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See also: Coded, Disabled-coded, Neurodivergence and Fandom, Queer-coding, Race-coding, Gender-coding
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Neurodivergent-coded, and variations of it, are terms applied in the analysis of media portrayals, similar to the concept of queer-coding. The analysis itself is not new, but the specific terms have seen growing use in fandom throughout the 2000s, particularly the 2010s onwards.

The concept is based on the interpretation that a character is coded as neurodivergent through subtext, notable traits or other indications while not being confirmed explicitly in canon material. This generally differs from canon-adjacent confirmation like word of God or actor interpretations, though a character may be the subject of both, with people discussing the coding prior to the author or creator speaking about the matter.

Much like queer-coding, the discussions, meta, and discourse in fan spaces can vary greatly in both their similarity to the original concept of coding and in how much overlap there is with headcanons or fandom drama. Some characters may be widely considered to be neurodivergent-coded, while others may only have a small number of fans with that interpretation. Disagreements over the reasoning or evidence behind the claim of coding, as well as discussions about what meets the criteria for coding as opposed to a head canon can lead to in-fandom tension and arguments.

Use in fandom

A character may be referred to as being interpreted as neurodivergent-coded, or a fan may use a more specific variation of the term, for example, autistic-coded or ADHD-coded. Some fans may use it alongside or alternatively with disabled-coded.

In the discussions around what is coding and what is a headcanon, people have discussed how author intent can be a little less clear than in the original concept of coding, due to the possibility of the author being neurodivergent but not knowing it, so inadvertently coding neurodivergent traits into their characters. An adjacent concept is that the author may have based a character off of neurodivergent people they know without realising they were neurodivergent. Both of these muddy the distinction between headcanons and coding, which can lead to heated debates, especially in the absence of knowledge about authorial intent.

As with headcanons and their range from going against canon entirely to being heavily informed by subtext, the same is often true in how fans discuss characters they believe are neurodivergent-coded. At one end there are fans who seem to use -coded interchangeably with headcanon, leading to claims that a character is autistic-coded or dyslexic-coded with little to no drawing upon canon, whereas at the other end are fans who have closely examined the canon and subtext, in addition to canon-adjacent material to make their conclusion of a character being coded. With a huge variation in the the range in-between.

Characters often applied to

Criticisms and Controversy

Being applied to real people

Stereotyping and ableism

There can be a perpetration of ableist tropes and portrayals of characters who are perceived as being neurodivergent-coded. One common complaint is that when a character is read as neurodivergent-coded by some fans, there can be a tendency to infantilise the character in various ways. An example of this might be fanon trends, such as having the neurodivergent-coded character become less capable than they are in canon and needing to be looked after or over-protected by other characters.

Meta Examples

Use in shipwars or attacks on shippers

Crossing over with ableism, sometimes fans will use a character's perceived neurodivergent-coding as an argument for why they shouldn't be shipped with a certain character or why they shouldn't be shipped with any character at all.

This can sometimes feature alongside claims of a character being minor-coded even when they are canonically confirmed to be an adult, and often ties into the desexualisation of adult Disabled people that is perpetuated in society.

As a means of "strengthening" a headcanon

With how the use of -coded as a term has broadened within fan spaces, there is a growing sentiment amongst some fans that sometimes people use neurodivergent-coded (or related terms) even when there is minimal canonical material to suggest intentional coding, simply to justify why their headcanons are "correct". When this is happening, there can be accusations of ableism or bigotry when someone does not agree that a character is coded in a certain way.

Examples of meta and discussions

Further Reading