Does Lisbeth Salander really have Aspergers?
  • Yes – it is mentioned in the books – but only by people who can’t deal with the fact that she’s not just like them and so they feel the need to give her a label.

    And so many readers, critics and book-talkers took this as fact – which could very well be ridiculous when the ‘diagnosis’ is just the scrambling of some very secondary characters that prove elsewhere to be relatively useless in their pursuits.

    This is a woman who has been abused by family, government and country. She doesn’t trust anyone – and why should she? Of course she’s quiet, non-social and a bit odd. She was locked up wrongly in a mental institution for years! She didn’t have a normal childhood. She is alone and an outcast.

    According to WebMD, these are the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome:

    • Not pick up on social cues and may lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others’ body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.
    • Dislike any changes in routines.
    • Appear to lack empathy.
    • Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others’ speech. Thus, your child may not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally. Likewise, his or her speech may be flat and difficult to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.
    • Have a formal style of speaking that is advanced for his or her age. For example, the child may use the word “beckon” instead of “call” or the word “return” instead of “come back.”
    • Avoid eye contact or stare at others.
    • Have unusual facial expressions or postures.
    • Be preoccupied with only one or few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or studying astronomy. They may show an unusual interest in certain topics such as snakes, names of stars, or dinosaurs.
    • Talk a lot, usually about a favorite subject. One-sided conversations are common. Internal thoughts are often verbalized.
    • Have delayed motor development. Your child may be late in learning to use a fork or spoon, ride a bike, or catch a ball. He or she may have an awkward walk. Handwriting is often poor.
    • Have heightened sensitivity and become overstimulated by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures. For more information about these symptoms, see sensory integration dysfunction.

    What do you think? Does Lisbeth have Asperger’s? Was that Stieg Larsson’s intention? Is there a difference between the likelihood of her having this disease in the books versus the movies?

    September 18th, 2010 | 30 Comments

30 Responses and Counting...

  • That definition certainly doesn’t sound like Our Lisbeth!

  • I have aspergers. Right away, I noticed that this character had it while watching the film. I was told later by a friend who knows I have aspergers, that she read the books and that this character did indeed have it. I didn’t even tell her my suspicions of Lisbeth.

    Women with Aspergers, because they can not read body language, are often the victims of violent crimes, especially sexual ones. It was very appropriate of the author considering the nature of the book/movie. When I went for sexual abuse counseling for 4 events in my life, I learned that a woman raped, will either completely withdraw from sex, or go the opposite extreme and be extremely promiscuous. I have been both.

    Also, many with aspergers have very androgynous gender roles, and many are gay or lesbian. I can’t tell you how many times I have been hit on by lesbians, or accused of being a lesbian by men.

    Now, I am an INFJ, not an INTJ like Lisbeth, but I have a very strong T side, especially when I am determined not to let people in. I have a 147 IQ, and was sent to school to study computer programming because the company I worked for, got tired of me hacking into their system and telling the IT department head the computer system’s flaws.

    I talk a lot with those whom I am close with, but if there is no one whom I feel close with, I will only talk in an intellectual manner or go through “memorized” social niceties. It took my sister 35 years to warm up to me. And instead of tattoos and piercings, I let my weight go up to 250. I’m working on that, I’m down to 205 at 5’10″. Although, now that I am a hairstylist, my hair could be anything. By the way, Edward Sissorhands is typical aspie as well.

    So there it is, take it for whatever you want.

