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Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012)

Analysis

Is Katniss Everdeen Autistic?

Katniss Everdeen is one of the most beloved heroines of our time. There are many reasons for this, such as her inspirational qualities and badassery, but chief among them is her complexity. While many female characters end up feeling flat and poorly characterized, Katniss feels like a real person. That fact alone makes her relatable to women the world over. Especially back in 2008 when she first came into our lives, it was a novelty to find a female fictional character who was so messy and imperfect and ultimately human.

However, some of that messiness is more relatable to some people than others. Not only is Katniss no Mary Sue, she’s far from an everywoman. I’m not referring here to the idea of her or the ways she has inspired womankind, but to her actual personality. And while a myriad of women relate to her imperfection and fighting spirit, some of us specifically relate to these less celebrated personality traits. We see ourselves in her insecurities and weaknesses and general weirdness.

Because Katniss is, to be blunt, kind of weird. She’s a loner who has difficulty understanding others’ emotions and expectations of her. Though mature in terms of independence, she is kind of naive and easy to manipulate despite her distrustfulness. Her hyperfocus on saving those she cares about is endearing but leads her to miss the bigger picture. These and various other personality traits have led to the theory that she may have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She is often included in lists of autistic or autistic-coded characters compiled in positivity posts within our community. “Autistic-coded” is probably most accurate, because although she has lots of the characteristics, she’s never outright labelled as autistic.

Of course, there is no way she could be. Her society lacks the language to describe neurological differences. Katniss and Rue know kids they describe as “not quite right in the head” who sound like they have developmental disorders and/or intellectual disabilities, but there are no proper names for their conditions. And when Katniss is suffering from various mental illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s all lumped together under the term “mentally disoriented.” So even if people around Katniss did notice there was something odd about her, that’s probably the only way they could describe her: “A little odd.” Katniss is aware that she doesn’t fit in but makes no attempt to name or explain her differences. After all, she doesn’t really care what people think of her.

With that in mind, we cannot rely on the text to confirm or refute the theory. How well it holds water is a question that has nagged at the back of my mind for several years. So when some readers of this article inquired about my assertion that Katniss could be interpreted as being on the autism spectrum, I figured it was high time I reread the books and thoroughly investigated the validity of the theory. Before I present my findings, I have a few notes and disclaimers to share.

Firstly, in this analysis I use the word “autistic” to refer to anyone who is on the spectrum. That includes those of us who would have been described/diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome in years past. This is how the majority of the autistic community uses the word now and it is correct in terms of the current Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), but it may confuse people who have only heard the term colloquially.

Secondly, I am working under the assumption that Katniss has PTSD. That may be a little presumptuous of me because it is never spelled out (for the reasons I outlined above), but this is accepted as fact among much of the fandom because it is heavily, heavily implied. She seems to have some symptoms even at the series’ start but experiences more as the story progresses, and she is in bad shape by the time Mockingjay starts. Considering this and how there is somewhat of an overlap in the symptoms of ASD and PTSD, I have taken most of my evidence from the earlier books.

Lastly, I am not a mental health professional and am not qualified to diagnose anyone. And that is not what I am trying to do, nor is it the point of this analysis. However, I will present the evidence supporting this theory, then compare what we know to various diagnostic criteria to get a sense of how supported it is by canon.

With all that cleared up, let’s begin by taking a look at the various symptoms of ASD in Katniss’s narration and characterization.

Stimming

Self-stimulatory behavior, or stimming, is a use of repetitive sensory input commonly seen in autistic individuals. Rocking and hand-flapping are the most notorious examples, but stimming can also involve subtler actions like stroking or fiddling with objects or repetitively smelling something pleasant or familiar. These behaviors are seen in the general population to an extent, but present more frequently in people with ASD and AD(H)D. Autistic people commonly stim to regulate sensory input, seeing as we tend to be hypersensitive to stimuli. We also do it to regulate emotions, just like neurotypicals. In that scenario, you can think of stimming as a more intense and compulsive version of a nervous habit.

