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"...Amy pulls her weight by having the power to heal [the player], create cones of silence and telekinetically blast things aside. Obviously. I'd be rather put out if she didn't. In horror circles, small, mute, autistic girls are second in power only to Jason Voorhees listening to people fucking."
The Rainman has a Disability Superpower
. Karmic law dictates that every mental birth defect has a compensating benefit. Like taking flaws on an RPG character
, there is always an intelligence point payback, and usually a special skill, too. Some Rain Men are friendless creepy freaks
, others are lovable weirdos
. Rain Men are always
equipped with supernatural skills.
These skills are usually mental and often geeky. At the low end are super keen observation
. At the high end are telekinesis
and hacking into the world's computational substrate
. In the namesake film
, the skills are near-instantaneous observation and counting that makes Dustin Hoffman's character a nightmare for a decent casino.
If a kidnapping situation comes up, expect these skills to be used.
In Real Life
, autism is a complex brain development disorder associated with interaction/communication problems and restricted repetitious behavior. Extreme cases can be disabling, but the negative medical view of autism is highly controversial in some quarters. Autism is seen by many autistics (including some people with Asperger syndrome, or "Aspies") as more akin to a different viewpoint and way of life. Savant skills are rare, although repetitious behavior does
tend to result in autistics acquiring some unusual skills through practice. But none of that makes good television, does it?
Oh, and savant skills aren't always associated with autism to begin with. The person "Rain Man" was based on, a savant named Kim Peek, was not autistic.
See also Science-Related Memetic Disorder
, for a truly exaggerated take on the subject; Crazy Awesome
, for utter insanity as opposed to a simple mental disorder; Genius Ditz
when the disability is just plain stupidity, and Neurodiversity Is Supernatural
for if the character's "gift" is a superpower. Can overlap with High Functioning Autism
A subtrope of Idiot Savant
If you are looking for the film called Rain Man
, it is here
open/close all folders
- Unseen Academicals: Mister Nutt. Very book intelligent, remembers an amazing amount of what he's read, but his social skills are lacking, and the new or unexpected can make him freeze up. Much of this is due to the horrible circumstances of his early life.
- We might as well nickname this trope "Stephen King's Magic People With Mental Conditions."
- Blackwolf, the Batman Expy from Soon I Will Be Invincible, gets his observational skills and planning powers from a form of high-functioning autism.
- Pick a Dean Koontz novel, any Dean Koontz novel... nine times out of ten there will be a mentally handicapped character of some sort who has extraordinary gifts, up to and including psychic powers...
- A Wizard Alone, the sixth book in the Young Wizards series, centered around an autistic character who was portrayed as locked up in his own head on account of being autistic (which is a very inaccurate portrayal of what it is like), but was taking advantage of this writers' error to lock up the Big Bad in there with him. A little off in that being autistic didn't seem to give him a lot, otherwise, and was basically treated as something awful that'd been sicced on him by the Forces of Entropy and a metaphor for people closing themselves off because of a trauma such as grief. In the end he pushes it off on
Satan is everywhere the Lone Power and becomes a normal wizard, apart from his special ability to be two places at once, which is caused by being a conduit for holy power. Which is unrelated to the autism, incidentally, or at least not said to be related. Something like that.
- Lisbeth Salander is a combination of The Rainman, badass Dark Action Girl, and a healthy serving of Broken Bird. She's incredibly withdrawn and doesn't get on well with others (to the point where she was legally declared mentally incompetent), but she has a Photographic Memory and extraordinary talents for hacking and working with machinery and can dig up practically any information about someone given enough time. In the books she is speculated as being an Asperger, but she doesn't really fit the definition given the calculated ruthlessness, flexible independence, and lack of anal-retentive compulsions. The author himself, in talks with his editor, stated that he saw her more as a borderline sociopath with incredibly bad upbringing circumstances, which would fit better, or how he envisioned that a modern-day Pippi Longstocking might turn out after growing up (as a mentally disabled orphan) in the Swedish bureaucratic system.
- Friendly of Best Served Cold (followup novel to The First Law) is a bit odd, taciturn, and, well, Ax-Crazy, but he's also excellent with numbers. He gets hung up on counting especially, such as the fact that there are eight letters in "counting," and that two times eight is sixteen which is the square root of two hundred fifty-six which...
- It's been speculated that Jeremy Clockson in Thief of Time is autistic. He's also a brilliant clockmaker who instinctively knows what time it is. In fact, he knows it so deeply that he gets really upset if he sees a clock that's wrong.
