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Neurodiversity Is Supernatural

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Chester A. Bum: You really think all of my mental problems is because I was an alien, huh?
Nostalgia Critic: It's not like that...
Chester A. Bum: No no no no, I get it! It can't be because of how I was born, or my environment! Clearly, being an alien explains it just as well!
Nostalgia Critic: No, I...
Chester A. Bum: It's like if an Asian person walks by and I'm like, "Ooh, maybe he looks that way because he's an alien! It's a perfectly legit reason!" I hope I will be seen as more than just an excuse for your stereotypes, sir!

For much of human history, up until the rise of psychiatry, mental conditions were commonly understood as related to the supernatural — usually Demonic Possession, sometimes Changelings, Mad Oracles and the like. Science Marches On and the idea is not considered true in the West anymore. This could have been a Trope Breaker, but it wasn't. The idea still interests people and so the trope can still be found in fiction.

In some uses of this trope, all cases of a particular neurological or psychiatric condition are the result of supernatural circumstances, and you can't have one without the other. Other times, a given condition can be caused by something supernatural, but the same condition can also develop without the involvement of the paranormal. For example, in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, being a demigod isn't the only cause of dyslexia and/or ADHD.

This trope can potentially overlap with Go Mad from the Revelation, if a character ceases to be neurotypical as the result of tangling with the supernatural or learning Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. However, most of the time their condition is played as a side effect of an ongoing supernatural connection instead.

Can overlap with The Soulless in regard to sociopathy. See also Mad Oracle and By the Eyes of the Blind. If the character gets something useful out of their supernatural connection, it's also a case of Disability Superpower. If the application of this "something useful" changes people's lives for the better in a dramatic fashion, it also makes the characters Inspirationally Disadvantaged. If applied badly, this Trope can create Unfortunate Implications and a Broken Aesop. (If insane people are supernaturally awesome and people trying to help them through therapy or medicine are all allies of whichever evil is roaming around, then doesn't that means that therapy and/or medication are evil (and better off not taken)? Or if the reason for your depression is literally the ghost of your loved one having Unfinished Business and not plain grief, then why bother spending time and money getting counsel, anyway?)

Contrast and compare The Madness Place, where the hyperfocus common to autistic people conveys incredible scientific talent, as well as Science-Related Memetic Disorder.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The title character of AKIRA is a nine-year-old autistic child whose psychic awakening triggered a miniature Big Bang, annihilating Tokyo and triggering World War III.
  • In Betterman, Sakura's superpower, the ability to hear voices from around the world, is a result of her severe and heavily prescribed ADHD.

    Comic Books 
  • In X-Men, Daniel Dash's apparent severe autism is ultimately revealed to be the result of him being a crude nanotech construct.

    Film Live-Action 
  • Being John Malkovich: The film's version of Malkovich becomes plural thanks to Lester and his friends entering the portal on his 44th birthday, with them becoming a system in full control of Malkovich's body.
  • In A Boy Called Po, while the titular autistic child is in a dissociative trance, his Imaginary Friend Jack tells him that his condition means his mind can perceive more than one plane of existence. Jack invites Po to join a group of autistic children about to board a spaceship, which will take him to another plane where he can live forever. Amelia Carr, a classmate only Po can see, turns out to be one of the children who boarded the ship and now lives entirely outside her body. Instead Po opts to stay on Earth and returns to his body, to find his father frantically trying to talk to him. It's hard to know if any of that was real or if he just imagined the whole thing, though.
  • In The Dead Center, the doctor initially thinks the mysterious John Doe is suffering from kind of trauma-induced catatonia and dissociative amnesia. Turns out these are symptoms of Demonic Possession.
  • House of Cards (1993) has a six-year-old girl abruptly turning autistic, allowing her to communicate with her dead father, as well as speak telepathically with her mother.
  • A Man Called Nereus ends with the revelation that the titular savant is really from the fourth dimension, sent to Earth in the guise of a disabled man to act as a guide for mortals.
  • In The Omen (2006) remake, Damien shows signs of having some sort of developmental disorder, and it's bizarre how his modern, 2006 mother automatically subscribes to this trope instead of having him tested. The fact she's right doesn't lessen the unrealistic oddness of her reactions.

