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hunter from the owl house is autistic

Originally written on May 15, 2022


– I would like to preface this analysis with the acknowledgement and the expanding upon of the knowledge that a lot of what I will be discussing in this thread can, and has been, taken as symptoms of Hunter having PTSD. Hunter is a character with a lot of trauma, and he is written in a way that indicates that the writers of The Owl House seem to be purposefully writing him with symptoms of PTSD. Which is wonderful rep! I also would like to take the time to acknowledge that some of what I will be discussing can also be taken as byproducts of his sheltered upbringing.

What a lot of people don’t know is that autism and PTSD have a lot of overlapping symptoms. And there is a reason for this. The diagnostic criteria for autism is based, specifically, off of autistic people who are traumatized. Growing up autistic is an inherently traumatizing experience for many people, and, when autistic people have healthy coping mechanisms, understand how to communicate their differences to others and have a healthy relationship with their disorder, well… They don’t get diagnosed, because the diagnostic criteria depends on autistic suffering.

PTSD and autism are, arguably, inherently linked in this way. And, thus, when I say that something that Hunter does could be a symptom of autism, when it could also be a symptom of PTSD, I wholeheartedly believe that thinking that it is a symptom of either one of those things doesn’t take away from the other interpretation. In fact, it could, arguably, add to the opposite one, just because PTSD and autism are two disorders that so often go hand-in-hand.

If you’d like some specific examples of the overlapping symptoms of autism and PTSD, I recommend taking a peak at this chart; it gives an overview. If this is a subject that interests you, I would like to encourage you to do further research.

Now that we are all on the same page, let us move on to the meat of this analysis.

– I feel like it would be only fitting to touch on how other characters talk about Hunter’s character, and how these views of him reflect how people tend to see autistic people.

Let’s begin with Lilith’s description of him. When prompted, she says, "He always got special treatment because he was the 'genius teen prodigy'. But he's really just a brat!"

The ‘autistic genius’ is very much a trope in, not only media, but the general perception of autistic people; even from professionals.

To go on a small personal anecdote here: I was diagnosed with autism when I was 13, but my mom first got me evaluated when I was much younger. The psychologist told my mom that I wasn’t autistic; that I was just ‘gifted’, and told her, in a very matter-of-fact way, that this is because young prodigies and autistic people ‘act very similar’.

Now, we don’t have time to unpack ALL OF THAT!!

But, the takeaway here is that, if you hear a young child being described as something like a ‘genius teen prodigy’, there is a high chance that they’re autistic.

Similar sentiments, unfortunately, also apply to ‘bratty’ children. The ‘spoiled brat’ stereotype assumes that a child is being intentionally rude, despite knowing better, and that they have no real reason behind their actions. ‘Bratty’ children are seen as dramatic whiners. But the truth is that the behavior that many adults see as ‘bratty’ behavior in young children (asking a lot of questions, complaining and ‘back talking’, literality, being picky about things and being very talkative) are actually children showing autistic traits.

Next, Darius says about Hunter, in a very disapproving tone of voice, that, 'You're very good at doing exactly what you're told'. We know that there are reasons why Darius is bitter about Hunter being so loyal to Belos at this point in the story. However, this description of Hunter as someone who follows directions very closely is very reminiscent of an autistic person.

Hunter’s obliviousness to this statement being clearly negative in nature, and following Darius’ words rather than his tone, will be something that will be touched on later. For now, though, allow me to expand upon that first thought.

– Autistic people have a tendency to have a very rigid pattern of thinking, and, as a result of this, we tend to really closely follow rules and routines. Autistic people tend to thrive most in situations where rules are very clearly set out for us, and Hunter’s apparent comfort in the rigid rules that the Emperor’s Coven sets (while, yes, being a sign of his brainwashing) is also an insight on how he most comfortably functions.