- In My Godawful Life by Michael Kelly, a parody of Misery Lit, Euphemia has Asperger's and Tourette's Syndromes although it's also implied that she fakes them as an excuse for her lack of empathy but also serves as a walking dictionary, thesaurus, A to Z, clock, calendar, episode guide for Doctor Who and Star Trek, and is a prodigy in a variety of disciplines including maths, physics and Latin.
- Mass Effect: Ascension has Gillian Grayson, a high-functioning autistic preteen with extremely high biotic potential (gravity manipulation/telekinesis). Early on while she's doing schoolwork she only occasionally types in an answer, but it's always the right one. However, she does seem to be somewhat realistically portrayed - physical contact is alternately not felt and painful, she doesn't understand other kids, she doesn't always respond to someone speaking. Kahlee Sanders, taking care of her, thinks that going off the Cerberus medication she was taking and being in an environment suit among suited-up quarians contribute significantly to her disability becoming somewhat less severe by the end of the book. She shows some emotion and more curiosity about things happening around her, and with the suit insulating her from the outside world, physical contact doesn't overload her senses.
- One of The Baby-Sitters Club's clients was an Autistic girl who couldn't talk unless she was asked to name a date or if singing was part of the music she heard (she was a piano savant). At one point her sitter discovers that a neighborhood boy was charging other children to see the freaky savant girl.
- Little Pete from Gone. He is a five-year-old and severely autistic. In Diana's Random Power Ranking system, muggles are 0, most mutants are 1-3, The Hero and the Big Bad are 4, and Little Pete is 10.
- Genetic scientist Anton of Ender's Shadow says he was inspired by Rainman-like savants, who showed him the human brain could be far smarter than it typically was. But that intelligence always comes with a cost: in the case of the children he genetically enhances in utero, it's a drastically reduced lifespan.
- St. Elsewhere: In the series finale, the entire series is revealed to be the figment of an autistic teenager's imagination; a tiny building set inside a snow globe served as the hospital where the main action was set.
- Parenthood: Max Braverman, the 8-year-old son of Adam and Kristina Braverman, has Asperger's. Several episodes have featured characters on the autism spectrum or issues related to the disorder.
- Game shows: Several game show-related talk boards have members who are on the autism spectrum, and affected to varying degrees.
- While not directly noted as such, a subject of the 1979 game show The Guiness Game (where contestants won cash prizes for correctly guessing whether a world's record would be broken) was a child who could instantly figure in his head a ridiculously complicated mathematical equation. (The kid came up with the incorrect answer.)
- In Stephen King's Rose Red, Annie Wheaton is too autistic to really speak to anyone, but she is also telekinetic and telepathic. See also Literature, above.
- In Burn Notice:
- The schizophrenic Spencer sees patterns in everything, which helps him find Michael and alert him to a woman who's selling coded messages to enemy agents. Unfortunately, he also sees messages sent on beams of light from aliens and that the enemy agents are evil aliens seeking to destroy the universe, which makes him hard to work with. Spencer receives a happy ending when Barry gets him a cryptography job and he gets on some anti-psychotics.
- Averted with Dougie in a later episode. He has no particular abilities, he's just a good (but 'slow') guy who's a Pet the Dog moment for his drug dealer cousin and the target of a violent criminal seeking to use him. Fiona has a Mama Bear moment on his behalf.
- "It's a gift... and a curse."
- Sttotlemeyer even refers to it as his "Rain Man thing" in one episode.
- Detective Goren from Law & Order: Criminal Intent is awkward and stutters but has an exceptional attention to detail and problem solving skills.
- He also faced down against an Aspie who was able to arrange murders so that no one would ever notice a pattern. He was so good that Goren and Eames only caught him because someone else made a mistake.
- That, and he would unconsciously arrange things in a certain pattern, including the "random" dump sites.
- Lampshaded with Joey in Friends, when Chandler comments that Joey can't add five hundred and five hundred in his head, but when you put him near a woman he becomes the Rainman.
- Haywire from Prison Break, who supposedly has a "schizoaffective disorder with bipolar tendencies," not only has a perfect photographic memory, but has no need for sleep. A Television Without Pity recapper noted "I love it when being mentally disabled really means you have superpowers."
- Michael himself may qualify as a mild version. He's been diagnosed with low latent inhibition, which apparently allows him to formulate ridiculously complicated plans.
- Averted by Eureka. Kevin's supernatural powers are due not to his autism but to absorbing the Akashic Field.
- However, his ability to name the day of the week for any given date is a classical view of an autistic superpower. And then they pull this:
Carter: "What is... November 3rd, 1957?"
