April 24, 2024

Wednesday Addams & Why Neurodivergent Characters Are So Important

Debuting on Netflix in November, Wednesday – a spin-off of The Addams Family – has enjoyed huge success. Accumulating 341. 23 million hours of viewing time, it quickly overtook the record set by Stranger Things.

On TikTok, the hashtag #Wednesday has amassed 20. 9 billion views, with fans recreating Jenna Ortega’s iconic dance rehashed to the tune of Bloody Mary by Lady Gaga, sharing fan edits of their favourite characters and channelling Wednesday’s signature black wardrobe. The excitement is palpable.

Wednesday Addams has long been claimed as neurodivergent-coded, specifically autistic-coded: that is, writing or performing a character with several traits common to folks with autism but without confirming it or explicitly discussing it. Coined in 1998, the term ‘neurodivergent’ encompasses differing in mental or neurological form from what is considered normal, with examples including but not limited to autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Importantly, a set of criteria called the DSM-5 is used to diagnose autism. In children, symptoms include not responding when called by name, avoiding eye contact, not smiling back when smiled at, getting upset at certain tastes, smells, or sounds, and not talking much or being non-verbal entirely. Elsewhere in adults, autism can look like finding it difficult to understand what others are thinking or feeling, make friends or verbalise emotions, appearing blunt, rude, or disinterested in others without intending to, avoiding eye contact, and not understanding social rules.

In the Netflix spin-off, she has a dislike of physical touch, struggles to interpret emotions and social cues, has minimal facial expression, rarely blinks, and appears blunt or monotone to her peers.

In Wednesday Addams, we see a multitude of these symptoms. In the Netflix spin-off, she has a dislike of physical touch, struggles to interpret emotions and social cues, has minimal facial expression, rarely blinks, and appears blunt or monotone to her peers. Notably, she also hyperfixates on solving the mystery of Nevermore Academy’s monster that leaves students and citizens alike dead or hospitalised.

Interestingly, Wednesday only blinks a handful of times during the series, an approach Jenna Ortega curated alongside co-producer Tim Burton. Notably, autistic people often do not synchronise their blinking with pauses in speech. Whilst an allistic person – that is, a person that isn’t autistic – typically would attune themselves to the blinking patterns of others and synchronise their blinking, an autistic person would not. One study published in The National Library of Medicine suggested that this lack of synchronisation – labelled a ‘deficit in temporal coordination’ – can impair effective social communication with others.

People with autism and ADHD alike can struggle with maintaining eye contact, too; ADHDers specifically are likely to either make an excessive amount of eye contact or avoid it entirely, often attributed towards sensory overload. With an intense gaze – or even glare – Wednesday defies these social norms, fitting this pattern unique to neurodivergent people.

Elsewhere, Wednesday is punished by her peers for her perceived inability to interpret emotions. Infamous for her emotional outbursts, her roommate Enid remarks that Wednesday “really sucks” at “cheering people up. ” “Why are you crying? ”, Wednesday asks of her as she catches her crying on the balcony outside their dorm. “Because I’m upset! ”, she snaps back, as though the answer was abundantly obvious.

This is nothing new, either: Christina Ricci’s interpretation of Wednesday in The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993) was hailed for the same reasons, adored for her macabre sense of humour, her inability to relate to others and her stone-cold facial expressions.

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