How Peridot From 'Steven Universe' Reflects My Autistic Journey
The first character I ever related to as an autistic person was Peridot from the cartoon series “Steven Universe.” A former antagonist stranded on earth, the green “Dorito-head” alien (as the fandom affectionately calls her) is forced to rely on the protagonists, Steven and the Crystal Gems, to assist her in her new environment. The ways Peridot learns about the people around her, the insecurities she faces, and the strengths she discovers have felt representative of my own experiences as an autistic person.
2. Learning to Make Friends
Initially, Peridot wants nothing to do with others and is only helping the Crystal Gems so she can get back home. Eventually, she starts to want to make connections and begins navigating through social situations that might be simple to some yet are complex to her. Peridot’s journey reminds me of how I fumbled my way through the complicated maze that is socialization.
Steven serves as Peridot’s guide. In the episode “Too Far,” Peridot learns she can connect with the jokester Amethyst through humor and is confused when her insensitive jokes cause her to receive the cold shoulder. Steven is the one who tells Peridot that she was being mean and that she should apologize. “Barn Mates” shows Steven trying to help Peridot befriend Lapis Lazuli, a former adversary, through various methods, like making a small swimming pool for the water gem. It takes effort, trial, and error, but with Steven’s help, Peridot makes lifelong companions she never knew she needed.
Just as Steven helped Peridot learn her way through the world, my therapist helped me learn how to make friends. She taught me how my words could impact others, as it never occurred to me how something I could say or do could make someone else feel. She taught me ways to make connections, like showing you are paying attention to what someone cares about (ex. I like to text my friends anything that relates to their interests). Through therapy, I learned about the complexities of people and started to make meaningful relationships.
“Too Short to Ride” reveals that Peridot is insecure about her assumed lack of powers. While Steven and Amethyst enjoy their time at an amusement park with their shape-shifting abilities, Peridot grows increasingly frustrated. This insecurity does not simply stem from a personal struggle, but because Peridot grew up on a judgmental, caste-based planet that deems anyone outside the norm defective and unworthy of life.
I also often compare myself to others, even to loved ones. I have achieved many goals I am proud of in my professional and personal spheres, and I care about the growth of the people in my life. Yet when someone I know achieves something in their life that I haven’t yet or manages a task that I find difficult, I can’t help but feel jealous and like I am “lesser.”
Part of this insecurity stems from how I have grown up as an autistic person in an ableist, competitive society. When I learned I was autistic in elementary school, I fell into self-loathing. I developed a hard-working persona with my work and in my interactions to gain approval, and to show I was useful. Now, if I make any mistake or struggle with any new activity at both work and in my leisure time, I worry I will forever lose my productivity — that I am a “failed” autistic person. Even with the rise of Autism Acceptance and people telling me I am doing well or have nothing to prove, I still carry doubt and anger.
4. The Desire for Grounding
Amethyst tries to help Peridot understand that she doesn’t need to be perfect, yet Peridot retreats into her tablet to vent her trademark “CLODS” on social media. This moment always stuck out to me because of my negative habit of vent texting, which I am committing to breaking. It now also reminds me of how I rely on technology for control.
Before joining the Crystal Gems, Peridot used to have limb enhancers. When she loses these, Steven later gifts her with a tablet. She dives into it as she struggles with her emotions, the tablet becoming a security blanket she can’t let go of. Peridot even shouts when Amethyst tries to pry the tablet away from her, “It’s all that I am.”
Technology has also been a source of pleasure and identity for me, containing a grounding environment and place to delve into my special interests. Yet there are times when I engage in technology to embrace my identity and retreat from negative thoughts — and still carry them. I interact with those thoughts, play them on loop as I watch a video or movie, or try to enjoy a video game. And by the time the distraction ends, I feel defeated in the real world.
I want to learn how to step back from technology and then return to it as a meaningful source, like how technology later becomes a more positive extension of Peridot’s personality. But before that happens, she has to learn (and I have to remember) a very meaningful lesson…
5. Strength From Within
As previously mentioned, Amethyst tries to break Peridot out of her shell by grabbing her tablet — and tossing it into the ocean (… maybe not the best decision). In an act of desperation, Peridot reaches her hands out…
And the tablet freezes in mid-air.
It turns out Peridot can control metal!
The meaningful lesson: Peridot may not have shape-shifting abilities like her friends, but it turns out she had something unique all along.
Just as Peridot discovers her powers, I am discovering parts of my autistic identity that I enjoy. As I discussed earlier, it was difficult for me to learn to understand and build relationships with others. At the same time, this has made me a “special agent” in a neurotypical world. Therapy sessions, combined with studies in writing and theater, have led me to understand people through an exciting character-based lens.
There are conversations where I use both neurotypical and neurodiverse approaches. Sometimes, I will take the neurotypical approach and ask people to tell me more about their lives and interests because that is what I was taught to do. Sometimes, I will take the neurodiverse approach with my friends and we will info dump about (go into tangents on) our interests and lives, or add extraneous detail, while still lovingly sharing and learning from each other.
Most importantly, just as Peridot has had to stop and consider what her friends need, so have I. Kindness and empathy, I have grown to believe, and not innate, but learned. Being autistic, I have had to especially work hard to learn to relate to and understand others. I am extremely proud of that because it means when I am considering the people in my life, I am putting in effort and genuinely care.
Peridot has given me much-needed indirect autistic representation. While she may not be autistic in the show, I love that there is a character whose struggles and triumphs can so perfectly reflect my own.
Autistic representation is, fortunately, growing in media, although it is taking its time in the realm of animation, fantasy, and/or science fiction. So far, there are only two autistic characters within that niche that I can relate to: Entrapta from “She-Ra” (a piece of media I don’t really engage with) and Ayda from Dimension 20’s “Fantasy High” (who I absolutely adore). While the tree of autistic representation grows, I am happy that, in the meantime, I can find empowerment in relating to Peridot (and other characters not yet mentioned!).