    Literature 

By Author:

  • While it's nigh-impossible to be sure of anything in a Philip K. Dick story, some of them imply an extraterrestrial or sci-fi origin for schizophrenia and psychosis (and autism in Martian Time-Slip, which is explained as a child being out of sync with time). However, he has N-Word Privileges here — he had a full-blown schizophrenic breakdown in the late 70s, and the warning signs were there starting from about the time Time Out of Joint came out.

By Work:

  • Averted in Are You Seeing Me?. As Justine, her autistic brother Perry, and their long-estranged mother Leonie watch mountain bikers drive around a course, Perry correctly predicts that an accident will happen at the bottom of a jump because the ground there is unstable. Leonie thinks Perry "saw" the accident with his "third-eye chakra," but Justine tells her that Perry is simply logical and observant and calls her out for seeing him as a freak of nature.
  • In Blindsight, autistics and psychopaths are descended from vampires, which were a Human Subspecies deficient in a protein found only in humans and which therefore evolved several traits to prey on them, such as a complete Lack of Empathy and super-savant mathematical abilities. However, their hyper-savantism caused them to develop seizures when they saw right-angles, and they died out millennia ago... until a biotech company experimented with gene therapy "cures" for autism and psychopathy, accidentally turning their test subjects into vampires.
  • In The Camp Half-Blood Series, demigodhood correlates strongly with dyslexia and ADHD (though they can both occur in mortals). The latter is due to being wired for adventure and battle rather than schoolwork and officework, and the former is due to demigod brains being wired for ancient Greek.
  • The Cosmere: Played with. Having a cracked soul is a necessary prerequisite for most of the magic systems, and one of the side effects of having a cracked soul is that you are more receptive to influence from the Cognitive Realm, meaning that these people often hear voices from ghosts and planar travelers. However, people with schizophrenia cannot tell the difference between real voices from the Cognitive Realm and hallucinations. It should be noted that schizophrenia is not the only thing that causes a cracked soul, things like depression and PTSD can also crack the soul.
    • The Stormlight Archive has a few discussions of this, since Radiants need to be "broken" before they can bond a spren and thus most of them have magical senses and mental illness. Shallan created a magical Split Personality for herself to cope with her trauma but notes the differences between this and DID, while Kaladin sometimes mistakes Odium's power for another one of his depressive episodes.
  • In Dexter in the Dark, all sociopaths are possessed by beings implied to be the children of Satan.
  • In Dreamcatcher, Duddits (the kid with Down Syndrome that is a friend of the main characters) just happens to be a powerful psychic, who has foreseen some of the twists long ago during their childhood and provided them all with a mental link. Of course, many of Stephen King's works include inexplicably psychic children, most of which are neurotypical, so maybe he just won the lottery.
  • The Dresden Files: In the short story "Zoo Day", the "creeps" are demonic entities that attack, possess, and can only be seen by children. When one of the protagonists (young Maggie Dresden) fights back against them, their psychic attacks are described in a way similar to clinical depression (i.e., internal intrusive voices continually mocking you and encouraging you to kill yourself), and it's implied that many young children suffering from depression are in fact possessed by creeps.