Carter: "Pretty sure it was a Thursday."
Kevin: "Nope. Tuesday."
Carter: "Whatever. Still gonna look it up."
- Which nobody ever did: November 3rd, 1957 was a Sunday, according to both Linux' cal(1) function and The Other Wiki.
- Many fans speculate that Chloe O'Brian in 24 has Asperger's, though it's never been confirmed by TPTB.
- Spinelli on General Hospital is so good with computers that the Port Charles Mob...convinces him to work for them. At one point, Matt Hunter wants to test him for autism, but he refuses, telling him he is Spinelli, and no further explanation is needed.
- Airwolf: A boy with Down Syndrome has the ability to accurately draw something for memory. His father, an aircraft designer, gets kidnapped by people who appear to be working for a certain non-democratic state. He is able to draw the outside of the house, thus allowing Airwolf's image recognition system to find it.
- River Tam from Firefly, though in her case she started out just fine (better than fine), until her fourteenth birthday, when she was convinced to go to the Academy. From there, things got worse.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit once featured a little girl with Williams Syndrome. She made the perfect witness because 1) she literally had no concept of lying, and 2) she had really, really good hearing. (She was also completely adorable.)
- FlashForward (2009) used the 'prattling savant' variety of this trope with Gabriel.
- Fringe has an episode about a mentally challenged individual (forget if they mentioned the cause) who is given IQ steroids to the point of being able to predict outcomes and create Rube Goldberg deathtraps.
- An episode of In Plain Sight had a bookie's accountant who had Aspergers. She was the perfect witness because she couldn't lie, but she was the worst protected witness because it was impossible for her maintain a new identity. On top of that she still believed her boss was her friend and tried to visit him during the trial, which nearly got her killed.
- An episode of Without a Trace had an autistic boy go missing. The parents were asked if he had any special abilities. They outright say "You mean like Rainman? No!" Although, he does do some pretty detailed drawings and can recite all the eras of the geologic time scale.
- Abed from Community. Lampshaded after Abed has managed to sit perfectly still for twenty-six hours waiting in a room simply because Annie asked him to:
: It's you
! It's your fault! Annie
: But... you told me to bring subjects! Professor Duncan
: Yeah, subjects
! Not Rain Man
- There's another direct reference in one episode in a blink-and-you'll-mis-it moment: Jeff spills a bag of bagels and Abed notes how many have fallen on the floor at a glance. This echoes a scene in Rainman when Raymond first demonstrates his savant abilities by doing the same with toothpicks. Though it's actually a Stealth Pun once you realize Abed counts 13. As in, a baker's dozen, the most likely number.
- Jerry Espenson on Boston Legal; he has Asperger's Syndrome and is also one of the most brilliant lawyers at the firm.
- Gary Bell from Alphas, an autistic who can read and process wireless signals faster than a computer. In one episode someone refers to him as "Rain Man", a reference he doesn't get because his mother won't allow him to watch that movie.
- Indeed, part of Alphas' premise is that most Alphas have at least a shade of this, the same altered brain chemistry which provides their unique abilities making them prone to thematically related mental disorders. The Ghost's manipulative powers, which he uses to carry out elaborately planned assassinations using mind-controlled stooges, clearly suffers from considerable OCD, mapping out every aspect of his life with the same precision he plans assassinations—to the point that he considers four minute's tardiness an offense punishable by death.
- There's also Anna, who was diagnosed with Low Functioning Autism but actually has a different atypical brain disorder, whose Alpha ability allows her to understand any language— even though she herself can only speak a language of her own devising made up mostly by the sounds made by stroking a brush. Once she has her tablet computer which translates what she's saying, she is revealed to be highly intelligent and one of the leaders of Red Flag
- Skylar's ability to disassemble machines and create new technology comes at the cost of her apparently doing it compulsively, as well as having difficulty with other people. The only person she gets along with at all is Nina. Skylar's daughter shares the compulsive issue, but in regards to math and encryption.
- The upcoming FOX series Touch seems to be all about this, seeing as it focuses on the father of a severely autistic child (he's even nonverbal) who serves as a conduit for the patterns of the universe.
- Tommy: that deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.
- Although Tommy's disabilities were trauma induced.
- Gary Numan's "Remind Me To Smile".
- WWE had Eugene, Eric Bischoff's "special" nephew, whose savant skill just happened to be Professional Wrestling. Later they introduced Jesse and his cousin Festus, the latter of which seems to be heavily autistic, but "wakes up" whenever he hears the ring bell and becomes a superb powerhouse wrestler, only to go back off to his own little world when the bell rings again at the end of the match.
