Neurodiverse Characters in Sci-Fi: A Short, Happy List, by Kristen

By September 11, 2023 NVLD Bloggers, Uncategorized

Science fiction is a fantastic genre for discovering different aspects of humanity, ranging from a more diverse future to the challenges of navigating a post-human frontier in the world beyond. Naturally, neurodiversity has become a more popular topic

Seeing neurodiverse characters in sci-fi can be tricky. After all, in a genre of robots and AI, it would be easy to just shove these individuals in as cold and calculating. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as Spock from the original Star Trek comes to mind. Both are given merit for their logic, as Data is a cyborg and Spock is a Vulcan, neither of whom are truly human.

Things are changing in the media, however. Keeping your sci-fi characters human (not a robot or an alien) and giving them agency while allowing their neurodiversity to be seen, rather than masked, is wonderful. By turning them into capable warriors who can work with team mates, hold their own in a fight, and have complex relationships–while showing their social and emotional challenges–is a change in media that I hope stays on.

I’m going to chat about my three favorite examples, two of which are from the same show, and one of which is animated. I’m about to get real nerdy in here, so buckle up.

  • Amos Burton, The Expanse: The man, the myth, the legend. He is That Guy. Burton is a classic example of neurodiversity in action: he misinterprets social cues constantly, takes everything literally, has terrifying fits of violence and rage, and often uses his friends and teammates to help as moral compasses when he doesn’t know what to do. However, this is where Burton as an individual on the spectrum shines: he isn’t a nerd (though, as a mechanic on an intergalactic warship, he knows his way around engines!). He’s a seasoned veteran of multiple fights, including the use of multiple weapons, ranging from a sawed off shotgun to a toothbrush to his fists. He’s also popular with the opposite sex (though Wes Chatham’s handsomeness probably plays a role here), though his directness often insults and angers plenty. He can go toe to toe with witty banter with both prostitutes and government officials, and has no problem defending his team in a violent, intergalactic conflict. He’s neurodiverse and misses social cues left and right, but he’s powerful, loyal, and a fierce defender of the weak.
  • Bobbie Draper, The Expanse: A more disciplined version of Burton (see above), Bobbie Draper is a sergeant in the Martian Marines. Like Burton, she is insanely blunt, takes things literally, and misinterprets social cues constantly. Her social gaffs are a constant part of her story arc. Of all the characters in The Expanse, she is the one I identify with the most: by misinterpreting social cues, she runs into trouble with her more savvy counterparts. Worst of all, she is used as a pawn by those in power that she trusts, a heartbreaking revelation for her that she doesn’t quite know what to do with. Though she is mistreated due to her misinterpretations of social situations (and who in the neurodiverse community has not?), amongst other things, she finds others who appreciate her bluntness and do not get offended by her lack of social understanding. Although not explicitly stated, to me, she is classic NVLD. I have a whole article I’ve written about it 🙂
  • Tech, Star Wars’ The Bad Batch: This guy honestly made me laugh the first time I saw him, casually poking his iPad-looking device while the Emperor gave a speech. The man could not be more aggressively tuned out to the humans around him–and I totally saw many of my neurodiverse friends in him immediately! Tech is more of the stereotype of a neurodiverse individual, like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, in that he is incredibly brilliant, able to calculate and solve problems faster than many machines. However, like Draper and Burton (see above), Tech is fortunate to have a team that supports and works with him, even when he’s exhausted, stimming, avoiding eye contact, and infodumping on everyone without asking. He’s also strong as heck, can handle multiple weapons at once, and manages to be both snarky and kind, rather than cold and calculating. Indeed, Tech has multiple trappings of an individual on the spectrum. While I won’t go into detail about what happens (nice move during Autism Awareness month, DISNEY), I do wish they showed even more of Tech’s neurodiversity in action, especially as it was confirmed in the second season.

Small aside, the fact that both Amos Burton and Tech are the most popular characters in both of their franchises makes me so happy!

There’s even more characters in sci-fi that I’d love to mention (Entrapta from She-Ra: Princesses of Power is a favorite of mine!), and perhaps I will share that later. I do find it interesting that sci-fi grapples with this subject more so than other forms of media, such as fantasy.


Kristen is a Program Director and Writer based in Illinois and was diagnosed with NVLD at 7-years-old. She is loves spending time with her daughters, hiking, and knitting and is always trying to convince her husband that she needs more custom art from “The Expanse.” in her office. She is also a Project Social Ambassador for The NVLD Project.

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