Katniss exhibits some stimming behavior, though it’s up for interpretation whether it’s an abnormal amount. She mentions throughout the series that she’s a nail biter, and she does it most often when she’s upset or nervous. Nail biting is a fairly common stim even among neurotypical adults, but Katniss soothes herself with tactile stimming using a number of other objects throughout the series. While waiting for her first Games to start, she says the following:

I don’t want to chew on my nails or lips, so I find myself gnawing on the inside of my cheek. […] My fingers obsessively trace the hard little lump on my forearm where the woman injected the tracking device. I press on it, even though it hurts, I press on it so hard a small bruise begins to form.The Hunger Games

She also stims while waiting to say goodbye to her mother and sister after her first reaping.

I know velvet because my mother has a dress with a collar made of the stuff. When I sit on the couch, I can’t help running my fingers over the fabric repeatedly. It helps to calm me as I try to prepare for the next hour. –The Hunger Games

Another notable example is how she rubs the pearl Peeta gave her in the second arena between her fingers and against her lips during Mockingjay, usually when she is concerned about him, stressed out, or mulling over something difficult. Obviously the connection to Peeta can explain this to an extent, but it qualifies as a stimming behavior nonetheless.

Cluelessness about others’ feelings/intentions

Frankly, Katniss is rather clueless when it comes to people. Distrustful of most humans, she has a hard time sussing out their motives and feelings and what they want from her. She vacillates over Peeta’s intentions and motivations throughout the first book, both as a potential ally and as a love interest. She doesn’t even seem convinced of his feelings for her after they leave the arena, wondering if the reason Haymitch says he doesn’t need to coach Peeta is because Peeta is actually in love with her. She insists there’s nothing romantic between her and Gale several times in the book, despite sensing that Gale would feel betrayed by her fake romance with Peeta. When Gale kisses her and later declares his love for her during Catching Fire, she’s still caught off guard.

In general, she has a very difficult time picking up how others feel about her. Gale even calls her out on this in Mockingjay, saying she’d be the last to figure out if someone was interested in her. This isn’t limited to romantic interests, either. Katniss considers Madge Undersee to be a friend of convenience, someone to partner with in gym class and eat lunch with, but assumes Madge has no real interest in her until she comes to say goodbye at the first reaping.

I’m getting all kinds of gifts today. Madge gives me one more. A kiss on the cheek. Then she’s gone and I’m left thinking that maybe Madge really has been my friend all along.The Hunger Games

Katniss is also slow to grasp what is going on with the alliance in the second arena. To be fair, Peeta doesn’t figure it out either. But despite observing that some of the tributes are trying to keep Peeta alive, even to their own detriment, she can’t figure out why and remains distrustful of her allies. It’s not the only time we see her have difficulty putting pieces together. For instance, she doesn’t clue in that Johanna has become hydrophobic despite noticing her reluctance to bathe (on multiple occasions) and how she almost faints when they have to go train in the rain.

This difficulty extrapolating people’s motives unfortunately also leads her to be easily manipulated, another autistic hallmark. Of course she is manipulated by President Snow and President Coin at times, remolded to herald their causes even though she always feels a little unsure about helping them. But most painfully, she is used by Haymitch in the second arena in a way that could only be done by someone who understood her psychology and could predict her reactions. He decides it would be better for her to know nothing, so he misleads her and withholds the truth, banking on her obsession with protecting people she cares about (in this case, Peeta) to keep her in the alliance. Since she has a hard time parsing out who is on her side and who wants what from her, his duplicity comes as a huge shock.

No one in their right mind would let me makes the plans. Because I obviously can’t tell a friend from an enemy.Catching Fire

Misreads social cues/Gives inappropriate responses

Perhaps our most infamous characteristic, autistics tend to behave strangely in social situations. This is often the result of misreading or completely missing social cues and context clues. At other times, it’s owing to a low tolerance for frustrating situations. We can endure less stress (especially socially) before responding with an inappropriate outburst. Katniss exhibits both of these patterns of behavior.

Socially awkward penguin, indeed.

When Katniss shoves Peeta in a fit of rage after he admits he has a crush on her on national television, it’s socially inappropriate and shocks everyone, but it’s kind of understandable. She’s angry about being left out of the plan and being turned into a love interest against her will. But she also responds awkwardly when Gale says he loves her.