He also doesn’t seem to understand that others may dislike the rules and the authority that he follows. Hunter offers up the chance to join the Emperor’s Coven and follow their strict ruleset as a wonderful thing that will make all the other witches want to join it. He announces his status as the Golden Guard to the others happily, as if this is a pleasant surprise, he is happy when reminiscing about training he endured. He seems to be almost… Disturbed when Jerbo brought up the subject of changing the rules. (Being unsettled by rules and routines changing is also a symptom of autism, by the way.)

Not only does him not understanding how other kids could dislike rules and authority lead to social blunders, so does his willingness to follow rules lead to social blunders with authority figures. It’s very clear that, when Darius says, "You’re very good at doing exactly what you’re told," it’s not a positive statement, and he does not actually want Hunter to do as he’s told. However, Hunter calls him happily, telling him, "I’m (doing just what) you told me!", as if what Darius told him was a positive thing. He doesn’t understand that Darius is encouraging rebellion until he is, more or less, directly told.

– Maybe due to his tendency to socially blunder, Hunter seems to best connect to animals. His first real connection as we know, was Flapjack; his palisman and (arguably) his best friend. There are multiple ways that this can be interpreted through a lens of Hunter being autistic.

The first is that research suggests that a connection with a companion animal can reduce loneliness in, alleviate anxiety in, and provide needed companionship with, autistic children. More or less what I’m suggesting is that Flapjack may act as an emotional support animal for Hunter – or an ESA, for short. Emotional support animals are different from service animals. They are not required to be trained to preform any particular task. They are, as I previously stated, companion animals, whose mere presence is assistive to a person with a disability.

We can almost see Flapjack trying to even actively preform tasks not dissimilar to a companion animal. Before his panic attack goes into full swing in Hollow Mind, we can see Flapjack tugging on his ear and chirping – trying to divert Hunter’s attention to himself. We can also see Flapjack getting Hunter food in Labyrinth Runners, which is a common task for, not just ESAs, but also full-blown service animals to perform.

The second is that autistic people tend to have a general connection with animals. There is an inside joke within the autistic community: “Where you an ‘I’m secretly an alien’ autistic, an ‘I’m secretly a robot’ autistic, or an ‘I’m secretly an animal’ autistic?” Because autistic traits are so often demonized and seen as ‘nonhuman’, autistic people are, at a rate much more often than allistics, able to see themselves in nonhumans, and even tend to bond best with animals, because there are no tricky social situations to navigate with them.

It is only through Hunter’s connection to animals (palismen) that he is even able to make his first real connections with witches in the first place. He is gleeful when he sends the Emerald Entrails away to the Emperor’s Coven, and doesn’t even flinch when Steve tries to convince him that maybe he should feel bad for them. It’s only when Steve brings up their palismen that Hunter wavers. It’s his love and care for palismen that makes him realize that he did something bad.

– While we’re discussing Any Sport in a Storm, let’s discuss Hunter’s ability to lie. Or the lackthereof, as shown by his stuttering and stumbling while attempting to come up with a fake identity on the spot. What can be seen as an inability to lie may not be so; or, a breaking in script may contribute to said inability to lie.

‘Scripting’ can refer to the repetition of words and phrases from other people’s speech or media (which, may I add, Hunter also sometimes does; see him repeating the phrasing of ‘doing what (I’m / you're) told’ back to Darius), but it can also refer to the tendency that autistic people have to, quite literally, ‘script out’ social interactions. Pre-plan them in their mind, basically. A breaking in script is when social interactions don’t go to plan, and the autistic person in question doesn’t have a prepared response to something. This can cause them to fumble, and need a long moment to respond. Perhaps this is what Hunter is struggling with in this scene, more so than, or in addition to, his inability to lie.

– The next thing that I would like to touch on is Hunter’s tendency to go silent when under stress; both times (in Hunting Palismen and Labyrinth Runners), only communicating in a single grunt, and when directly prompted to speak (by Luz asking for his name in the first instance, and Gus asking him a question in the second).

When an autistic person ‘goes nonverbal’, they shut down, and they become unable to speak. This is an event triggered by extreme stress, which is also what triggered these silent moments for Hunter (with one of them even being directly after a panic attack). We can also see Hunter trying to speak during the second time that this happens, with Gus. He opens his mouth to speak, pauses, then furrows his brows, as if realizing that’s he’s finding himself unable to speak. After that, he turns away and grunts, as if conceding defeat.

