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I am fixing to write a story about a semiverbal level 2/3 autistic 12-year-old because this is a very underrepresented group, especially in the autistic community. I don't want it to be an overly sugarcoated story nor do I want it to be a dim outlook on higher needs autistics. The point of making this character high support needs autistic is to support the theme that disability isn't always quirky, marketable, or easy-to-swallow, and despite that, everyone deserves happiness and support. This is more of the theme rather than a plot.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find very much information about how level 3 autism affects the individual, just on how it affects people around them. After a lot of digging, I did manage to find a few blogs written by Lv3 autistic people, but I feel like I still don't fully comprehend how it feels to be Lv3 autistic.

So, to my question, is the lack of proper representation because it's such a difficult subject to write about properly and respectfully? I am autistic myself and finding good representation is very hard. I don't have any personal experience with higher support needs autism. I do have some days where I am 'low-functioning' but I don't feel as these really give me experience about what it feels like to be like that all the time (or even if that's what it feels like to Lv3 autistic).

So, should I just choose something else? I do have some backup ideas that I think I could write easier, but I was hoping for some consensus from others if writing from the perspective of a higher support needs autistic correctly is possible because I feel like it drives the point better+represents an often neglected community.

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  • You may be interested in this: Listen. (I'm curious to know what people think about it!) Most of the autistic rep I've seen in the media has been savants, though more obscure works do feature more average ASD. The most severe forms of ASD rarely show up anywhere even as supporting cast. One of those rare stories is Extraordinary Attorney Woo, which features a savant as the main character, who (briefly) meets a nonverbal autistic man.
    – Laurel
    Jun 6, 2023 at 2:54
  • Possibly you will get some guidance by reading some of Temple Grandin's books. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Grandin
    – Boba Fit
    Jun 6, 2023 at 12:38

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I have been working, first as a psychologist, later as a psychotherapist, with persons with autism of different levels, from light Asperger to severely intellectually disabled, for a few years. I wouldn't be able to write a story from the perspective of someone with more pronounced Autism. I really do not understand how these persons experience the world. I have learned what environment seems to make them appear most calm and comfortable, but I do not understand what they feel, think, or truly need. I believe that is the reason why most accounts, fictional or documentary, are told from the perspective of those who live with and care for people with strong autism. We understand those people, because they are like us.

William Faulkner has famously attempted to narrate part of his novel The Sound and the Fury from the perspective of an intellectually disabled person. It is maybe telling that we are unable to judge how well he has succeeded. But that example certainly shows that it is possible to narrate a story that way and be critically, if not commercially, successful with it.

My opinion is that if you want such a story to give representation to a group of people, you must be as familiar with that group as possible. If you want to write about men (or women), and you aren't one of them, you must have shared their lives and talked to them and attempted to understand what it means to be one of them (as opposed to being the other). If you want to write about coal miners, children, stroke survivors, musicians – or people with severe autism – you must familiarize yourself with (a number of) members of that group and try to understand what it is like to be one of them.

If you just want such a character in your story for the sake of novelty and exoticism, personally I think that is okay. After all, most writers of crime fiction have no insight into how the police work either and just make it all up, and the genre is vastly successful (though not for it's accurate representation of members of the police). But if what you write is made up, the community of whoever you (mis)represent may or may not appreciate their representation in your book.

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