Thursday, April 18, 2013

Transpecial: Suza McRae

So, in my last post I talked about the alien within.

Autism is something very personal to me. It's a spectrum and a connection of all kinds of things which tend to result in social impairment combined with increased abstract intelligence. Many very good coders fall on the autism spectrum, generally with what used to be called "Asperger's Syndrome" (which has now been used as a diagnosis). Those with mild autism may not be detectable by those around them - even, sometimes, trained psychologists. There are no good estimates as to how many adults suffer from undiagnosed autism spectrum disorders.

Autism tends to come with some difficulty understanding body language and maintaining eye contact. Individuals often miss specific clues. This led in my mind to the idea that somebody on the spectrum might be immune to the extreme "Uncanny Valley" effect of the ky'iin. Autism is more common in boys, but I made Suza a girl in part because I wanted at least one of the major characters to be female (and Warren was very insistent about being a guy), and in part to remind people that there are autistic girls out there. She had to be unusual - autism often comes with delayed verbal development, and I needed her to be good with languages. It's possible that Suza has a form of hyperlexia, often associated with autism. A hyperlexic person communicates best in writing. Hyperlexic children read early and tend to retain a preference for writing over speaking. (If you know a socially awkward person who always texts and never calls - they might be just a bit hyperlexic). Instead of being fantastic at reading and writing, though, I gave Suza an understanding of the deep levels of language.

One of the things I wanted to do was to show that people with autism aren't necessarily "disabled" - so I branded Suza as "disabled" according to her demonstrate that society can so often be wrong about such things. Too many "disabled" people in the United States are handed monthly checks and forgotten. It's something our culture could use to change. Suza isn't disabled - she's just different.