  • In Everworld, Senna believes that crazy people are at least partially aware of supernatural things, such like witches like her. They can also hear her when she's using Astral Projection, while talking to normal people requires the more taxing effort of creating an illusionary form.
  • Fire & Rescue Shifters:
    • The conflict in Griffin's mind between his inner animals (he's a were-hybrid of eagle and lion) manifests as random, debilitating spasms.
    • In the second series, an autistic woman (though entirely unsupernatural herself) only finds acceptance and friendship when a pack of weres 'adopts' her. Paralleling how neurodivergent people often feel alienated from neurotypical society and only feel accepted among subcultures of other societal outcasts.
  • Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's short story "Green Tea" from the anthology In a Glass Darkly depicts clinical depression as harassment from an evil monkey spirit. People who don't have their third eyes open to be capable of perceiving spirits just see it as a medical condition.
  • In Harry Potter, the Dementors are evil creatures connected with depression, and it's implied that they cause it in Muggles, who don't see magical things and attribute it to scientific causes.
  • In Gillian Anderson's A Vision Of Fire, Arni's synesthesia is presented as a link between human and animal brains, giving him the Mysterious Animal Senses necessary to access the transpersonal plane.
  • In Wicked, it's implied that a lot of Elphaba's oddities are a result of her being a "child of both worlds", which also comes with immense natural magical talent.
  • Young Wizards: In A Wizard Alone, Darryl becomes autistic in an attempt to withdraw from the sensations of being malignantly observed by the Lone Power. It's portrayed very differently from the experiences of real-world autistics, though it looks similar from the outside. The New Millennium edition averts this completely however: Darryl is just autistic and a wizard, and while his autism influences his wizardry it wasn't caused by it.
  • In Daystar and Shadow, autistics are the next stage of evolution, with superpowers like mind-reading and telepathy.
  • In Twelve Days, Madame Gupta tells Olympia that her autistic son Hannibal is an "indigo child" whose disability is caused by a kundalini trap - a blockage of his energy - and that she wants to work with him to help him release the trap and access his incredible potential. She actually wants to use his powers to kill people in Sympathetic Magic rituals, because he's the first person she's ever met who's powerful enough to kill people without killing himself. In the end he turns his powers on Madame Gupta and all her accomplices in order to save his family.
  • Moojag and the Auticode Secret: In addition to the twenty-one senses that most people have, autistics have a twenty-second sense that allows them to read others' emotions and predict future events, but most have buried it because they either weren't aware of it or couldn't control it. When the people running the world learned about the super sense, they were afraid of what autistics might be able to do, so around the time of the Surge, the Conqip took a large number of autistic children underground so they can use the problem-solving abilities enabled by the twenty-second sense to design technology that will allow the Conqip to live in luxury. The Auts form an underclass whom the Conqip feel free to insult and mistreat, even though their lifestyle depends on them.
  • In Lawrence Watt-Evans' short story "One of the Boy", Captain Cosmos, an alien who raised by humans, has trouble with social cues in a way that resembles autism. The implication seems to be this is normal for his species.