  • P

    I can only comment on the first movie. As depicted there, she’s definitely meant to have it. First, forget about matching up her characteristics with the diagnostic criteria. At some point in the last 10 years or so, Asperger’s became a buzzword defining a socially and emotionally withdrawn person with a high IQ. Clearly, that’s Lisbeth. You’re not going to see a movie about an adult woman who literally talks about nothing other than Pokemon, cuz that’s not Asperger’s right? And besides, it’s way too boring for a movie. Aspies are supposed to be super smart and have cool talents!
    Look at some of the differences between Will Hunting (Good Will Hunting) and Lisbeth Salander. Both are troubled genii who get into fights, but look at the early scene from GWTDT where she switches the coffee cup to her right hand so she doesn’t have to shake the guy’s hand. When Blomkvist first meets her and asks about coffee, she just stands there. This response is far less social than any acerbic reply would have been. When he asks if she has a photographic memory she basically runs away because it’s a personal question. etc. You aren’t given too many details like this for Will Hunting. He lies about his past because it’s traumatic, not, as in Lisbeth’s case, simply because it’s personal.
    If Good Will Hunting were made today, Aspyish details would probably be added to his character. As it is, yeah, you could make a case that he might have Asperger’s but with Lisbeth, it’s just so obvious. Why are all these details there if not to suggest Movie-Asperger’s? I don’t think it’s her troubled past alone.

  • Gen

    Yes, thank you, my point exactly.

  • rM

    Yes, she has aspergers. This description is exactly that of my older son , and knowing Aspergers as closely as I do, I would say she fits the bill. My son is brilliant, obsessed with unusual things, socially clueless, uncoordinated and watch out if you get him mad! Having a boy like him actually makes me fond of her character, her genius.

  • Ann

    she does not have asperger’s syndrome. she is extremely intelligent, very observant, and very decisive. the books obviously give more detail than a film can. after reading the books i would say that she was deeply traumatized repeatedly as she grew up. when she spoke up, she got beat down. computers were a lifeline to sanity. a photographic memory allows one to become very, very good at technical things quite easily. in her limited early adulthood she has realized that the vast majority of people she meets are not as smart as she and nearly oblivious when compaired to her observational abilities. so she has developed a very low opinion of humanity in general. she expresses this by withdrawing and generally treating everyone like objects. these stories find her at a point when she has developed the first true friends in her life and she is slow to grasp that. even slower to accept that these new people in her life really do care about her. when your trust and faith in others is so badly, and so often abused as what happend to lisbeth, it becomes almost impossible to ever truely open up to another person again. no matter how much you think you can trust someone, you never really do. you live the rest of your life on guard… waiting for the betrayal that you are certain is coming. it is almost impossible to care about people you don’t trust.

  • Also, remember authors take days just to write one page. There are no casual details in books, unless the writer is a novice writer who doesn’t know what he is doing. The author will typically put it in there for a reason, to get you to think about whatever point he is trying to make. Rainstorms become baptisms, Christ like characters make sacrifices and roads are journeys to new perspective in life. The story of these manuscripts are interesting, but if the author put any part of himself, (personal challenges, etc.) into Lisbeth’s character, as authors often do, his writings are just as detailed as hers, and thereby his mention of Aspergers was important.

  • KB

    I haven’t read the book, but I saw the movie recently, and I think she definitely has Aspergers-type characteristics. I’ve known a number of people with Aspergers, and think that while hers might be a somewhat romanticized version (understandable in a movie), there are some tellingly awkward moments. When she’s standing in the kitchen, for example, and doesn’t answer Blomkvist’s question about coffee. Also, both times after they have sex—the first time she just gets down from the bed and leaves without saying a word, and the second time she asks what Blomkvist is doing when he wants to sleep next to her. As I mentioned, I don’t know that it’s a particularly complete picture, but she definitely has some of the characteristics.

