I am not supposed to enjoy fiction.

It’s one of the more common autism tropes, especially for people who are literate, verbal, or both: we don’t like fiction. We don’t engage in imaginative play. We only like things rooted in fact. Enjoying and engaging in fantasy and fiction is an automatic out as far as some researchers and clinicians are concerned. And I do like nonfiction. I will happily consume endless books about nonfiction topics that catch my interest, and I’m interested in a lot of things. Some become focal points, things doctors can indicate to fulfil criteria about obsessive, deep interests, and lots are more fleeting. But none of that precludes me liking fiction, and sometimes it is the fictional things that become those autistic Special Interests that are so loosely defined.

Not only do I like fiction, but I’m not the only one. Both media and real life are full of autistic people enjoying fiction and engaging with it, though often it is in a stereotyped manner: a youngish man who is obsessive about a sci-fi world. While there are plenty of autistic people who do desperately love Star Trek and similar stories, I (and others) prefer a fantasy based narrative. I started with the classic Narnia books and haven’t really looked back. I like fantasy in any medium. Kit and I just finished watching Legend of Korra (SOB) and I’m listening to the Divergent series. This year I’ve consumed dozens of books by half a dozen authors, all set in fictional fantasy worlds, or worlds with fantastic elements (like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld). The Seven Kingdoms/Graceling Realm books by Kristin Cashore occupy a special place at the very top of my obsessive interest list at the moment.

All of this is to make a long-ish segue about how I’m not clear how intense interests are supposed to be a specific hallmark of autism, and how those obsessive interests are a clear way to forming close relationships with other people.

I’ve been talking about fandom on tumblr, and I wanted to talk about it here, too, since I know more people read me here for autism stuff (frankly, I don’t blame you: tumblr is both addictive and terrifying). Fandom, as a concept, negates both the idea that being intensely interested in one specific thing is an exclusively autistic thing, and also provides a really welcoming place where intense interest is a positive trait.

In fandom, it’s okay to like something so much that all you talk about publically is that thing. There are thousands of tumblrs alone that are dedicated to a specific show, book, movie, comic, or performer, many of which are extremely narrow and specific. I follow multiple tumblrs about Lin Bei Fong, a secondary character from Legend of Korra, and there are many more. You can participate how you want: reading and enjoying what others say is as valid as talking, creating visual media is as good as writing stories, and you can alter how you interact based upon your needs each day. Fandom also allows people who may have been isolated to discover they are not alone. As one of the most active members (by far) in two very small fandoms, I would have never been able to critically discuss the books I love, or have found an audience for the fiction I write for them. I would be as isolated as I was before learning about autism, feeling disconnected and unreal, so separated from the people physically close to me that I grew up feeling broken. Fandom allows me to connect to people in ways that are comfortable for me while also encouraging me to expand the way I socialise.

No, not all autistic people will enjoy it. Not every person alive ever enjoys fiction, autistic or not. But by continuing with this really easily falsified belief that autistic people lack imagination or an ability to enjoy fictional worlds, researchers and clinicians are actively harming us, not just by denying who and what we are, but by denying us a social environment that is practically designed for autistic people and our needs.

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  1. [...] wrote a slightly longer post that is more autism-centric over at my other blog, following up on my thoughts about [...]