- These were both played for laughs, with the best usage being when John Morrison and The Miz more or less herded "stupid" Festus into the ring with a bell, and proceeded to ring it over and over to watch him snap back and forth, with Morrison at one point leaving Festus in "battle" mode to watch him chase Miz around the ring. It must be noted the fellow who plays Festus is REALLY dedicated to the character.
- The Festus gimmick was randomly abandoned and he, real name Andrew Hankinson, was reintroduced as Luke Gallows, with the explanation that his previous behavior was due to drug use. Under this name, he was a Heel and the muscle in CM Punk's Straight Edge Society.
- Throughout professional wrestling history, there have been "missing link" characters — wrestlers with limited language skills and apparently little or no independent cognitive ability, but whenever they enter the ring, they unleash a full fury on their hapless opponents. One of the most famous "missing link" types was George "the Animal" Steele, whose neanderthal character's vocabulary consisted of "duh," "uh," and a few other assorted words, never in sentences of more than a couple words. William James Meyers — actually a highly intelligent man who taught high school physical education in Detroit, and wrestled part-time — perfected the George Steele character over time, and enjoyed his most popular run (as a sympathetic babyface) from 1985-1988 in the WWF.
- WWE, as part of its civic duties, once teamed with supermodel Jenny McCarthy (one of many celebrities who have children on the autism spectrum) and her Generation Rescue to promote autism awareness on the August 2 (taped July 28), 2008 installment of WWE Saturday Night's Main Event. The show drew a meager 1.4 rating, almost justified given McCarthy's irresponsible pushing of the discredited "vaccinations lead to autism" lie.
- Last Res0rt's Daisy Archanis is an autistic Mad Scientist; while the only real 'power' she's demonstrated so far are some kickass deduction skills that helped her figure out Jigsaw was a vampire before anyone else AND discreetly inform Jigsaw of this by exploiting Jigsaw's new thought-reading skills in order to avoid breaking The Masquerade, bonus materials imply that her autistic facets are actually a symptom of being a Light Child and thus having the potential for supernatural powers (albeit lacking the training to use them).
- Noah in El Goonish Shive has an number of Aspergers-like traits, including having absolutely no idea how social conversations are supposed to work. Knowing the series, however, it's more likely he'll turn out to be an alien or other-worldly being who just doesn't get human culture.
- It's very heavily hinted (his connection to Damien, how he sees Grace, the fact he was seen when talking about a sixth experimental chimera (OK, in shadow, but his hair is far to unique to miss) that he has at least some connection to Grace and the other Chimera prior to being adopted by Raven.
- Jiro Sasaki from "Ruby's World". Somewhat subverted in that he was a literal example in his youth, but his autistic brain has been complemented by the Super Soldier process to which he was subjected. His body and brain are augmented by nanotech, so his talents can be applied to pretty much anything... except understanding other human beings.
- In Questionable Content, Hannelore's OCD and germ phobia make her see Marigold's room as a "challenge". In addition, OCD-fueled counting makes her a great drummer as soon as she learns how to use the drums, since she sees it as "counting with your whole body".
- A Running Gag in the Batman episode of After Hours is Michael accusing the others of having Aspergers, and testing it by tossing some sugar packets and demanding that they guess how many there are. At the end of the episode a waiter walks by, glances at them, and asks who put 31 sugar packets on the floor.
- Fat Albert: The 1979 episode "The Mainstream," where a young boy named Dennis, with a "mild form of intellectual disablity" — the depiction is consistent with autism-like characteristics — shows off his talents at his school's art, and teaching the gang and his classmates that he can rise above his apparent disability.
- The Sewer Urchin from The Tick. On ground level, he is generally considered ineffectual and unpopular (particularly because of his smell), but in his home territory of the sewers, he's one of The City's most effective superheroes. As an added bonus, he actually sounds and acts like Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man.
- The Simpsons: Several episodes where Homer meets autistic characters, including:
- "Stark Raving Dad" — Homer is mistakenly(?) sent to a mental institution, where he meets a man who can figure out complicated mathematical problems in his mind (although the question Homer asks is "what is 5 plus 4").
- "$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)" — Homer gets a job as a blackjack dealer at Mr. Burns' casino, and two men resembling Charlie and Raymond Babbit from Rain Man are at the blackjack table. Homer is impressed by Raymond's card-counting abilities ... until "Raymond" hears a roulette wheel spinning and starts mimicking the opening spiel of Wheel of Fortune; Homer tries to restrain "Raymond", who begins to panic and beat the palm of his hand against his head... after which Homer begins to do the same!