  • Yes. Sometimes, people who try align the symptoms of asperger’s syndrome to Lisbeth Salander do not believe that she is a hero with ASD. Unfortunately, trying to diagnose a fictional character as someone who has the exact criteria for the symptoms of ASD is often simply bad science. The symptoms of autism, do not immediately mean that if someone is not obviously symptomatic they are not autistic. Lisbeth Salander, is a very intelligent, street smart woman … often street smart aspergerian’s develop a complex set of social problem solving methods. She has a carefully constructed self-confidence, this is very aspergian. However, at the end of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson talks about how Salander loves and we realize that while she can fight seriel killers, hack computers, ride motorcycles, fight sadistic rapists she is vulnerable emotionally and conceals a heart of gold behind a crooked smile, if you have met people with Asperger’s Syndrome you realize this is also very Aspergian (people with ASD often present a tough exteria to distance themselves so they will not be hurt for being different mentally. Also, Salander is skilled in second life … disguised as either a glitzy blonde, or online … Aspergian’s often feel more comfortable in second life and dressing up as other people. Also, she avoids eye contact in the Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movie, another Aspergian trait. Furthermore, she is a nerd like Bill Gates and Gary Numan, so she has cool powers such as motorcycles and computers. As for routine, she smokes and smoking is a routine behavior. Although, as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I feel Lisbeth Salander is one of the first hero’s my people have that they can look up to and take pride in, which is a large step from the socially awkward loner that characterize’s many of the fictional characters we are presented as hero’s. Finally, I would like to believe Lisbeth Salander dohas Asperger’s Syndrome because the way she looks into the eyes of the people she trusts and loves, with a quiet intimacy and unwavering loyality is very characteristic of people with the syndrome.

  • hce

    If you read all three books, there are indications of AS or a similar condition. It’s important to remember too, though, that someone can be brilliant and have a learning difference. I discuss these things specifically on my blog, and have a post called “In praise of Lisbeth Salander” at You can learn all about what it’s like to really have these conditions, amid exceptional talents, there.

  • In the first book….Lisbeth is talking to Blomkvist about her photographic memory. She has been caught skim reading pages in a minute and retaining the knowledge. He runs though a list of her talents in his head and sums it up with “Aspergers”. Look it up, yourself. ASPERGERS. The author didn’t say smart, or nerdy or gifted, but ASPERGERS.

    What is everyone’s problem with Aspergers? You act like we are retards, which means you know nothing about it. Wanna meet us? Go to the library. Go to the computer lab. Go to the art gallery. Go to the math & science department at the local college. Go to a hair salon, the most gifted stylist will have it. Go to a gay bar, we are often androgynous. Hang out in a green room at a theater. Go to a chat room. Go to a tattoo parlor. Go anywhere where there is an obsessive expert on a subject.

    We’ll be the ones who look like we haven’t showered in a day or so, and threw on whatever was laying on the floor in our apartment or the one who looks like they are in costume. When you look at us, don’t expect eye contact, but we might stare. Don’t expect us to come up to you, unless that is required and we have a script to recite. We’ll be the ones who look like we have an attitude or the ones rushing out because the people are too much to be around, hopefully we are not having a meltdown. We can be talkative or not. We can feel secure or not. We might be in performance mode, or in anti-social mode, or not.

    Trust me as one with Aspergers, I have way more in common with Lisbeth, than NTs. I felt like they tapped into my brain, so much the entire last chapter actually made me tear up.

  • Definitely geek syndrome… It’s a wonderful gift, but it sucks when we have to deal with the neurotypical… I’m about 2/3 of the way through the first book, and figured I’d go ahead and google to see who else saw a connection…

  • Here are some insights that may help.

    Aspergers is the new label for what used to be called genius, the creative brain, or nerd whatever. We just understand the science of the genius brain and now it has a label.

    Additionally, it is on the SPECTRUM of autism, meaning we share some traits but not all. Each aspergers person is different. Think of it like the equalizer on the stereo. Some aspies have more base, some more treble. Like the equalizer: some are bell curved (left brain nerds), some dip (right brain nerds), some are every other lever, and some are more balanced but higher than normal. NT all the levers are low. Aspies are in the middle with some high levers and perhaps some low. With autism most levers are very high. Being on the spectrum would mean perhaps that the levers are all above a certain bench mark. This is why it is not always recognisable. But we all either think in pictures or patterns and not like NTs.

    I “got” Temple Grandin, but it was like turning up the volume to loud on my behavior. My meltdowns (lashing out or freaking out) are down to about 3 a year, and through counseling, I can sense them coming on, and I leave, which I am often perceived as rude, but it’s better than a public meltdown. I try to think about consequences and weigh everything first. This is huge because I often can’t label my emotions beyond the basics, let alone other peoples without much analyzation (scanning in my head the books that I have read and comparing notes).