    Live-Action TV 
  • All Alphas have some kind of mental or physical disability to accompany their abilities. Gary for instance is autistic and able to sense and translate radio waves, he's also immune to Nina's Compelling Voice because his brain is too "rigid".
    • One episode gets pretty explicit about it, with a manifesto video by the Alpha terrorist group Red Flag talking about "the recognition of true neurodiversity."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel:
    • Both shows generally portray soullessness as being sociopathy, to the extent that an early Angel episode implies normal human sociopaths are people born without souls.
    • In Buffy, season 5 Big Bad Glory feeds off people's sanity and makes them insane. The terms are kept vague, but the results resemble schizophrenia.
    • Throughout the same season, said schizophrenics and at least one person with brain-tumor-based cognition problems are able to sense Dawn's true nature, while everyone else gets a Perception Filter if they try to think about her too hard.
  • The child Isaac in The Devils Hour presents as a mid-functioning autistic and is also implied to see other points in the timeline.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Vincent and the Doctor": There appears to be a link between Vincent van Gogh's madness/depression, and his ability to see invisible aliens. Which one causes which is somewhat unclear, though.
    • "In the Forest of the Night" features the cute-as-a-button little girl Maebh, who can hear voices that turn out to be some kind of sci-fi fairies.
  • Eli Stone:
    • The whole premise of the show is that Eli's brain tumor means that he's a prophet and that his hallucinations are visions sent from God to instruct him.
    • In the first episode, the strange actions of an autistic child are a way God communicates with Eli. It's not one of Eli's hallucinations; God is behind the unfathomable actions of an autistic child, linking autism with the supernatural and treating the child as more a part of nature than a human being with agency.
  • In Eureka, Kevin's autism is the result of a mysterious supernatural force never quite explained. Kevin is eventually able to cure his autism by figuring out how to time travel and changing events so that the force never affects him.
  • In the first episode of The Exorcist, it's left ambiguous whether Henry Rance's shaky mental health is the result of his severe head injury or the demonic presence in his house. The Salesman gleefully muddies the waters at one point, claiming that he helped cause the accident that injured Henry.
  • Game of Thrones has Jojen Reed, a teenager who can see the future, but has bouts of what can be clearly identified as epilepsy to a modern audience. According to his sister, his epilepsy is a direct effect of his powers.
    • In the sixth season, it's revealed that Hodor used to be entirely functional, but his mind was destroyed when Bran warged him in the past.
  • House of the Dragon: Helaena Targaryen has many traits on the autistic spectrum, and she seemingly can see glimpses of the future.
  • Heroes presents synesthesia as a superpower. Though the power is later shown to be more of an ability to manipulate sound, its introduction has it as simply sound-to-color synesthesia.
  • Legion (2017): Played with. David Leeds has believed for his entire life that he was schizophrenic. He was finally admitted to a psych hospital after he trashed his girlfriend's kitchen. A few years later, there was another incident at the hospital, where several people died. This brought him to the attention of the Division, who realized that he is a powerful psychic and try to control him. A group of mutants rescue him and begin helping him untangle the damage the well-meaning doctors did. While doing so, they discover that while he is even more powerful than they thought, he's also schizophrenic, with disturbing visions, extremely distorted memories, and serious emotional issues, all of which make controlling his powers a challenging prospect at best. And then it turns out that the "visions" are of a very real psychic parasite which has edited his memories to remove any sign of itself. And then it manages to take control of his body and his powers...
    Ptonomy: He's schizophrenic.
    Melanie: I'm afraid it's much worse than that.
  • Stephen King committed this trope in his screenplay for the miniseries Rose Red. Annie Wheaton is an autistic with extreme telekinetic powers, and her Art Initiates Life — when she does pictures of rocks falling on a neighbor's home, they do. note  Many of the supposed ghostly activities in the house are actually Annie's doing. They also find out that she's telepathic and communicates perfectly well that way.
  • An episode of Sanctuary plays with and subverts this when it features an autistic boy with a supernatural power and at the end brings in his neurotypical brother with the same power, showing that the power is unconnected to his autism.
  • In Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod and Jenny initially overlook Molly Thomas as a potential new Witness because the manifestations of her new status (mutism, anxiety, and depression) initially seem indistinguishable from any number of more mundane conditions.
  • Supernatural:
    • Escaped mental patient Anna Milton in Season 4 is Hearing Voices and was diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia, the religious overtones of her delusions and hallucinations attributed to her being a Preacher's Kid. She is even diagnosed in her early 20s, which is around the same age real-life schizophrenia typically manifests. In her childhood, she also needed to be taken to a child psychiatrist due to Freak Outs that her "real" dad (later revealed to be God) was going to kill her. Sam and Dean realize everything she is saying is actually eerily accurate and she really is somehow hearing angels. It is soon explained that she is herself an angel who has turned human and whose remaining Psychic Powers make her appear mentally ill to Muggles.
    • Also in Season 4, Jimmy Novak starts hearing the voices of an angel through the tv, sticks his hand in boiling water as a test of faith and feels no pain and later beats the hell out of his best friend claiming the man is possessed by a demon. His wife Amelia, quite naturally, thinks her husband has had a terrifying psychotic break, but the truth is everything Jimmy has seen and heard is real. When Amelia learns the truth, Jimmy tells her that her skepticism was totally normal.
    • The sixth season had Sam missing his soul, which was treated as sociopathy. Dean's reference to Dexter in describing him implies there are natural sociopaths, though.
  • In Touch (2012), Martin's son Jake appears autistic (though the doctors never could diagnose his disorder). He also has the ability to see complex connections between different people in the world and tell his father how to use those connections to help people.
  • The X-Files:
    • In the episode "Fallen Angel", it's implied that aliens are responsible for Max's epilepsy.
    • In "E.B.E.", Mulder suggests that Gulf War syndrome is the result of alien encounters.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse: If a human child fails to become a wereraven (because their magical spirit egg was stolen before their first transformation) they tend to become autistic suddenly (despite autism spectrum disorders being congenital in real life).
  • KULT: Schizophrenia is actually the ability to see behind the veil covering mundane reality. Mental illness in general is one of two roads to supernatural mojo (sainthood is the other one, but power-wise they're mutually exclusive).
    • In the Divinity Lost reboot, it's explicitly said all mental illnesses are people seeing through the illusion- OCD is a subconscious attempt to perform magical rituals without the knowledge of how they work, personality disorders are attempts to suppress the knowledge of the illusion, depression is the soul being overwhelmed by confinement, etc.
  • Mutant City Blues: A number of Mutant powers cause a mental derangement as a side-effect: as an example, mutants with force field powers have a significant chance of developing adult-onset autism. Notably, this trope was removed from the setting in the second edition of the game.
  • While there are plenty of ways to develop mental disorders "normally" in Eclipse Phase, the post-Singularity nanovirus that gives asyncs their Psychic Powers always induces at least one disorder. In addition, many of the lower-level powers resemble savant abilities more than anything supernatural, such as Hyperthymesia, Hyper-Awareness, Superior Kinesics, Filter (hyperfocus), Predictive Boost, and Downtime.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age II, Hawke and company come across a man who swears he hears demons telling him to harm people, but the Chantry and your own resident mages agree that he's not possessed. While Hawke is certain he's just making the voices up as an excuse, the savvy player will realize he's likely suffering schizophrenia instead, and in a world where demonic possession is a very common occurrence, no one believes there are any other sources for voices that simply aren't there.
  • Many of the symptoms of Possession in Crusader Kings and its sequel resemble those of certain real-world mental illnesses like schizophrenia, meaning that it's possible many of these instances are simply dysfunctional people in a world that views them through a supernatural lens.
  • In Night in the Woods, it's implied that Mae's dissociative episodes are caused, or at the very least made worse, by the presence of the "Black Goat" that the cult worships. And that's assuming the Black Goat is real, and Mae's breakdown in the mines wasn't caused by stress or hallucinogenic mine gas.
  • Open Sorcery has Sarah, a high school student suffering from severe depression due (in part) to the lingering influence of a powerful, malevolent Water/Death spirit. The trope is discussed when Decker notes that, as the magical firewall that flagged the issue is designed to deal with supernatural threats, it's biased towards interpreting ordinary mental illness as such a threat.
    @Decker: She's a teenager. It could also be hormones.
  • In Psychonauts, psitanium's psychoreactive properties mean that prolonged exposure can result in the development or amplification of psychic powers, mental illness, or both. In addition, Psychonauts 2 introduces the power of Mental Connection, which a particularly talented psychic can use to rewire someone's mental schemas and semantic network. Both psychics shown to use it—Razputin Aquato and Hollis Forsythe—have accidentally induced severe psychological disorders while carelessly trying to change someone's mind on a small matter.

