What Harry Potter can teach us about autism

Attention all “Muggles”: To celebrate the long-awaited paperback release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows tonight (The book goes on sale at midnight on July 7), we are publishing a Harry Potter post from our 2007 archives — enjoy!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Autism

by Ellen Harrington-Kane

July 24th, 2007

What can reading a Harry Potter book teach us about autism? Well, ask a teenager with autism who also happens to be a Harry Potter fan — he can tell you!

James Williams is 18 years old and speaks about autism regularly at conferences. He spoke at the Autism Society of America (ASA) conference I recently attended with others from Easter Seals. The speech James gave at the ASA conference was about being “In Search of the Proper Autistic Friend”.

The transcripts to all of the speeches James gives are available at his Web site – that’s where I found out how someone with autism could relate to the characters in Harry Potter books. In his cleverly-titled speech, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Autism”, James describes how Harry Potter sometimes has trouble approaching his friends. James can relate. He also relates to Hermione, who obsesses over wizardry, fixates on specifics and is often accused of being a know-it-all.

Most importantly, James says that Harry’s feelings of relief after being “diagnosed” as a wizard are similar to his own feelings of relief being diagnosed with autism. Before Hagrid told Harry that he was a wizard, Harry had no idea that wizards who are angry tend to use magic even if they do not want to.

“Kids with autism often make things happen that they can’t explain,” James says. “And if they don’t know they have autism, they don’t know why, no matter how hard they try, they are always getting in trouble.”

Harry did well when working with teachers who acknowledged and worked with his special talents and needs. James can relate.


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  1. Susie Says:

    Wow, I never thought of HP like that. James, you are right! Us kids with autism are very much like the ones in Harry Potter! Thank you for making me feel special!