Isn’t he a little angel…
Over the past few years, I’ve gained a personal interest in individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. My sister was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and it didn’t take us long to start thinking harder about our favourite small screen angel. There are many, many, many things Castiel the angel does that are also traits associated with Autism.
Before I get into specifics, I’d like to point out that these traits seem unique to Cas rather than angel quirks or culture.
All the angels we’ve met on Supernatural seem to be what a human would consider socially well adjusted and adept. The only true exception to this is Gadreel, who was socially isolated for thousands of years, and thus what a human would consider exceptionally well adjusted and adept for someone who endured such psychological torture. We have Samandriel and Gabriel, who each have their own quirks, but the former seems a touch naive rather than anything else, and the other… is Gabriel.
Castiel is clearly an oddball, even for an angel.
And now, the specifics. Here are just a few of the ways Castiel might be considered Autistic, were he in fact real, and human, and so forth….
Before Castiel even appears on the screen he’s already spent 40 years in a constant battle to retrieve Dean from Hell’s clutches. This narrow focus is often typical of individuals on the spectrum. In fact, it could be argued that humanity is Castiel’s Special Interest. Many people diagnosed with Autism have a specific area of interest they will be fascinated by, sometimes to the total exclusion of all else, for a long time. Cas has spoken many times about how beautiful and remarkable he finds us. He also works tirelessly to help and protect humans, when he isn’t under the control of other angels and forced to do the opposite.
Theory of Mind
Most people over a certain age have theory of mind, the ability to comprehend that others can be in states of being such as knowledge and intentions that differ from our own. People on the Autistic Spectrum often struggle with this, including Castiel. He forgets that the Winchesters don’t have access to all the information he does. When asked to explain, he will sometimes go too far back, explaining things they do know, in an attempt to be clear.
Castiel’s first attempts to communicate with Dean are in his actual voice. That is to say it blows the metaphorical speakers out. He assumes Dean will be one of the rare people who can “perceive my true visage” and voice. It’s highly unfortunate, but very characteristic of him to try this a second time, despite clear evidence that Dean cannot handle the volume. Poor Cas.
Like all angels- and demons- Castiel does not look at a person’s body, he sees the soul within. This I feel is a beautiful metaphor for the way a person on the spectrum views people. It really doesn’t matter how physically attractive someone is, if they are ugly inside someone with ASD will not stick around them long. What’s inside is truly far more important.
Lying and deception often feel completely foreign to those on the Autistic spectrum. It usually does not occur to an Autistic individual to speak a falsehood and if asked to, the person may feel deeply uncomfortable with the idea. Castiel’s default way of concealing the truth is to vanish. In this way he is no longer in a position to lie. If someone with Autism does lie, it is often glaringly obvious. Even things like what we might call social white lies like empty compliments do not compute for those on the spectrum. Castiel is terrible at small talk and comforting lies.
Even dishonesty in others is confusing to Castiel, as well as people on the spectrum. He is often puzzled when people do not believe what he says, partially because he knows he is telling the truth, and also because it doesn’t really make sense to him that others do not.
And in fact, the very first line he speaks in the show “I am the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition” is the literal truth.
Although frequently absent minded about things outside their Special Interest, once the sympathy of an Autistic individual is aroused, it is often very deeply felt. Of all the angels in Supernatural, only one other has ever shown concern over their vessel and that person’s fate. Castiel knows a lot about his human vessel, Jimmy Novak, and deeply regrets the suffering to which he has subjected the man, as well as his family.
Along the same lines, Cas is an extremely gentle being, on the whole. He will always seek to do the most good and the least harm. Many angels have been shown burning the eyes from and killing humans without a second thought. Castiel, however, shows us over and over again that he will always make every effort to keep people safe.
Although personal space is often extremely important to Autistic people, Castiel struggles with giving it to others. This is practically a running gag in the first few seasons where he appears.
“Don’t like conflict.”
In season 7, Castiel develops a habit that many on the spectrum would very much like to be able to do. When he sees a conflict occurring, he immediately teleports away. During an Autistic meltdown, not only might an Autistic individual wish they could simply vanish from the situation, but sometimes they may become non-verbal and unable to interact with the situation until they are able to calm down.
It is also worth noting that Castiel, while staying true to himself and his nature, does change throughout the seasons. He becomes more adept at things such as social interaction and understanding others. This is largely due to his acceptance by the Winchester brothers and their help with skill building. Thanks, boys.