    Visual Novels 
  • Little Busters! is a subversion: Mio feels intense regret due to feeling like she abandoned Midori, an imaginary friend that lasted well into late childhood and which adults believed she was hallucinating, until she suddenly appears as a supernatural presence within her route. However, the final route of the game confirms that all magical things existing within the routes are due them occurring within the dream world. The dream world was able to manifest Midori as a physical presence through magic, but her hallucinations as a middle schooler were entirely mundane.

    Webcomics 
  • Last Res0rt has a place on the soul spectrum for Light Children, who are born with just a little more / less soul than the average person (Sterlings). It's not that this causes things like Autism or Schizophrenia — rather, they happen because the Light Child hasn't been trained properly (compared to the Celeste) to deal with their new powers and sensory abilities. It's implied that with proper training, these individuals can leap right into Disability Superpower territory.
  • Murray, the werewolf main character of Bloody Urban, suffers from sensory processing disorder as a result of having hyper-acute senses and an inability to filter out sounds and smells beyond normal human perception.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent downplays this with Lalli. He's both a mage and the member of the cast with an ambiguous disorder. The I See Dead People aspect of his powers can account for his strange choices of sleeping places (a preference for small spaces and having other people around), while his cat-like mannerisms may have something to do with his luonto being a lynx. However, there are two other mages in the story. Lalli's older and more experienced as a mage cousin Onni has an overblown and quite possibly justified Big Brother Instinct (he got a Promotion to Parent at some point in the past), but other than that acts perfectly normal. Budding mage Reynir lacks Lalli's quirks as well, but also has been a mage for too little a time for any possible long term effects on behaviour to kick in. In addition, the author herself has hinted that Lalli could be having some kind of neural issues that exist independently of his powers.
  • Subverted in Ennui GO!. Max has some sort of undefined mental illness that he inherited from his grandmother as well as the ability to see magic (including people's astral forms), though the two things are stated by resident magic expert Len to be entirely unrelated.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Some people involved with the New Age belief system believe autistic children, as well as children with ADHD and other neurodivergences, are indigo children, children with indigo auras sent to heal the world. This is deconstructed here.
  • For much of history, before the advent of modern psychology, many cultures believed that Demonic Possession caused epilepsy and mental disorders. Though notably, Catholic exorcists didn't believe this and still don't. They always sent you to a doctor first. If the doctor was stumped, or their diagnosis appeared to be wrong or their treatment didn't seem to be working, then they might consider exorcism.
  • In the ancient world, epilepsy was sometimes seen as being a sign of greatness of one touched by the gods. Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar were both considered such. The seizures were sometimes linked with divine prophecies. Given that some epileptic seizures cause hallucinations which can have mystical/religious content, this makes sense (some historical prophets have been surmised to have epilepsy because of this).
  • Among the Hmong people epileptics are believed to act as an intermediary between the spirit and material world and so they are often made into shamans. The book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" chronicles how one Hmong family in California ran into issues with the medical establishment when they attempted to treat their daughter.note 
  • The Changeling Tale is currently considered a "Just So" Story that conveniently explained why children displayed psycho-behavioural peculiarities that would now be Demythified by medical science. Modern analysts particularly compare the tale to autism, which even today is often mischaracterized as something that "steals" a child from their parents (which in turn is often tied in with anti-vaxx rhetoric, replacing fairies with vaccines).
  • In 2003, a software engineer called Terry Davis had what he considers to be a religious revelation and most other people (including several medical professionals) consider to be the onset of schizophrenia. The end result of this experience was TempleOS, a Retraux operating system built around a program that (at least according to Davis) enables the user to receive direct messages from God through the medium of random number generation. Tragically, it seems that Davis really was schizophrenic, as his increasingly severe delusions and erratic behaviour ultimately led to him being forced out of the family home. In 2018, he was struck and killed by a train, and is widely thought to have taken his own life.
  • Some within the haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) community believe that nonverbal children, due to intellectual disability or autism, can receive prophetic messages. Practitioners of facilitated communication (a controversial practice developed outside the haredi world) attempt to retrieve the alleged messages by "guiding" such children's fingers over a keyboard.
  • For centuries, the Japanese considered symptoms associated with autism, such as restlessness, aversion to eye contact and affinity for certain foods, to be evidence of Kitsunetsuki (fox spirit possession). Sadly, many of the attempts to "exorcize" these spirits ended in brutal injuries.

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