    Like Lisbeth discovery that her emotion was “love” at the end of the 1st book. I discovered that I was “embarrassed” recently. (mind you I’m much older than Lisbeth.) I was in a situation, where someone wanted me to make a choice for the group. (PURE HELL because this relies on non-verbal skills), when I made my decision, I wasn’t happy with it, but it was too late to change it. My nervous system took over, and I clammed up and sent out a weird vibe…eye contact went out the window. I also could not leave the situation.

    It took two days for me to realize, that I was “embarrassed”. Then I was like “hmm, so that is what embarrasment is.” It was much more subtle than dealing with junior high bullies and getting in fights over it. I felt it was a huge break though.

    However, I’m much higher functioning than many autistics, so much that people…even some that work with autism children, had no clue that I was even on the spectrum…”but now that you mention it.”. This is because women are harder to diagnose. I began doing acting at age 5. My social skills are very deliberate when I choose to put out the effort.

    It’s not just in the behavior though. We have choices but we can’t control what happens in our brains. The neurons in the typical brain that light up when when they see faces, in Aspies, they light up when we look at objects. It lets us either think in pictures or in patterns. I do both. I test high on IQ tests, in computers, math, science, mechanics, & logic. I’ve worked on cars, small appliances, rigged stereo systems and computer equipment. I’m gifted in art, music, writing poetry and cooking, but tend to eat the same things day in and day out and am ver y picky in my choices. I can recall dates, facts and events 10, 20, 30 years ago. I’m ambidextrous. I teach art…but a lot of that is me acting “faking enthusiasm & social skills” (book learned) which can be exhausting. I need to hang out in my apartment away from people for a while to recharge.

    I began counseling as a child in the 70′s for my “creative personality” so that I could have social integration and my parents could celebrate my giftedness. Personally, although I like understanding myself more through the label of Aspergers and documented symptoms of behavior. I do not feel so alone, butI do not like the stigma and enabling that the label has generated, which has outed us even further than before when we were just admired being stars in our areas of interest and considered gifted and eccentric.

  • Adult aspies often don’t fit into neat diagnostic criteria, Most have adapted somewhat, some a lot. And necessity drives adaptation. I didn’t grow up in too nice of an environment and possibly as a defense my interests turned to forgery, lock-picking, hacking, fighting instead of Pokemon or something stereotypical.
    In short she is very intelligent and in here 24 years or life would surly have adapted, learned.

    PS. The scene (I saw the swedish film version) where he catches her on here photographic memory reminds me of a could of times when I was drawing a map perfectly from memory and caught myself and made it more sloppy. People have a way of using a little my of medical knowlage to turn a skill into something to be ashamed of.

  • She does show all the possible signs of the disorder. But perhaps she’s more likely to be a highly functioning sociopath.

    Check out my book Murderson:

  • What part of SPECTRUM disorder did you not understand? Could you not visualize the equalizer stereo explanation? Most people do not think that I have Apsergers. They think I am just quirky. When given the test by the director of the Aspergers group that I belong to, the director was shocked at how high I scored. Anything over 15 out of 30 was Aspergers. I got 25. With all my acting skills, I just hide it well. I even can fake empathy now in a way that people think I get them better than others. I don’t. I can’t read their faces, nor can I mirror back their faces with out trying to fake it. It’s a very conscious effort. I do it just to make the situations run smoother. It’s not that I don’t care about them. I just can’t express it naturally. I simply look for the emotion while they are talking and try to paraphrase it back to them, something I learned from a book …salon psychology. “Wow, it sounds like _______(repeat back)______, that must be really ____(pick an emotion)_______ for you.” Now everyone comes to me and tell me their problems. I’m just grateful that I don’t have to carry the conversation, as people get tired about hearing about my special interests. And no, I’m not a sociopath. I genuinely want to help people, as Lisbeth wanted to help those girls. She did care, as she did love Blomquist. We just really suck at showing it…naturally.

