My Little (Neurodivergent) Pony

So, for my second post on this blog, I thought I’d talk about two of my favorite things—My Little Pony and neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is a movement that advocates support and acceptance for people who are neurodivergent. Rather than seeking to treat the neurodivergency as a disease to be cured or eliminated, neurodiversity argues that neurodivergent folks—especially those with high support needs, as well as everyone else—should be helped and given the tools they need to live good lives, not in spite of but because of their neurodiversity. My Little Pony is a franchise produced by Hasbro, and I’ll have more to say about that below. For this series, I’ll pick a few ponies—three to start out with—and discuss how they’re neurodivergent—though, I believe accidentally so, given the timeframe. The first pony we’ll discuss is Wind Whistler. She is autistically coded, due to her struggles with literal thinking, difficulty understanding emotions, and her difficulties with clmmunicating with and relating to her peers.

A quick editorial note. Most of this is in the past tense, except for statements relating to my current feelings, or experiences among autistic folx of today, as there wasn’t a way to render those in the past tense without the meaning changing—i.e., discussing autistics’ experiences with empathy in the part tense could make it sound as if those experiences no longer happened, when this is for from true. With that out of the way, we’ll begin our series!

Before diving in, it’s necessary to give a bit of background. My Little Pony is a kind of toys originally produced in the 1980s. To accompany the toys, Hasbro also created a movie, My Little Pony the Movie (1986), and a television series, My Little Pony ‘n’ Friends (1986-1987.) An older film, produced in 1984 as the proposed first episode in a tv show, and later reworked into a two part episode of My Little Pony ‘n’ Friends, Firefly’s Adventure, marked my introduction to the franchise, as I remember renting the film from Blockbuster in the 1990s. Later, I watched the tv series Pony Tales, which was another spinoff, that showed various ponies behaving in human ways—going to school, attending concerts, and even eating ice cream.

I adored each of these pieces of media, though Firefly’s Adventure, was my favorite, as I really admired Firefly. However, there was another character I really liked, though I only recall seeing her briefly, as I think I watched Firefly’s Adventure far more than the actual movie, because Firefly was daring and brave and everything I wasn’t.

Firefly isn’t the character I want to talk about today though. That character is Wind Whistler. She appeared in the 1986 movie and the television series. A blue Pegasus with pink hair and eyes, with blue and pink whistles as her cutie mark—the symbols the ponies have on their hips—Wind Whistler is unique among the ponies. She’s logical, uses big words, and gets confused and frustrated by the other—often much more emotional—ponies. She also seems to be very literal, and struggles to understand fictional characters and the decisions they make. I should also note that as an adult rewatching the show, I noticed that Wind Whistler often spoke in a very monotone voice.

I don’t recall noticing this as a child. That could be because I struggled to notice and interpret tome as a child—I often did, but the reverse could also be true, where I would over analyze tone and assume people were upset with me when they weren’t—or it could be because I only saw her in the context of the movie, as I don’t recall watching the tv series My Little Pony ‘n’ Friends as a kid. I could have and just don’t recall, so it’s likely that I simply didn’t realize how she sounded. This is about the only thing Wind Whistler and I did not share—well, except for her being a magical talking animated Pegasus of course. Oh, and also not real.

But her personality and challenges were incredibly relatable. Because of this, as a child, I felt a kinship to Wind Whistler. Like her, I found my peers confusing and over emotional. Like her, I preferred to use more precise words, even if they were bigger than those used by other children. Like her, I was reserved and quiet. I recall very clearly seeing her in the movie and thinking, oh, there’s someone like me!

She wasn’t my favorite—as a child, I liked characters who had traits I admired, rather than those I found relatable, as seeing my personality in characters was rare if not impossible—but I liked her well enough, for she was as I was. As a child I was shy, quiet, passive and introverted. I rarely got happy, or angry, or sad, and if I did, it lasted for a few seconds and then the feeling faded again.