I never see these things coming. They happen too fast. One second you’re proposing an escape plan and the next… you’re expected to deal with something like this. I come up with what must be the worst possible response. “I know.” It sounds terrible. Like I assume he couldn’t help loving me but that I don’t feel anything in return. Gale starts to draw away, but I grab hold of him. “I know! And you… you know what you are to me.” It’s not enough. He breaks my grip.Catching Fire

“Foot-in-mouth disease” is very relatable to those of us on the spectrum, so this was particularly painful to read. But it is far from her only inappropriate response in the series. For another example, when Peeta shows Katniss his paintings of their first Games and asks for an opinion, she responds honestly. It’s a situation where social convention demands manners over candor, but Katniss either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.

“What do you think?” he asks.

“I hate them,” I say. I can almost smell the blood, the dirt, the unnatural breath of the mutt. “All I do is go around trying to forget the arena and you’ve brought it back to life.”

Catching Fire

Though it could be chalked up to being grouchy and/or snarky, Katniss is easily aggravated to the point of blatant rudeness when most people would just grin and bear the annoying circumstances. This is especially true when it comes to Effie Trinket, whom she finds especially tiresome. Katniss eats with her hands and then wipes them on the table cloth to spite Effie after she makes a passing remark about Katniss and Peeta’s unexpectedly good table manners compared to the “savage” tributes of yesteryear. Then while on the Victory Tour, Katniss snaps at Effie and says no one cares about her concerns about the schedule. This shocks even the eternally insensitive Haymitch, which says a lot. Katniss is already in a bad mood at the time, but still exhibits a low social tolerance here.

With Katniss, it is certainly debatable whether she’s simply blunt or actually clueless socially. I see it as a mix of both. The situation with Gale is the only example above that is definitely an accidental blunder. But even if Katniss does understand social expectations, she purposely shirks them at times, which isn’t uncharacteristic of autistics either. Sometimes we don’t know, and sometimes we don’t care.

Personally, I’ve been called rude so many times for reasons I didn’t understand that in some situations I’ve given up on trying to act according to a rulebook I’m not privy to. So obviously I’m biased toward interpreting similar behavior as an indicator of autism. But to be fair, I am far from the first autistic to experience social burnout and throw out the rule book. But again, maybe Katniss is a dick for other reasons, such as her stressful life and probable PTSD in the wake of her father’s death. All we can do is speculate.

Excessive literalism/pragmatism and disinterest in hypotheticals

Autistics typically have a difficult time with abstractions and are very literal thinkers. You know how Sheldon Cooper doesn’t understand sarcasm? That’s actually very characteristic of us, partly because we miss social cues but also because we tend to take everything literally. Our need for predictability and structure ties into this. Trying to extrapolate can cause anxiety, and ambiguity leaves us feeling uneasy because we don’t know what to expect or what our next step should be. Unsurprisingly, we usually focus on the reality of our circumstances rather than waste brain power and set off a spiral of our characteristic overthinking by pondering things we can’t change.

“I keep wishing I could think of a way to… to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” says Peeta.

“But you’re not,” I say. “None of us are. That’s how the Games work.”

“Okay, but within that framework, there’s still you, there’s still me,” he insists. “Don’t you see?”

“A little. Only… no offense, but who cares, Peeta?”

The Hunger Games

This is a core tenet of Katniss’s personality and there’s no need for me to explain this or make a case for it. The above quote is one of the most blatantly autistic-sounding exchanges she has in the series, but this cluster of traits is evident many other times too. I’ll let Katniss speak for herself on the matter…

The conversation feels all wrong. Leave? How could I leave Prim, who is the only person in the world I’m certain I love? And Gale is devoted to his family. We can’t leave, so why bother talking about it?The Hunger Games

[Gale’s] rages seem pointless to me […] What good is yelling about the Capitol in the woods? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make things fair. It doesn’t fill our stomachs. In fact, it scares off the nearby game.The Hunger Games

I know there must be more than they’re telling us, an actual account of what happened during the rebellion. But I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Whatever the truth is, I don’t see how it will help me get food on the table.The Hunger Games

