird, and imagination is more fundamental to life and consciousness than most of us realize. “Realistic” fiction has its place, but there are parts of the human condition we simply cannot discuss unless we’re willing to talk about myth, magic, and the future.
As someone with a love/hate relationship with “The Big Bang Theory”, I love the way you write about Sheldon. Do you have a favorite Sheldon moment?
An obvious one is the Christmas episode, when he hugged Penny. I’m also rather fond of Amy Farrah Fowler. I think she’s just as autistic as Sheldon, but I rarely see her come up in these discussions except as “Sheldon’s girlfriend”. I love the way Amy keeps Sheldon’s more obnoxious tendencies in line when no one else can – like when they dissected brains together and he turned out not to know anything about it. Amy gets Sheldon, and knows what type of input he will and won’t respond to, in ways that completely escape the NT characters. That’s pretty adorable to me.
Ada Hoffmann blogs at ada-hoffmann.livejournal.com. Invisible is available at: