Autism and Slytherin: Or, Why Autistic People Fit With the House of Snakes

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slytherin-book:

I am a 24-year-old young woman who has been professionally diagnosed with ASD-1 (previously known as “Asperger’s Syndrome”).

For a long time – for as long as I can remember – I knew that something was “different” about me. My parents did, too. First at the age of 10, I was sent to see a professional psychologist, who first diagnosed me with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). My psychologist was particularly new to the field – a recent graduate – and did not know much about autism/Asperger’s at the time. However, when my behavior worsened as the years passed, I was sent again to the same professional at the age of 17. After numerous sessions and very expensive testing, I received my new diagnosis.

I was “officially” autistic – “high-functioning”, my psychologist wrote in his final report. 

At the same time I was first diagnosed with ADD, I first discovered the world of Harry Potter. My grandmother first introduced me, and ever since I first picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’ve been enthralled with the series. 

For a long time, I thought of myself as a Ravenclaw. Much like many others who grew up with autism, I was highly intelligent and bright – a “little professor”. In fact, I was very much like Hermione Granger from the books – I considered the Library my “home away from home” from an early age onwards, and proved an avid reader. I soaked up books, knowledge, and information like a sponge, and partnered with an eidetic memory, I could rattle off and parrot facts and information with relative ease. Soon, my parents began to call me “the walking encyclopedia”.

However, after joining Pottermore, I was Sorted into Slytherin.

At first, I had what one might call a “identity crisis”. Gone was the identification with Ravenclaw house, replaced by a new one, clad in the emerald-and-silver of Slytherin. I began to think, delving deep to re-examine my personality and traits throughout the years. For one, I was an introvert, and surely most Slytherins were extroverts? Weren’t Slytherins malicious and self-serving, cruel, whereas I was nothing but kind, considerate, and sweet? Surely Slytherins didn’t bother to do anything nice for others, whereas I was the girl who always baked cookies and sweets often and brought them for my classmates?

Before long, I began to realize something.

My autism – and autism in general – did fit into Slytherin house. Here’s why.

1. Many autistic people are naturally predisposed to self-preservation, cleverness, and staying in the shadows. ”I’m fun at dive bars. I used to manage a vintage clothing store. You might not notice I’m weird right away,” writes Gwen Kansen, a high-functioning autistic author for “The Frisky”. Autistic people, very often, hide in plain sight, right under the noses of the oblivious and un-perceptive. They are your family members; your friends; your neighbors; you co-workers; and more.

Likely, you know at least a few people who have been diagnosed with autism, and yet you’re unaware of their “condition”. Why? Because many autistic people are “high-functioning”, meaning that their autism and symptoms have less of an impact on their daily lives than autistic people who are “low-functioning”. To many, “high-functioning” autistics seem so…”normal”. Sure, sometimes they might say or do something a little “odd” or “off” – something that makes you wonder – but ultimately, you might shake it off, dismissing it. Yet make no mistake: seeming “normal” does certainly not mean that said autistic people are any less autistic. Many autistic people are often heavily pressured, raised, and expected to act “normal”, especially in a society revolving around hierarchy, socializing, connections, networking, and “perfection”, not unlike a Slytherin-Sorted Muggle-born or Half-blood feeling heavily pressured or forced to conceal their blood status.

To many “normal” people, autism is also seen (incorrectly) as an “undesirable disease”, a “mental illness”, or a “defect” – thus, for an autistic person to truly act like themselves all the time would essentially prove to be “social suicide”. Necessity demands that anyone who is “odd” must conform to the social hierarchy – to find their place – and it’s a challenge that many autistic people accomplish almost too well. In terms of Slytherin’s ideal of “self-preservation”, many autistic people act in their daily lives and routines – in order to preserve their reputation, their self-image, and to protect and maintain their livelihoods, independence, careers, and sources of income. At heart, they are also protecting themselves – often times from others’ hurtful words, judgements, and stereotypes.

2. Many autistic people are frequently misunderstood and miscast as “undesirable”, or even “evil”. ”Avoiding eye contact is one of the first non verbal cues people will interpret as being dishonest,” says website “Study Body Language”, “…While these signs don’t always point to being deceptive or lying, most people think they do. It means that avoiding eye contact will be generally treated with distrust and suspicion.” Indeed, one of the hallmark signs of autism is refusal or inability to make eye contact; many autistic people will also shut their eyes tight, looking down, to avoid eye contact. One of the more famous autistic writes, John Elder Robinson, even titled his New York Time-bestselling autobiography “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s”. Unfortunately, this particular symptom that is associated with autistic people is also frequently associated with those who are dishonest and liars – much how like Slytherin gets a stereotypical “bad rap” for being a house of the “dishonest and liars”. Now, that’s not to say that all autistic people don’t make eye contact – many, in fact, do. For me, however, it was a learned trait – one I had to teach myself rigorously to do, rather than it coming to me naturally.

Additionally, much like Slytherins, no two autistic people are the same, despite others’ using stereotypes to define autism. “You probably already knew this, but autism manifests differently in different people,” Kansen writes. “Some of us may be more prone to sensory overload; some may be more obsessive; some may have more trouble reading nonverbal cues. Not every person with autism has every autistic trait. And of course, our goals, interests, and morals vary as much as yours do.” One autistic person may seem very much like a savant, complete with an Einstein-comparable intelligence; while another may seem more like Crabbe and Goyle. 

More recently, with the public autism spectrum-diagnosis outings of murderers such as Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook massacre), Nicky Reilly (failed suicide bomber), and Robert Napper (British murderer) – and the media’s sensationalization of Asperger’s and autism in relation with said killers – many autistic people now additionally have been dealing with the terms “bad” and “evil” being added to the autism stereotype. The media often also tried to link autism in the past – and present – to a sense of “inborn evil” or “badness” in autistic people, contrary to scientific studies and reports that autistic people are no more likely – or “predisposed” – than “normal” people to become “evil” people, such as murderers and serial killers. Much like Slytherins themselves, many autistic people now have to deal with a “bad rap” for simply being classified as “autistic”.

3. Many autistic people seem to be drawn to one another in a sense of brotherhood and kinship. ”I can tell if someone has it right away and vice versa. It’s basically a self-preservation radar that tells us who we’re going to feel comfortable around,” Kansen writes once more. Now, if the word ‘self-preservation’ stood out to you, then you’ve noticed another point in Slytherin’s favor – also more evidence to back up point #1 above. Kansen also points out how perceptive many autistic people prove to be, especially in identifying other people as also autistic – another core trait vital to being a Slytherin.

One look at online communities for autistics, like WrongPlanet, also reinforces the idea that autistics can – and do – seek out others with autism. This is also reminiscent of the Pottermore welcome letter for Slytherin: “Slytherins look after our own – which is more than you can say for Ravenclaw. Apart from being the biggest bunch of swots you ever met, Ravenclaws are famous for clambering over each other to get good marks, whereas we Slytherins are brothers. The corridors of Hogwarts can throw up surprises for the unwary, and you’ll be glad you’ve got the Serpents on your side as you move around the school. As far as we’re concerned, once you’ve become a snake, you’re one of ours – one of the elite.”

Indeed, the online autistic community considers itself somewhat “elite”, a private club that admits only those who are autistic themselves. These same Internet haunts have even come up with terms to refer to the social and biological divide, marking them as “different” – “Aspie” for an autistic/Asperger’s person, and the more derisive “neurotypical” for “normal” (non-autistic) people. Now, if “neurotypical” doesn’t sound rather strangely like the term “Muggle” to you, well…you get the point. Additionally, the very word “neurotypical” itself implies that “normal” people are “showing the characteristics expected of or popularly associated with a particular person, situation, or thing” – or, according to Urban Dictionary, “commonplace, common, general, generic”. Those autistic people who thus use the word “neurotypical” seem to imply a sense that they possess “specialness, uncommon, rarity” – that they are, in a sense, superior or “choice elite” compared to “normal people”.

4. Many autistics share other Slytherin traits, such as using cold, unabashed logic; thinking differently than most other people; showing affection and love differently; being slippery; lying, both for pleasure and self-preservation; and more. For this, I once again turn to Kansen’s writing for “The Frisky”. 

