1. Earphone
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    Earphone Active Member

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    Character psychology information wanted

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Earphone, Mar 1, 2011.

    Right off the bat, the story this character is in was/is intended to be a "comic", and not a written novel; however, since I lack the capability and motivation to draw said comic, I have decided to write it. (If only to help develop plot, and characters.)

    I've been studying the traits and symptoms of autism and shyness for a character of mine.

    The character's name is Chiara, and she's fourteen at the start of the story. Also, she is a secondary character, so she's not always seen.

    Without going into great detail, Chiara will have mild symptoms of autism, and is going to be shy, but still be able to interact with people. I've been studying the aversion to eye contact, and rhythmical behaviors. For the rhythmical thing, she likes the ticking of clocks, and I'm planning on developing some habitual tendencies.

    She is going to also have occasional fits of just screaming and crying. Just being scared or in pain, and unable to control or quite understand what is going on at the moment.

    What I would like to know from you other wise writers that might have had experience with something like this, is: Are these traits and behaviors I have listed accurate? Also, how might I incorporate more of these symptoms into my character's everyday life?

    I'm extremely wary of writing about things I don't know much about, for fear of offending, or mis-characterizing.

    Any help would be appreciated.
     
  2. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    look in Asperger's....
     
  3. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well. You need to take a lot more steps to get it right. Just writing the symptoms is just like writing about love only knowing "There is a lot of blushing and kissing going on.".

    You need to read up on it. Really read up on it. Go to the library. Read everything they got on aspergers. Ten books should be a start.
     
  4. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I am no expert so I may be wrong, but sudden screaming and crying (which looks like some kind of fear) is usually triggered by touch, say, somebody touching her head or her ears.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you need to do some reading - there are many forms of autism you seem to have conflicting forms in your post.

    I have dyspraxia and possibly ADD which places me on the very bottom rung of the autistic spectrum. I can make eye contact - many autistic people can because they train themselves to do so. For me it's a little pointless I don't really understand facial expressions unless they are very obvious it has to be a big grin or tears.

    There is also a difference between being shy and being awkward or not being bothered. The big one is never really sure if someone likes you or not - but it has it's advantage that the friendships that do form are strong and fun. If I had a book then honestly I wasn't that bothered if someone played with me or not. Where it really hampers my life is not knowing how to deal with my children's interaction with other children.

    You need to decide what form of autism she has - I have never had a screaming/tantruming fit (OK my husband might disagree lol) but have never rocked backwards and forwards.
     
  6. Earphone
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    Earphone Active Member

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    Yeah, there's still a lot I need to learn, before I can even put pen to paper. (Or, fingers to keyboard in this case.)

    Thanks for the advice so far. It helps a lot, 'cause honestly I know next to nothing about this stuff.

    I don't even understand shyness, being a more blatantly outgoing person myself.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you sure she is shy ? I'm not shy - awkward sometimes, antisocial at others, shy no. Every autistic person is different - but I can go into new situations and cope. Sometimes that coping is ignoring everyone though.
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    My girlfriend has previously worked with autistic children in daycare. My immediate suggestion would be that you contact one such place and ask if you can come visit. Talk with the caretakers and some of the children if possible. Direct observation beats reading research material any day.

    From what she's told me, autistics most often have their fits of screaming and crying if something in their daily routines or environment has been changed. Sometimes it's very hard for the caretakers to pinpoint what it is -- it could be something so trivial as a potted plant having been moved to the other side of the windowsill. Some children are so fixed on systems and routines that their tablecloths have contour drawings of where to place the cutlery before eating.

    One of the reasons for this need for rituals and systems is that autistics are unable to filter out information the same way we can. They experience everything all the time, at once, like an overwhelming noise. When things are in order, this noise is diminished.

    These are extreme cases though, but if you went to see such children it might give you ideas and insight for your less affected character.
     
  9. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're also forgetting another very important aspect of autism (or any medical condition): How it affects those around Chiara, from parents to friends. She may be the one with autism, but she isn't dealing with it alone.
     
  10. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I have tons of experience with autistic people, from work.

    I do not like the recent trend of diagnosing people who are socially awkward as having a form of autism. That smacks of moneymaking to me and a denial of things like parenting, and how a person's apperance affects the behavior of others and so on. Those are things that can be dealt with, but never will if the person thinks they have a brain disorder. That belief can also affect one's future negatively.