I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness. At least a rainbow gives you a tip about the weather.The Hunger Games

I don’t do well with ambiguous threats. I’d much rather know the score.Catching Fire

Does he [remember the kiss]? I hope not. If he does, everything will just get more complicated and I can’t really think about kissing when I’ve got a rebellion to incite.Catching Fire

The scene that first quote is plucked from is especially salient because Katniss’s literalism causes her to miss a social cue. She takes Gale’s suggestion that they could run away literally instead of understanding that he is saying it to prompt a conversation about their relationship or hint at his feelings for her. In turn, she doesn’t understand that that’s why he reacts badly when she responds by pointing out the impracticalities of wishing they lived elsewhere.

Perhaps Gale does understand this about her to an extent, though. He implies in Mockingjay that Katniss will choose between him and Peeta based on an emotionless assessment of who she needs as opposed to who she loves. Peeta doesn’t disagree with him, either. It’s not a fair or kind thing for either of them to say or think, and Katniss is rightfully pissed when she overhears the exchange. However, it’s not a huge leap for Gale to make as a friend of several years who knows how logical and pragmatic Katniss’s thoughts usually run.

Odds and ends

There are a few other possible indicators of autism in Katniss’s characterization. One fairly obvious one is her lack of friendships with age-appropriate peers and her apparent ability to bond more easily with those older or younger than herself. Her social awkwardness aside, she doesn’t have a normal level of interest in making friends either. All of these things are characteristic of autistic children.

To hear Delly describe it, I had next to no friends because I intimidated people by being so exceptional. Not true. I had next to no friends because I wasn’t friendly.Mockingjay

Along those same lines, Katniss hates small talk and is aware that she’s terrible at it. It’s a big reason why she and Madge gravitated toward each each other, because neither of them like talking much. Both are obviously introverted, but Katniss doesn’t just dislike social chatter, sometimes she has genuine difficulty figuring out what to say unless she has a reason to be speaking to someone.

She also exhibits muted facial expressions and (presumably) a rather flat affect. This is partly on purpose; she says in The Hunger Games that she tries to be unreadable so no one can tell what she’s thinking. It may be somewhat natural too, though, considering that she rarely smiles genuinely and has a difficult time forcing smiles. This becomes painfully obvious while Haymitch and Effie are trying to coach her for her televised interview. Besides the smiles, they have a hell of a time trying to mold her body language and tone of voice into something amenable to the audience. Meanwhile, Peeta is effortlessly charming, which further frustrates her.

A lesser known characteristic of the autistic population is our tendency toward being gender atypical and/or queer. Katniss’s sexual and romantic orientations comprise a whole other kettle of fish that demands an article podcast of its own, but she is definitely gender atypical. For anyone who needs convincing, I already broke this argument down here.

Finally, Katniss has a tendency to run away and (sometimes) hide in small spaces when overwhelmed. Though we see this most often when she is suffering from PTSD in Mockingjay, Katniss mentions a few other instances of this. The running suggests a low tolerance for upsetting or overwhelming stimuli, while the hiding in confined spaces rings of the comforting sensation of pressure. Since she tends to hide in the same places over and over, it seems it’s also a way of controlling her environment to regain a sense of control, similar to stimming. This is another characteristic that occurs in allistic children too, though usually they grow out of it by their teens. Of course, Katniss’s PTSD makes it difficult to say if it’s a sign of autism in her case, but it is something that some of us do.

Comparison with diagnostic criteria

Okay, now let’s take all that and see how it lines up with the diagnostic criteria. For a more varied perspective, we will examine two official sets of criteria from the DSM put out by the American Psychological Association (APA) and an unofficial but oft-cited one created by an autistic individual. For ease of reading, I’ll bold any traits Katniss exhibits and the headings (A, B, etc.) which she seems to qualify under and only add further comments for clarification.

Asperger’s Disorder (DSM-IV)

The DSM eliminated Asperger’s Syndrome as a diagnosis in version 5, lumping it in with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This was a controversial move, as it cut some people with what would have been considered “mild Asperger’s” out of the diagnosis entirely. However, since we aren’t officially diagnosing anyone, we can still use it for comparison’s sake. Here are the criteria, save for the parts regarding differential diagnoses.