– While we’re talking about, well, talking… Hunter seems to value verbal communication and affirmations more than anything; asking Amity, 'Has she (Luz) told you that?' when she says that she is an awesome girlfriend in Eclipse Lake. He doesn’t believe that something can be thought about a relationship without it being verbally stated. Direct verbal communication is something autistic people oftentimes prioritize, because anything else can be uncertain or confusing for us.

This is even something that can be seen in how he communicates with others. When he felt that it was unclear later in that same episode, he verbally told Amity that he meant it when he said that he appreciated her help.

And, when he was told that his sky skills were ‘sick’ by Willow in Any Sport in a Storm, he took it literally, not understanding the turn of phrase. (And this isn’t because he was raised as a witch, because Gus and Willow both are witches and understand the phrase.) Taking things literally is an autistic trait.

– This section is a short one, but still something I felt was worth mentioning. Autistic people have a tendency to have mood swings, and switch tones rather abruptly, which is something that Hunter does in 'Separate Tides', when he says that the Emperor is not a merciful man in a dark tone of voice, before cheerfully singing, "Byeeee~!"

– Let’s move onto one of the more prominent autistic traits that Hunter displays; special interests. Special interests are topics that autistic people have highly focused levels of interest in. It’s far more intense than any allistic hobby or interest. Autistic people have a tendency to talk a lot at once (infodump) about their special interests, even when nobody is listening, as well as divert conversations to their special interest in order to talk about it. They are usually self-appointed experts of the thing in question. And, what would you know? Hunter’s interest in magic ticks off every single one of those boxes. (Please enjoy what I have lovingly dubbed as 'the Hunter infodump compilation'.)

Hunter also has a possible special interest that isn’t as obvious in the show; cartoons. This is something that the crew discuss as canon. Art from Dana shows Hunter watching Big City Greens, and, in the show, we see that Hunter has Amphibia and Big City Greens merchandise. I feel certain that this is a special interest for Hunter specifically because of the art of him asking for Kikimora to cover his shift so he can finish an episode; we’ve already covered how much this boy loves following rules and schedules.

This is interesting, in part, because autistic people tend to have… Well, for lack of a better word, ‘childish’ interests. I mean, hell, I’m nineteen years old and I’m writing an overly-extensive analysis on a character from a Disney channel cartoon! Cartoons and media for children are very common subjects of special interests for autistic people. But, if you know me, you're probably also autistic or have autistic friends who are super into cartoons. I’m sure you all already know this.

– Autism has links to poor spatial awareness (the awareness of the objects in the space around us, and an awareness of our body’s position in that space). And although Hunter’s sick parkour moves when he needs to catch up to Luz without powers in Hunting Palismen may have you thinking otherwise, I have reason to believe that Hunter occasionally struggles with spatial awareness.

He displays a lack of spatial awareness three times. The first is when he goes to pinch his nose through his mask in Separating Tides (lack of awareness of his body in relation to objects), the second is when he accidentally begins to squeeze Flapjack and hurts him in Hunting Palismen (which we know wasn’t on purpose, because he said, ‘oh!’, as if surprised, before immediately apologizing; this shows a lack of awareness of his body in relation to Flapjack), and when he stepped on the potion that sent him into Belos’ mind in Hollow Mind (a lack of awareness of his body’s position in space). The scene where he falls down the stairs in Labyrinth Mind also comes to mind, but he was also explicitly unsure if the stairs were there or not, so whether or not that would count as a lack of spatial awareness can be up to you.

He also displays a lack of sensory awareness (the awareness of sensory input), as he doesn’t seem to mind the pain associated with his training.

– The next topic also involves sensory stuff. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the clip for this. However, Hunter’s VA (the very lovely and beyond-talented Zeno Robinson, on Twitter as @/childishgamzeno) has stated that he thinks that Hunter avoids hugs, because they would make him feel so comfortable that he would fall asleep immediately. Now, moving past how beyond cute that is (which is, admittedly, very difficult), this could be an example of deep pressure therapy.

