Obviously, if you want to avoid offending people, you have to know what they act like and go through. Here, research is your friend. To my mind there are actually two areas where you should do your research: common stereotypes, so you can avoid them, and actual behavior/effects so you can make an accurate portrayal. You do run the risk of finding reality to be unrealistic, but better that than offending a chunk of your audience. I’ll go into both, of course, using autism as an example, since I have Asperger’s, which seems to be a common form.
Finding stereotypes, and avoiding their usage
Googling autism stereotypes comes up with a wealth of information on the stereotypes of autism. For example, the extremely common stereotype that autistics lack a “theory of mind” AKA they don’t understand their own mind or the mind of others, is actually a stereotype that science is rejecting because the tests (which seem to be at fault for a lot of stereotypes, because so many of them rely on communication, which is a problem for many autistics.
Another stereotype that I don;t even need to do the research for but seriously needs to go die in a fire is the idea that vaccines cause autism. THis idea has been debunked three ways to sunday, and yet it keeps coming up! Stop it! *Ahem* Anyway, before I go off on a rant, I’ll just say that research is critical to ensuring you don’t use outdated or idiotic stereotypes, and stop there.
Research for accurate portrayals
Now, this will be much harder than researching to avoid stereotypes, simply because of all of the ways people can act, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, beliefs, or condition, so focus on being very general in your research. Find the basic ideas and flesh them out around your character. Make sure you don’t intrude on any stereotypes and you should be good to go.
And once again WordPress annoys me. It doesn’t recognize autistic.