A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

  1. Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
  2. Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  3. A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
  4. Lack of social or emotional reciprocity

B. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

  1. Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
  2. Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, non-functional routines or rituals
  3. Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
  4. Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

It can be argued that Katniss exhibits all the traits mentioned in Part A, certainly the first two. And she stims, which qualifies for the third trait under Part B. The only question is whether it causes her clinically significant impairment, which is not an easy thing to gauge unless one is a mental health professional. However, signs do point to yes under this criteria.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (DSM-V)

This is from the latest version of the DSM and is therefore the current standard by which someone seeking a diagnosis would be evaluated.

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history:

  1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
  2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
  3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history:

  1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
  2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).
  3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).
  4. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).

D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

One could definitely argue that Katniss has restricted, perseverative interests (such as her obsession with Peeta’s condition and keeping him alive), which would give her a necessary second trait under Part B. But since this is most evident when she is suffering from PTSD in Mockingjay, it’s not really fair to bold it here.

On the other hand, one study found that relaxing the criteria from needing five of the seven traits to only four allowed for more kids already diagnosed as having an ASD to be diagnosed with the new criteria without significantly increasing false diagnoses. If the APA had followed this recommendation, Katniss could have possibly qualified for a diagnosis under the DSM-V. Let me repeat that. Possibly. We still know too little about her childhood development and, again, there’s the whole “clinically significant” issue to consider.

Revised Alternative Autism Criteria

This, the aforementioned criteria created by an autistic individual, is based on the experiences of autistics rather than the observations of doctors. It stresses the importance of self-report symptoms, which is great because many adults and some children learn to “camouflage” and therefore fly under the radar. This is especially true for females.

This idea of an unofficial set of diagnostic criteria may seem strange to those who haven’t spent time in any autistic forums or spaces. But generally speaking, the autistic community is affirming of self-diagnosis. This is in large part because it is difficult to get a diagnosis in adulthood and because traditional diagnostic criteria skew toward the male presentation of the disorder, leaving a lot of girls and women undiagnosed. Plus, an official diagnosis can do more harm than good, as it carries with it stigma and increased health insurance costs, so some people choose not to pursue one.

A. Differences in perception (at least 3)

  1. Sensory defensiveness (ie, complaints or avoidance of any of the following: loud noises or places, bright lights, textures (food or object/clothing), tastes, smells, touch)
  2. Sensory seeking (ie, stims or stimming behaviour such as rocking, flapping, finger flicking, hair twirling, spinning objects, etc or actively desiring any of the following: deep pressure or touch, vestibular sensation [swings, spinning in any context, etc], specific smells, tastes, or textures)
  3. Auditory processing difficulties
  4. Unusual, awkward, or delayed motor skills, or asymmetry between gross and fine motor skills (ie, clumsy but with strong fine motor skills, good gross motor skills with poor hand-writing or table skills, strong skills in a special-interest related area but poor overall [such as an ability to manipulate small objects but poor handwriting])
  5. A reduced or lack of conscious awareness and/or use of allistic (not autistic) nonverbal behaviour and communication such as facial expression, gesture, and posture. This criterion should not exclude persons who have learnt to read or otherwise comprehend nonverbal behaviour by rote learning, particularly adults. Intentional learning to overcome an inherent difficulty in comprehension is supportive of this criterion. It should also not exclude persons who have been taught to use nonverbals to be less visibly different. In such cases, internal report of difficulty should take precedence over apparent behaviour.