    Anyway, the kind of person you are writing about would be heavily disabled if they're screaming and whatnot.

    In my opinion, you do a heavy disservice writing about this topic unless you both read the clinical material, case studies of various types of autism, and go to a local treatment facility to meet actual people with the illness. Do not write some half baked story about a serious reality that is tragic to many families based on what you loosely heard about on TV.
     
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  11. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    My older brother has autism, so I do have a lot of experience with the syndrome. However, you should know that autism manifests itself very differently in different people. So, the information I give you probably won't be true in all cases and possibly not even in the majority. Nonetheless, here's what I've learned from my brother:

    1) Shyness is only part of the story. The people I know who have autism aren't "shy" in the conventional sense of the word; rather, they just don't know what is appropriate to say or how to act in a lot of social circumstances. One of the most common behaviors is being unable to pick up social cues, such as facial expressions or body language. Additionally, people with autism often will say absolutely nothing for a long time...until that particular subject that they love comes up. Then, you're unable to shut them up. For my brother, these subjects are roller coasters, dinosaurs, and '80s music (go figure!). For another boy I knew, it was history. And for a guy I knew who had Asberger's, it was math and philosophy. Having an obsession is very common, and talking obsessively about this subject to others who are not necessarily interested in it is also very common.

    2) With the rhythmic thing, I don't know about the ticking of clocks. A lot of younger autistic people or older people with more severe developmental autism like to drop things repeatedly, slap their knees as they walk, and flap their arms while groaning. The less severely autistic people I know, however, don't really do these things. One of my friends with Asbergers plays the cello, and there are plenty of autistic musicians, so I suppose there is basis in saying certain autistic people are rhythmically inclined, but I've never heard of anyone being particularly fascinated by the ticking of clocks. Doesn't mean it can't be true, though.

    3) With my brother, "having fits" isn't really the way you describe, although there may be some autistic people who experience them they way you state; I can't speak for all autistic people. My brother becomes very upset when his very-specific routine is disrupted. For instance, every night he wants to watch Jeopardy! at 7:00. If there is a news broadcast or a sports match on instead, he becomes upset. He doesn't scream; he just sits in the corner and sulks.

    I recommend the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It's written from the POV of a boy who has high-functioning autism and it's very good. However, be wary of "copying and pasting" too much. Autism is a highly variable disorder; movies like Rainman really fail to capture what it's like to know someone who has autism, even though they are entertaining and touching. Try to meet and talk with autistic individuals so you understand it better, because it's very difficult to describe. I hope this is helpful at all, in fact.
     
  12. Earphone
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    Earphone Active Member

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    I wouldn't have asked my question, if I wasn't trying to learn more. I'm in no way trying to offend anyone, or do any "disservice" as you put it. I'm merely trying to write a story, and if any story has a basis in reality (even comic reality) there will be people who have things like that.

    And I don't get any information from the television. All they do is showcase people with disabilities, and try to instill panic by telling you that you or your child has symptoms.

    I realize it's a serious topic.
     
  13. poptarts
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    like someone has said, every autistic person is different. autism covers a surprisingly wide spectrum and no two autistics behave in the same different way, and the last thing this world needs is another story that badly stereotypes someone with autism.

    some people are diagnosed, others aren't. some people are aware of their quirkiness, others aren't. some people want to change who they are, others don't. some people feel sorry for themselves, others don't. the list goes on and on.

    also, keep in mind that it's usually the people who aren't diagnosed with autism who insist that autism is a disability and who feel sorry for parents with autistic kids. as an autistic person myself, i take great offense at this. i resent the idea that i'm inferior because i think (and behave) differently. if you want to know what some autistics think of people who aren't on the spectrum, check out this link:

    http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Neurotypical_syndrome
     
  14. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    Actually, they aren't that different, that's why there's diagnostic criteria.
     
  15. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    About the TV, you're correct. I'm now talking to people on other forums who say they're autistic and are able to make fully developed arguments, get angry when I say they probably aren't, and their rationale is that they don't like people and are poor communicators. Well hell, that's like five billion people.

    About your work, experience is the best teacher. You should find a center and say you're doing research on the topic and would like a tour.
     
