Friday, February 10, 2017

8 Things To Keep In Mind When Writing A Character With Special Needs

You want to diversify your characters? Write in a character with special needs, but be true to the challenges that character faces.

  1.      Don’t write your character as helpless. People with special needs may use different methods of getting things done, but they can get things done.
  2.     Show their strengths. Every person has strengths and weaknesses. People who can’t speak, walk, see, hear, or control their muscles, still, have a lot to offer. People who look different and act differently can have the most extraordinary gifts. Show them off in your story. Your readers will love them.
  3.        Do not use terms like handicapped, retarded, slow, autistic, or palsied to describe your character. Those words can be offensive. Find more positive terms, if you have to use any at all.  
  4.      Show their emotional side. Everyone has something they do when they are trying to hide how nervous or stressed they are. They may curl their hair around their finger, bite their nails, twitch their nose, clear their throat or shift in their seats. People with special needs are no exception to this rule, their way of communicating their emotions may look different, rocking, yelping, tapping, laughing,  singing quietly, or loud. It's all communication. Don’t leave that out.      
  5.       Get them involved. In Sister Sleuths and the Shadowman, Samantha is very involved, in fact, she leads the way to solving the mystery.  
  6.       Show your character’s personality. Sam is blunt, honest and super smart. She is also beautiful, logical, and scientific. Her honesty makes for some funny scenes. She solves supernatural mysteries and she loves doing it.
  7.        Do your research. I didn’t rely on only my personal experiences with people on the spectrum, for Sam's POV.  I also interviewed people with ASD and family members of people who are on the spectrum. Every person is different and every situation is unique.  
  8.          Show how spirited your special needs character can be. People who are differently abled face tremendous challenges every day and yet they show up. They are resilient, forgiving and full of life. They give us their best efforts. We should give them ours in return.

It wasn’t hard for me to come up with Samantha who is one of the main characters in my book Sister Sleuths and the Shadowman, Some people may think she is too generic, but her character was inspired by real people with the same developmental disability. 
My main purpose in writing a story around a character with ASD was to bring awareness. Awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and a glimpse into the struggles of a family with a member on the spectrum.  My hope was to show the word how amazing they can be.

I knew I loved Sam even before the story was formed, what I didn’t know was that the readers would love her too. Just like in real life, when you get to know someone with special needs, you eventually don’t see the ‘disability’ you see the person. Their silliness, their passion, their strength, and resilience. Their true self.  You root for them, spur them on. You want them to win. You laugh with them and cry with them. Better yet you begin to understand them and discover that they are not so different after all. 

Books  I love that have characters with special needs.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

mockingburd by Kathryn Erskine

Al Capone Does my Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Sister Sleuths and The Shadowman by M.A. Cortez   

About the author: 

M.A. Cortez is a mother, grandmother, and writer. She lives with her family in Colorado and spends most of her days reading, writing, and drinking lots of coffee. 

Check out her books.