Christian Grey has autism

Christian Grey — yes, that Christian Grey — has autism. How do I know? Well, for starters, I’ve read the Fifty Shades trilogy at least five times, so in addition to making me one of the more pathetic people in this world, it also makes me an armchair expert on the comings and goings (pun intended) of Christian Grey.

To be honest, the first time I read the books, it was for the illicit sex. The second time was to process what I read. The third, fourth and fifth times was to delve deeper into Mr. Grey’s neurological and psychological impulses. Something about his mannerisms, and the way he interacted with others, spoke to me on a profound level.

Secondly, I know autism when I see it. Autism and my family have had a complicated, often contentious “frenemy-like” relationship for four plus years. Ethan, my 6-year-old son, was diagnosed at age 2.

For those not familiar with autism, Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, defines autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees (hence, a “Spectrum” that includes both low- and high-functioning individuals), by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

"If he could read body language, he wouldn’t need the dreaded 'safe word' would he?"

Appalled at my audacity to label everyone’s favorite Dom with autism? Let me assure you that autism isn’t a dirty or shameful thing in my household. Nor should it be in anyone’s household. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and the like wouldn’t be the standard-bearers they are today without having employees with autism and ASD. It's no surprise that the autism and ASD populations in tech hubs like Silicon Valley, California and Redmond, Washington have incredibly high autism populations.

But, let’s get back to Mr. Grey and my autism theory. Based on the criteria and symptoms of autism and autism spectrum disorder, I hereby submit to you several examples of Mr. Grey’s autistic behaviors:

Difficulty with social interactions and relationships

Christian Grey…

  • Dislikes direct eye contact, and can’t read body language. If he could read body language, he wouldn’t need the dreaded “safe word” would he?
  • Is unable to make friends. Well, he does have one friend. But, only because she shares his predilection for pain.
  • Lacks empathy. He doesn’t understand why someone finds it overwhelming to receive expensive books, cars and computers. Truthfully, I don’t understand why someone would mind receiving these gifts, so let’s move on to another example…
  • Can only engage in a relationship if a person signs and adheres to a specific set of rules and regulations, which make him comfortable. He’s more rigid than one of his bamboo canes, apparently!

Difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication

Christian Grey…

  • Had a speech delay until the age of 6. Children should babble by 12 months and speak words by 16 months.
  • Converses with people in a flat, abrupt, monosyllabic manner, and finds nothing wrong with that affect. He wasn’t kidding when he said he is “not a hearts and flowers kind of guy.”
  • Has difficulty understanding humor or implied meaning. He interprets conversation on a word-for-word basis, and misses the overall meaning. I believe the word “obtuse” has been bandied about.

Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors

Christian Grey…

  • Must have order and control in every aspect of his life. Paddles and canes lined up in size order? Check. Toys in every available shape, size and color? Double check.
  • Is preoccupied with certain topics. Well, there’s sex. And then there’s sex. And of course once you’re done with sex, you can always have more sex. To his credit, though, Mr. Grey is also slightly interested in solar energy and agriculture.
  • Engages in stereotyped behaviors. He constantly runs his fingers through his hair, waves his arms around, and repetitively smells his girlfriend’s hair. (By the way, enough with jasmine bath oils, and Chanel for Men body wash. Time for something new and different.)

By his own admission, Christian Grey tried to conquer his demons through several psychotherapeutic approaches, which included ‘Congitivism, Freud, functionalism, Gestalt, behaviorism… ’ None succeeded. Perhaps what Christian Grey really needed was a BCBA, or Board Certified Behavior Therapist, to help modify his behaviors, to be a more socially engaged member of society.

Of course, Christian is but a fictional character. In reality, autism affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys. People with autism have made tremendous contributions to every facet of society — technology, arts and sciences, athletics, real estate, etc. That’s a fact, in black and white. And, there’s absolutely nothing “Grey“ about that.

For more about autism, go to

More on autism

Parenting and autism: Maria’s story
Your child has autism. Now what?
The autism diagnosis and family stress


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Comments on "A spectrum of Grey"

Jackie Pilgrim January 15, 2013 | 9:29 AM

I'm so glad that I took the time to read this article before deciding to share it on twitter. I don't quite know what to say, but I will do my best to say it gently. I am 47 years old and diagnosed with Asperger's Disorder. Living on the spectrum for 47 years does not qualify me as an expert. There are some defining issues that allow professions to issue a diagnosis, but even then the lines between Asperger's and some other diagnosis are very thin at best.I do not understand how you feel that you are qualified to make such a statement as "Secondly, I know autism when I see it. Autism and my family have had a complicated, often contentious “frenemy-like” relationship for four plus years. Ethan, my 6-year-old son, was diagnosed at age 2." Please explain to me how you know so much about Autism with the limited amount of exposure you speak so highly of. Your child does not define what living on the spectrum is. Your child is your child who happens to be on the spectrum. It appears that you know something of your child, but very little else. Also, How dare you say Autistics have no empathy. I myself and many of my Aspie friends are highly empathetic, almost to a flaw. We are often overwhelmed by emotions.So with regards to your knowledge of Autism, I strongly suggest that you put down your pen for a while and continue working on building your knowledge base. And please...please remember to write more responsibly. Thank you.

