Young people with learning differences don’t have nearly enough characters in the media that they’re able to connect with. As someone on the autism spectrum, I certainly didn’t. There were never heroes that I felt were just like me while I was growing up. Sure, there were the outsiders and the loner characters, but it was and still is extremely uncommon for characters with actual learning disabilities to take the center stage in a story, or even enter the stage at all.
Below are four possible exceptions to that rule in the form of four heroes with what could be considered learning disabilities. If you have learning disabilities or especially if you know a young person who does, this post could prove invaluable for you.
1. Drax (from “Guardians of the Galaxy”)
Drax inspired this list with his inability to recognize metaphors, as demonstrated in this very poignant, touching Tumblr post. A lot of people, especially young people, who have learning differences can relate to his handicap. Drax, an alien who swore vengeance against a godlike villain for killing his family, is far from your typical role model, but that’s what makes him such a great one.
Young adults with learning differences have latched onto Drax because he’s so completely different from anyone else they’ve seen on the screen, much like they feel they are in their own lives. I don’t know if Drax was meant to represent people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other learning differences when he failed to understand irony, but he’s certainly become a rallying cry for some of the most underrepresented.
2. Oscar (from “The Real Boy”)
Not too long ago, Minnesota Life College, a school that helps recent high school graduates with ASD and other learning differences prepare for the real world, held an event featuring young adult author Anne Ursu, and I was fortunate enough to attend. Anne read an excerpt from her book “The Real Boy” and answered questions from the audience.
What makes her book so interesting in a sea of young adult literature is that the central character, Oscar, is one of those four heroes with learning differences. In this case, autism, specifically. He’s shy, he’s different and he’s no less lovable for it. Oscar is one of the most accurate heroes with learning differences through whom others can live vicariously as he goes on his adventure.
3. The Doctor (from “Doctor Who”)
The Doctor from the British TV show “Doctor Who” is an alien with two hearts and 13 lives who travels through time and space. His life isn’t exactly similar to that of people with learning differences, but it’s his personality that many of them respond to. He’s clever in a way no one else is, beyond quirky and largely fueled by his wild imagination. All are common, endearing qualities of many young people with learning differences, making him one of the top potential heroes with learning differences.
4. Sherlock Holmes (from “Sherlock”)
The Sherlock that appears in the BBC television show is unique and brilliant, but exceedingly difficult. He’s hard to like at times, but once you get to know him, is impossible not to love. Sometimes he seems cold, but he cares about his friends more than anything. Sound familiar? Young adults with learning differences can relate to the struggles Sherlock goes through as he tries to connect with the rest of the world, and also aspire to his greatness.
He’s one of the most interesting heroes with learning differences in any form of media. It’s heartening to see the increased attempt to include heroes with learning differences in the media, as audiences and creators become more aware of things like the autism spectrum. If you know any individuals with learning differences, I encourage you to share with them the stories containing these characters so they have people to look up to.