B. Differences in cognition (at least 3, one of which must be 1 or 2)

  1. Difficulty in beginning or ending (at least 1):
    • Perseverative thoughts or behaviours
    • Needing prompts (visual, verbal, hand-over-hand, etc) to begin or finish a task
    • Difficulties planning complex activities
    • Catatonia
    • Difficulty switching between activities
    • Lack of apparent startle response
    • Preference for sameness (same food, same clothes, same travel routes, etc)
  2. Difficulty in using language (at least 1, not necessarily present at all times):
    • Problems with pronoun use that are developmentally inappropriate
    • A reduced or lack of awareness of tone in self (ie, speaks in a monotone, childish, or otherwise unusual manner) and/or others (ie, does not perceive sarcasm or follow implied prompts, responds to rhetorical statements and questions in earnest)
    • A reduced or lack of awareness of volume (ie, speaks too loud or too quietly for the situation)
    • No functional language use (includes sign, PECS, spoken, written, and any other communicative language regardless of form)
    • Echolalia
    • Mutism in some or all situations
    • Uses scripts instead of spontaneous language (these may also be delayed echolalic in nature)
  3. At least one special interest in a topic that is unusual for any combination of intensity (ie, does not want to learn/talk about anything else, collects all information about the topic) or subject matter (ie, unusual, obscure, or not considered age appropriate). Topics may be age appropriate and/or common (such as a popular television show or book), but the intensity of interest and/or specific behaviour (such as collecting or organising information as the primary focus) should be taken into account.
  4. Asymmetry of cognitive skills
  5. Talents in any pattern recognition, including music, mathematics, specific language structures, puzzles, and art (any one meets this criterion, not all must be present)
  6. A tendency to focus on details instead of the broader picture, across contexts.

C. These differences cause impairment and/or distress in at least one context (ie, school, work, home), which may be variable over time. Impairment or distress may be defined variably, including meltdowns, anxiety, depression, a pervasive sense of not fitting in, and compulsive behaviours. It is necessary to remember that while the symptoms are not necessarily disabling in themselves, the social response to these symptoms can be disabling. The impairment or distress may be historical, with appropriate evidence to support this claim (i.e., a documented history of meltdowns as a child, and only mild anxiety as an adult), as distress may decrease over time and with education.

D. Symptoms should be present in early childhood, but may not be noticeable until social demands outpace compensatory skills, at any age.

Interestingly, this more pliable set of criteria does not substantially support the theory because Katniss lacks a third trait under the heading “Differences in perception.” She does exhibit sensory defensiveness in Mockingjay, but that appears to be mostly due to her concussion. She presents with enough traits under “Differences in cognition,” though. As I mentioned above, we mostly see the perseveration (circling thoughts) in Mockingjay when she is dealing with a bad bout of PTSD. However, this criterion is referring to thought patterns as opposed to interests, and Katniss has long been an overthinker who easily falls down the rabbit hole of circling thoughts.

As clarification, the language difficulty I bolded above is in reference to the flat affect that Jennifer Lawrence assumed in the role. It is implied that Katniss may speak this way in the books, though she doesn’t blatantly remark on it. If she did remark on it, that would mean she is aware of it, which runs counter to the point. So really, we can only guess at her tone from the way others react to her speech in the books and consider the movie rendition as further evidence.

The verdict (or lack thereof…)

My lack of qualifications aside, it is impossible to give Katniss a diagnosis or rule one out given the dearth of information about her childhood and inability to discern if her deficits are clinically significant. It looks like a possibility, depending on the diagnostic criteria one uses, but it’s definitely ambiguous. One can theorize that if she lived in our time and society she may self-identify as autistic, but given her society’s lack of terminology to describe neurological differences, we have no way of knowing.

The point of this article, of course, is not to formally diagnose a fictional character. My intent is to illuminate why some of us on the spectrum have taken to Katniss and see her as positive representation for our community. Her thought processes and difficulties dealing with people feel familiar, and seeing these in a culturally significant character who is often deemed heroic is validating. This is especially true for autistic women, who get much less in the way of representation.

I also set out to put this into words for those of us who feel an affinity to Katniss but can’t explain why. Consider this a catalogue of ways in which she resembles us so that we can better describe the similarities. Something to point to that lays out the theory and shows there’s something to it. If nothing else, I hope I’ve accomplished that.


Images from The Hunger Games films Courtesy of Lionsgate

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Lisa is a gay(ish) writer and stand-up comedian from Canada's west coast. A longtime fanfic author who recently made the jump to journalism, she is prone to gush ad nauseum about her OTPs. Stubbornly Watsonian and literal, she can't stand characterization and continuity errors.

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