Deep pressure therapy is the reason why things like weighted blankets exist. It is the use of firm, tactile sensory input, used to alleviate some of the symptoms that come with sensory processing difficulties; the very same kind associated with autism. It also reduces anxiety, and calms the person in question; just like how it would calm Hunter so much that he’d fall asleep instantly. This type of therapy is associated with autism especially for previously-stated reasons; things like weighted blankets used to be almost exclusively used for autistic people until they became marketed as anti-anxiety blankets.

Of course, whether or not what a voice actor says is canon is debatable, but I felt the need to include this regardless.

– For our final section, I am going to cover, what I am going to lovingly call, ‘Hunter’s Miscellaneous Little Hand and Arm Things’. Because there are more than you think.

The first is Hunter’s little hand fidget, as seen in both Hunting Palismen and Labyrinth Runners; while explaining his past to Luz and trying to comfort Gus. The first time that he did it, I thought it may have just been an idle fidget, nothing to write home about, but he did the exact same motion again; both times done in a nerve-wracking situation, while explaining something personal. This motion he does reads to me as a nervous stim (in which ‘stim’ means ‘self-stimulatory behavior’, and is a symptom of autism, and ‘nervous stim’ being a stim that an autistic person does specifically when nervous).

Hunter’s sensitivity with his hands is also notable. When his hand is grabbed / slapped (in Any Sport in a Storm and Labyrinth Runners), he recoils away. His hand also trembles when he’s stressed in Hollow Mind, and he pressed his thumb to his palm to make it stop; something else that can be seen as a bit of self-stimulatory behavior.

His hands’ sensitivity to sensory input could be why he wears his gloves, even when in disguise as someone else, and is something notable because autistic people being sensitive to touch (sometimes especially on certain parts of the body, like Hunter) is a common struggle.

In both Hunting Palismen and Hollow Mind, he also does the same motion two times; scratching his cheek and avoiding eye contact while being sheepish and timid. This could also be considered an idle stim, especially since he does it multiple times in similar situations.

Lastly, I'd like to talk about the little arm thing that Hunter does in Any Sport in a Storm, right after he explains why he chose the name Emerald Entrails. That arm thing is very much an autistic thing.

This is something that doesn’t really have a medical word for it, exactly, but is, rather, something that the autistic community has taken notice of as common for us. Nicknamed ‘raptor hands / arms’, ‘meerkat hands / arms’, or simply ‘the autistic resting pose’, this stance Hunter takes here (with his hands at chest level and his hands loosely hanging down) tends to be something that autistic people do. We tend to be the ones who take this stance naturally and find it comfortable.

– In review:

Hunter is a character who is described as a ‘bratty genius’ who ‘always does what he’s told’; all things often used to describe autistic people, especially kids. He loves rules, routine and following rules, and becomes distressed at the idea of the rules changing. He loves rules and routine so much that he doesn’t understand when adults want him to rebel, or when other kids don’t love the same thing, which leads to lots of social blunders. His first significant connection is to an animal who he doesn’t have to perform as much socially with and who could be considered to be an ESA animal. He is only able to make an honest connection to witches through his compassion for palismen. He is bad at coming up with lies when put on the spot, and he prioritizes verbal communication and affirmations above all else, on top of taking rhetorical phrases literally. He switches tones drastically on a whim, and has two intense interests; one of which is considered ‘childish’ for his age, and another of which he is seen talking excessively about, even to his own detriment. He has a lack of spatial awareness at times, as well as a bit of a lack of sensory awareness, and he is described as someone who would instantly fall asleep if hugged, which could be taken as deep pressure therapy. His hands are particularly sensitive to sensory input, so he wears gloves to help with this. He also consistently fidgets / stims with his hands when talking about something uncomfortable, and will naturally do ‘raptor arms’.

In conclusion?

THIS grimwalker is AUTISTIC and there's nothing you can do about it!!

@Repth