  16. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    There are certain traits that all autistic individuals share, but I've met autistic people who cannot speak at all and only faintly seem aware of what is going on in the world and I've met autistic people who took advanced algebra in sixth grade and currently attend major universities studying engineering. It's a HUGE spectrum, and although all autistic individuals share certain traits, mindsets, and (dis)abilities, these are often manifested in very different ways. Since there's really no scientific information about the cause(s) (there are theories, but all of them are highly contested) of autism, there's no litmus test to see who has it and who doesn't, and the border between "normal" and "autistic" can be very fuzzy. So, to be fair, while there is a "diagnostic criteria" and while there are shared traits, generalization is often an ineffective means of describing an individual with autism. In this way, autism is unlike almost any other syndrome.

    You can easily describe a person who has something like AIDS where the symptoms are easily discerned and the diagnosis is fairly black and white, but in autism, differences are qualitative and vary with the individual's personality. And honestly, every person exhibits some autistic traits; it's all a matter of degree. I went through a stage when I thought I had autism because I was awkward and never seemed to know what to do in social situations. It took me a few years to realize that I only had a bad case of adolescent shyness and that autism didn't enter into the equation.

    Some additional advice: Be sensitive, but don't be afraid to tell the truth. Living with someone who has autism has its ups and downs. It can be extremely difficult to live with, depending on the person, and even the kindest, most loving person has his/her drags. I love my brother deeply, but talking about roller coasters 24/7 can become one of the most irritating experiences on earth. Make sure your work reflects things like that, because this is what will make your character a REAL person.
     
  17. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I believe you believe that.

    However, unless said people were extremely impaired as children and recovered, I have met several, and there's a famous woman who wrote a book about her recovery, I doubt they have autism. The problems in the DSM-IV are major and they are things that knock people out of life and cause them to largely not be able to function.

    There's something called a "GAF Score" and that's a rating about the ability to function in society based on what DSM diagnosis you have. A person in an engineering program would be so off the scale it would be unethical to diagnose them with anything.

    There's words like "reticent" that describe personality style and they were developed by humans to communicate the normal range of human behavior. Also, people will say, "He's weird" to mean unusual, not average, in behavior and it's said frequently. That's because it's average to have a lot of strange behaviors in humanity, but that doesn't mean they're in the serious clinical range. It's just the same with ADHD, children get bored easily and if school classes are boring or the kid has some other interests, he doesn't have ADHD, he has boredom. Childred should not be prescribed speed to address a lack of interest.

    Schizoid Personality Disorder:

    This is something that looks like autism but is more likely caused by one's interaction with the world.

    Let's say that Bob is skinny as a rake, smart, and about 5'5". He starts out nice, but then finds he's in a school where football players are like gods and he gets no attention, and in fact gets picked on. One result for Bob is that he will sink into a shell, stay in his work working on computers, playing WoW, see talking to people as pointless, give up on girls who mostly laugh at him or scorn him in disgust, and so on.

    After five or ten years of this, Bob looks like he has autism. His parents lacked the insight to see that Bob's environment was destroying him, so they did nothing, and when asked will say that nothing is wrong. Thus, Bob runs the risk of getting misdiagnosed and labeled with a mysterious brain disorder when in fact he needs serious help with his morale and life.

    My point is that all of this is very complex and needs to be investigated. I've met many psychiatrists who don't put ANY effort into doing what's called "Differential Diagnosis" which means teasing out the details between one problem and the next. That results in a lot of young people, who can't tell the authority figures to go to hell, getting diagnosed with mental disorders when they don't have them.
     
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  18. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even when autism is diagnosed and whilst it has similarities every person with autism is human which adds a dimension.

    Mine didn't come about because I was socially awkward - outwardly I am not. I have exceptional communication skills. I was diagnosed because of the investigations into Dyspraxia (my official diagnosis due to my age is Clumsy Child Syndrome with mild dyslexia lol). I tend to approach my communication skills in an 'autistic' obsessive manner - I know from the age of 18 months I was using words like extravegant, fabulous, maginificant etc By the age of two I could read the Read It Yourself Books. It is particularly obvious with debates, public speaking and my writing - it comes very easy but I obsess about it.

