Movie Reviews

Why Bones Is Never Officially Diagnosed As Autistic In The Show

collage of brennan emily deschanel in bones

“Is Bones autistic?” is a question that will likely have flashed across the minds of many Bones viewers as they watched the forensic police procedural. The first season of Bones premiered in 2005 and ended after 12 seasons in 2017, closing the book on the story of Emily Deschanel’s forensic anthropologist. Bones follows FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Deschanel), who work together to solve federal cases by examining the human remains of possible victims, namely, their bones.

A talented anthropologist, Brennan generally solves the cases while Booth handles the arrests. They make an excellent team despite their first few meetings going awkwardly. The romance between Booth and Brennan is one of the core throughlines of the series, as is Brennan’s growing comfort with her awkwardness around her coworkers and friends. Temperance “Bones” Brennan is seen by some fans as a TV character either coded with autism, as she never receives or shares an official diagnosis in canon.

Brennan is a fascinating character. The series depicts her as the leading expert on forensic anthropology and, she’s often the only one with the experience or expertise to break open that episode’s case. She also lacks social skills, and her inability to detect sarcasm and metaphors is usually a source of comedy on the show, and she’s been described as “bad with people”. Brennan’s personality traits are also indicative of someone with ASD (via NIMH) leading some to wonder if she has autism.

This is because the show’s creator, Hart Hanson, based Bones on a friend of his with ASD, but since BOnes was made for a broadcast network like Fox, the need for catering to as large an audience as possible superseded any specific notes on Bones’ mental health differences (via NJ). Hanson said,

Hanson seemingly had his hands tied with Brennan’s characterization, and it points to a greater problem with mental health depictions in media. Often, if a character does have ASD, it’s made a prominent part of their personality. It can’t simply be a part of their life, as it is for so many functioning people in society. It’s an unfortunate reality of fiction writing that there are few positive representations of characters with ASD, though there are some modern examples of well-written characters with autism, such as Quinni (Chloé Hayden) in Netflix’s Heartbreak High.

Emily Deschanel has echoed Hart Hanson’s comments, saying in an interview with EW,

If Deschanel believed the character would have had ASD had Bones been on a cable channel, it follows that she played the character as someone with autism. This is probably why so many people with ASD have responded positively to the character. On Twitter, @​​​​katycatlillian responded to a question about favorite Autistic characters with Bones.

Jennifer Malia, a writer for Glamour and an autistic woman, wrote an excellent article about how much she relates to Bones, saying,

Officially diagnosed or not, Bones‘ Temperance Brennan is a welcome and positive representation of people with autism and an example of how to write those characters effectively.