Austic people are noticeably perceptive, and take note of people who stand out to them, not unlike Slughorn in the books. Others deal in secrets and can be “thick as thieves” with others, taking said secrets to heart – or even to the grave. Plus, most certainly never forget, and some autistic people seem to have a natural charm and charisma that others feel attracted to. “My ex was so amazed by a guy doing fire poi for 10 minutes outside a bar in St. Louis that he recognized him six months later at a McDonald’s in West Virginia. My roommate remembers secrets that an acquaintance told her in elementary school. Autistic people can be tremendously rewarding to talk to because we might make you feel like a star,” Kansen writes. 

“We DO understand what’s going on. We might not realize you’re annoyed with us right away. We might inadvertently blurt out something obnoxious. But often, we’re hyperaware of social cues because we’ve spent our lives compensating for not recognizing them as kids,” Kansen continues. “We’re not always honest. Autistic people are capable of lying. I’m terrible at it, but others are pretty good. One of the best guys at a poker night I used to go to has Asperger’s. Some of us make up outrageous stories to make you think we’re more ambitious, like when a guy I know told people he was an Internet porn lord when he’s really just an obese, rich kid who sleeps until 4 p.m. and hangs out all night at Denny’s. Our motivations are no different than yours.”

“We might show affection differently. One of the most common misconceptions about autism is that we don’t care about other people. That’s not true. We care as much as you do, but we don’t always show it in the same way. For instance, I had a non-autistic boyfriend who worked with people on the spectrum. He figured out I had it because I kept touching his eyes, ears and lips. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but now I realize that I’ve always had the urge to touch the delicate parts of someone’s face if I like them a lot. I’ll do it for half an hour if they let me. My roommate used to stare at people a lot. She didn’t talk to anyone unless they put a laborious amount of effort into befriending her. But she would constantly watch people she liked and tell me all about them later.”

5. Many autistic people show the “seeds of greatness” and great potential. Ever hear of the term “a diamond in the rough”? “The phrase is metaphorical and relates to the fact that naturally occurring diamonds are quite ordinary at first glance, and that their true beauty as jewels is only realized through the cutting and polishing process,” says Urban Dictionary. Much like “diamonds in the rough”, many autistic people show great, even enormous potential – despite the fact that many people stereotype them as not having any potential whatsoever, or that their autism prevents them from flourishing in life. The opposite could not be more true. In fact, many “great” figures in history have been speculated to have possibly been on the autism spectrum, including Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Thomas Jefferson, and more. Others, such as singer Courtney Love, Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri, American Idol contestants James Durbin and Jonathan Jayne, rapper 50 Tyson, musician Adam Young (Owl City), and many more are admitted or confirmed to be on the autism spectrum. 

“But we’re not bad people. We’re like our emblem, the snake: sleek, powerful, and frequently misunderstood,” the Slytherin welcome message also reads. Indeed, many autistics – though many seem anything but at first glance – can be classified as “sleek” and “powerful”. Perhaps not a “power” of the physical form – Slytherin himself certain was not powerful in strength – but rather, a power of the mind, the will, and spirit. Additionally, Tom Riddle (Voldemort) was not powerful merely by sheer, brute strength: he had, by Albus Dumbledore’s admission, one of the most brilliant minds of any Hogwarts student to ever grace the halls of Hogwarts. Merlin, a “good” wizard on the opposite end of the spectrum to Tom Riddle, was also revealed by J.K. Rowling to have been a Slytherin. Likewise, many autistics have average – or, more frequently, above average – intelligence, with many even having “great” intelligence. Furthermore, many autistics – as seen with the myriad of famous or known people admitted to be on the autism spectrum – have a wide range of talents and skills, many of them being so “great” that they achieve massive success. Other autistic people act as spokespeople, travelling around the world and World Wide Web to inform – and educate – others about what it is like to be on the autism spectrum, acting as leaders and great orators/speakers. 

“Because you know what Salazar Slytherin looked for in his chosen students?” writes J.K. Rowling (Gemma Farley) on Pottermore, “The seeds of greatness. You’ve been chosen by this house because you’ve got the potential to be great, in the true sense of the word. All right, you might see a couple of people hanging around the common room whom you might not think are destined for anything special. Well, keep that to yourself. If the Sorting Hat put them in here, there’s something great about them, and don’t you forget it.”

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed some of my personal insight and theory on autism, and how it related to being a Slytherin!

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