    Where mine manifests itself is not being able to read a situation - I have to take someone at face value. It is also part of what makes my public speaking and acting good - I don't get stage fright because I don't care about the audience. My 'autistic' traits are the source of my confidence in most areas of my life. However reading facial expressions is something I struggle with - I often get emotions back to front - for example laughing when I should be crying etc - When someone close to me dies I generally don't go through much of a grieving process. I cry when other people do to keep up an appearence. Sure I miss the person but I tend not to be overly upset about it. Again my 'autistic' traits have been a positive in my life when awful things have happened. They tend to have little impact on me even when those around me are fallng apart. (I was a victim of something that had all the professional people working on the case struggling to deal with - I lived with it and laughed through it).

    The internet is wonderful for me it's a level playing field - no one else has facial expressions etc

    I would have to tell people I know in real life that I am on the 'autistic' spectrum. Only every so often does something happen to make it that obvious.
     
  19. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    I believe what I said because it's true. Whether or not autism is diagnosed "correctly", people who are reported as having autism represent a large spectrum and exhibit the "trademarks" of autism often in highly variable ways. Frankly, if you think otherwise, I seriously doubt that you have spent all that much time with individuals who have autism. The key word is always "individuals" and not "autism."

    As for recovering, I believe you believe that! But I'm not at all convinced that autism is something people "recover" from; those who say they do seem to either have been misdiagnosed or are simply deluding themselves. You can't really treat a disease you don't know the causes of. You can treat the symptoms through social and occupational therapy, but without a greater understanding of the biology and psychology behind it, we can't expect to "cure" it. So there is currently no cure, some rather dubious medications that supposedly help some individuals, and no known cause of autism. The diagnostic criteria is shaky at best, in spite of the best efforts of psychologists to make nice little lists categorizing the giant spectrum of human emotions.

    I have never been confused between "schizoid" and "autistic." I frankly don't even think they're comparable.

    It is complex, and people debate over exactly what autism means. But whatever it means in the scientific community, it means something very different in society, and I believe that is what the OP would like us to focus on.
     
  20. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    A popular way to present a character who isn't right in the head is to not specify what is actually wrong with them. Someone could think the character has X or Y problem, or even exhibit symptoms from both while missing a key trait.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with me, and yet I don't function like a normal person.
     
  21. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    This is a great book:

    "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time".

    The MC is a 15 year old autistic boy.

    Not to take away from the seriousness of autism, but thought you may like something for ideas.
     
  22. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    Do you know what that word means, because if not, I'm going to be annoyed with you.

    In addition, explain how autism is something different in "society" than what the the diagnostic criteria is?
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just looked up the DSM IV diagnostic criteria for autism, and it certainly doesn't appear to _require_ the kind of crippling, profound condition that you seem to be describing. Are you excluding high-functioning autism, Asperger's, and ADD/ADHD from your definition of autism?

    ChickenFreak
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The ticking clock puzzles me--I always thought that the rhythm associated with autism was not rhythmic sounds but rhythmic body movements, or "stims", like flapping hands, kicking feet, and so on. I could be wrong and rhythmic sounds may be relevant as well, but you may want to check this.

    I would also advise against the screaming and crying; I think that you could too easily get this wrong or offensively overdo it. There are milder defenses to sensory overload--refusal to eat certain foods or to wear constricting clothing, a slight overreaction to sudden loud sounds, heightened irritation when touched, a refusal to be in crowded and noisy places, and so on. And insistence on predictability and habit, and reaction when these things are broken, could be similarly subtler.

    In general, I'd recommend going with the milder end of the autism spectrum - mild Asperger's or ADD/ADHD. You could be subtler with those--you wouldn't need to make a major announcement of the disorder, and in fact the disorder might not even be diagnosed in your character, it would just influence her behavior.

    The shyness, yes, I think isn't exactly shyness. There's a difference between not speaking to someone because you're afraid that you'll say something wrong, and not speaking to them because they don't interest you and you don't understand the social demand to speak to boring people.

    But all of my specific comments just touch on a tiny subset of the subject, and I may well have it all wrong. (I think I have ADHD, but I'm undiagnosed, and anyway, that's on the very mild end of the spectrum.) I think that you would have a whole lot of reading to do.

    ChickenFreak
     
  25. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess concerntrating on a ticking clock could allow the other senses to block things out - I use music or a TV to do that. The ticking is almost meditative.
     

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