Andrea July 10, 2012 | 8:46 AM

You have way too much time on your hands to read this book 5 times.

Katie July 08, 2012 | 3:54 PM

Actually... I think he's just a vampire.

Lyz July 07, 2012 | 8:03 PM

As a child psychologist, I can appreciate your experience as a mother of an autistic child and desire to raise awareness of the condition. However, I sincerely hope you meant this as a joke, because it is completely and totally inaccurate. All of (the fictional) Mr. Grey's behaviors are undoubtedly attributable to his horribly traumatic abuse history. For example, he did not have a speech delay. He became mute as a reaction to trauma. If you would like to use Mr. Grey as a poster child, please let it be for increasing awareness of child abuse.

Ash July 06, 2012 | 12:35 PM

First off the behaviour you describe here(and I must take your word on it as I have yet to read the trilogy) is nothing more than an eccentric personality and the product of an abused(and now traumatized) child. Secondly, I've been a sub for 5 years. You have no idea what you're talking about. Every Dom I've ever known keeps their toys in an order similar to that of the fictional Mr Grey as well as have a wide collection of toys. This does not make them autistic. This makes them a trained and experienced Dom.

Mary July 05, 2012 | 4:08 PM

Comparing the main character of a porn book to your child? Disgusting.

Emylee Eyler July 05, 2012 | 12:08 PM

I, personally believe that the idea that 'Christian Grey has autism' is one of the most absurd ideas I have ever heard ! Keep in mind that THIS IS A BOOK .. and that we can't really assume he has autism, unless EL James comes right out and says it . I don't know if it's just me or what, but most of these symptoms, for lack of a better word, are pretty generic, and you can suffer them without being diagnosed autistic ! I understand and have sympathy for your family for having a series of autism, but don't let it influence your reading !

Tilly July 05, 2012 | 11:24 AM

Maria said: This is interesting, but I feel like I should point out that a safeword doesn't have as much to do with the Dom as it does with the sub and his/her comfort levels, safety and well-being. Regardless of who a Dom is and the Dom's background, a safeword should always be in place during safe, consensual play. Yes, yes, and yes. A safeword needs to be in place especially in a relationship that is being established. And no, reading body language would not be a substitute - I've been in situations where a Dom could have read my body language as saying "Red" when I was really saying "Green! GO GO GO!". I'm thinking about writing a blog about this book from a sub/bottom's perspective, having been into that lifestyle well before bdsm became trendy. :)

Joy July 03, 2012 | 4:42 AM

Wow!!! I too am a parent of an autistic "young adult" 16 year old son. I am sorry to say but I really think you are "reaching" on your autism diagnosis of Mr. Grey. I have read the books a few times myself and I find if anything Mr. Grey has very strong OCD behavior and a lot of psychological trama due to his early childhood. Autism is not a dirty or shameful word but I do not think it is a label that should be placed on a person, fictional or not, lightly....

Minette July 02, 2012 | 9:59 PM

Thanks for sharing. I completely disagree with your observation. I am sorry your son has autism. It must be hard on him and your family. But, all you see is autism. You completely ignored any information the author gives about Christian Grey's childhood. From birth to 4 his mother ignores him, he is constantly hungry and her johns put cigarettes out on his chest. No wonder he needs some control in his life and put his things in order. That is also why he took so long to speak and does not trust many people and therefore has few friends.

Theresa July 02, 2012 | 12:30 PM

I'm not familiar with this book, yet...I NEED to read this. I keep hearing about it and need to just jump on in. It is interesting that he has autism though, and good job to the author for making this obvious without flat out saying he's autistic.

Maria July 02, 2012 | 11:14 AM

This is interesting, but I feel like I should point out that a safeword doesn't have as much to do with the Dom as it does with the sub and his/her comfort levels, safety and well-being. Regardless of who a Dom is and the Dom's background, a safeword should always be in place during safe, consensual play.

Roberta Perry July 02, 2012 | 10:30 AM

You always seem to put in in proper perspective!

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