Fantasy has the incredible ability to accommodate the most unique parts of ourselves and welcome them. However, I never had found as much of a home in fantasy as I did when I started playing D&D. My first character was a halfling death cleric with a mummified squirrel as a familiar. Charisma was her lowest stat, and I loved that she was more comfortable talking to dead people than her friends in the party. Her social weaknesses were vital to her character and served as a place where I could find meaning for my own awkwardness.
When players build characters, it’s natural for them to exaggerate something about their personalities. Whether you’re playing a dumb-but-strong barbarian, a bookish wizard, or an extroverted minstrel, at the end of the day, you’ve probably created a character who wouldn’t likely be considered “neurotypical.” That’s another part about why D&D is so exciting for people with autism — we can see ourselves in it.
Experts have found that my experience as an autistic person playing D&D isn’t an isolated incident. Many autism support programs include some measure of role-playing to help develop interpersonal skills. People with autism often benefit so much from role-playing that a new game, Critical Core, has been designed as a social intervention tool for children and adults with autism.
Role-playing games like D&D are valuable for neurodivergent people because they bring structure to a relatively unstructured and chaotic experience — social interaction. While a quest or dungeon crawl may seem somewhat confusing to a casual viewer, there’s a subtle yet solid narrative thread binding the story. That thread is maintained by a trove of rules that govern every scenario. People with autism don’t have to worry about misunderstanding sarcasm because an insight check can more or less reveal the speaker’s intentions. Better yet, a player doesn’t have to worry about being suave or convincing to try and manipulate someone. While my real-life charisma score is low, my tiefling warlock almost always succeeds on his deception rolls.