Because of these traits, I rarely saw myself reflected in the media I consumed. The 80s and 90s were the ages of empowerment, when most children’s cartoons featured spunky, extroverted characters who were rambunctious and adventurous. I was none of those things, and often felt more kinship with the adult characters in children’s programming. The closest I got to seeing myself on screen—other than Wind Whistler—was Little Foot’s mother in Land Before Time, Maid Marian in the Disney version of Robin Hood, and Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. All three characters were quiet and calm—well, Maid Marian he her plucky moments, but usually she was pretty sedate—or shy. They were like me, but they were rare, and they definitely did not go on adventures or do anything especially striking. Again, Maid Marian was somewhat the exception, as her relationship with Robin Hood meant that she actually did ho on some adventures, but the other two characters referenced didn’t.

As a child, this did not trouble me much. While I could and did get quite invested in fictional worlds, like Wind Whistler, I think I would’ve been baffled to know that seeing oneself reflected in fictional media was actually quite important. I recall my TVI* expressing surprise that I should enjoy Disney princesses, because there wasn’t one with glasses. I simply decided to make my own, and drew a princess with glasses. Satisfied that I’d now created representation for myself, I went on about my day.

As an adult, I now understood the importance of representation in media, and I often wished that I had seen more episodes of My Little Pony ‘n’ Friends, because Wind Whistler actually featured in several episodes, had wonderful adventures, and was one of the recurring main characters. If I’d seen that growing up, it might’ve helped me to feel less alone, particularly in later years, when I felt that I lagged behind my peers developmentally for a while host of reasons. If I could’ve had Wind Whistler to look up to, things might’ve been easier. But, I wasn’t aware that the show existed—or that any show existed, besides My Little Pony Tales—and so I’d reach adulthood before this was remedied.

Regardless of my lack of knowledge, Wind Whistler existed. She was quirky and unabashedly herself. She was also, as I stated in the first paragraph, unintentionally coded as neurodivergent. Wind Whistler, to be frank, was something of a walking stereotype of people deemed to have “High Functioning” Autism or Asperger Syndrome. Similar to how Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory was portrayed, Wind Whistler too often seemed cold and callus to her friends, who could not understand how her brain worked. She used large words as a default, though she could use more colloquial forms of speech, which caused me to suppose that she was simply more comfortable with using precise language, so as to avoid being misunderstood.

While she lacked any apparent manifestations of the sensory issues seen in autism, I believe this omission resulted from two things. First, an ignorance of the broadness of the autism spectrum meant that sensory issues weren’t well known or understood, and in the 80s, Aspergers wasn’t even a recognized diagnosis in the DSM, to say nothing of the existence of autistics deemed to be higher functioning by neurotypicals Because of this, no one would’ve thought to include sensory issues into Wind Whistler’s character traits. Second, I believe Wind Whistler was autistically coded on accident—judt as Spock and other characters like him were. Their creators—and society at large—had such a narrow view of what autism looked like, that anyone who deviated from that view was missed.

However, I maintain that Wind Whistler was indeed actually autistic. She demonstrated deep affective empathy, but struggled with cognitive empathy. She had special interests—knowledge itself and learning, though I believe there are episodes that showed she knew a vast amount about the history of Ponyland, which could indicate a special interest in that area as well. Logic itself also seemed to be a special interest.

Indeed, logic seemed to have been the primary way whereby she interpreted and interacted with the world. She could and did present herself as a purely logical being, who could at times seem heartless. However, I believe that was merely a cover for her confusion surrounding feelings. The one scene that truly seemed to indicate a lack of feeling on her part could’ve been because she knew of another character’s plan to act as a decoy, and so viewed attempting to rescue her as a foolish endeavor that would doom the mission. Even if she didn’t know the other character’s plans, she likely still thought the mission took precedence over one pony. She could’ve simply been being pragmatic. Also, some autistics have low empathy in all its forms, so Wind Whistler could simply have been one of those.

Other characteristics were also displayed. She struggled to adjust her speaking style to fit different groups. While I didn’t notice any issues with eye contact, she definitely seemed to struggle to interpret the feelings of those around her, and could be assumed to have difficulty with body language as well. Finally, for her sensory issues, well, it’s my personal head canon that she’s hyposensetive, like I was as a child.

This concludes Part One of this series. Please come back next time when we’ll be discussing Fizzy, our poster pony for ADHD!

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