  • [...] table an array of mental powers that Mikael, in the first novel, assesses as the ambiguous gifts of Aspergers Syndrome. When it comes to putting this across, Ms Rapace’s features have a built-in mystery that Ms Mara, [...]

  • [...] the official site for the original Scandinavian production, there is even a whole section devoted to whether or not the character has Asberger’s, but it isn’t presented necessarily as a flaw – it is just who she is and in some ways [...]

  • Hi, i’m french and i write a transmedia story (eBook, webserie and websites) about an Aspie girl in college. Not another Lisbeth. I search to communicate with an young adult Aspie girl to help me to build a credible character.
    It may also allow Aspies to be better known in their handicaps (disabilities?). Aspies are different from each other because the associated disabilities are more or less present.
    But the project is primarily the story of a post-teenager girl who seeks her place in the society.
    The project will come in English and French

    If you are an Aspie or if you want help for this project, contact me :
    h e r v e @ j d c m e d i a . f r

  • Gary McKinnon interviews, real Asperger’s, talky talky, very proficient with speech, Lisbeth, not so much. The controversy of Lisbeth’s diagnosis aside, nor did the movie Rain Man accurately depict autism. If you want to observe some real autism then watch the documentary Horse Boy. Actually the highest gifts of autism may not be counting cards or toothpicks but perhaps in the multi-dimensional realms, and overlap in this last trait with Aspergers and ADHD, and probably many other diagnoses, much of the real life mystery yet to be revealed to the world, because when things happen to the brain, things happen to perception.

  • Kat

    Asperger’s is not a “disease”. I have Asperger’s and it’s a difference in neurology, in brain-wiring. It does NOT fit the category of “disease” and I’m sure I’m far from the only person who finds it highly offensive and misleading to see it described as such.

  • I will begin by first dealing with a few of the issues mentioned by previous posters.
    *One person said: “At some point in the last 10 years or so, Asperger’s became a buzzword defining a socially and emotionally withdrawn person with a high IQ”-This would be a valid point if it weren’t for the fact that the first book wasn’t written in the last 10 years… Yes it was published in the last 10 years but that was posthumously, I somehow doubt he wrote 3/3/4 books in the last year he was alive. The real explosive spread of knowledge about autism and Asperger’s can be traced back to late 2004 after NBC did a whole series of programming on the topic and has since been exploited by organizations such as “autism speaks” for the sake of corporate and personal profits I know this quite specifically as I was diagnosed by a team of specialists with aspergers earlier that year, after a mental hospital(suicide attempt) doctor first recognized the symptoms.

    Then there is this person’s comment: “i would say that she was deeply traumatized repeatedly as she grew up. when she spoke up, she got beat down.”- I take offense at this statement that an aspergers diagnosis is quite similar to how one would look if you were deeply traumatized. Aspergers is on the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum, and given the proper training and observation of non autistics, or neurotypical as we like to call you, we can perfectly mimic your so called “normal” behavior. We can also be quite, cynical when dealing with neurotypicals, and frankly your statement exemplifies the focus of our cynicism. We feel its like you’re accusing us of being incapable of such feats, or that you can’t tolerate a likable person falling under that diagnosis. Fact is, we face a wide spectrum of discrimination, because to be quite honest, we’re not easy for neurotypicals to wrap their/your heads around. To put an analogy out there, you think in imperial while we think in metric….. I’ll say this… were I in Lizbeth’s position, there is a good chance I would have done exactly as she had…including to her father… I find the character to be quite easy to empathize with.. Aspergers is unfortunately often mistaken with psychopathy, as we both use similar methods to appear normal. The reason why I think it’s one rather than the other, is she, unlike a psychopath, obviously has emotions, and is highly logical in spite of such emotions rather than due to lack of emotions.

    That’s just my perspective based on my years of study of aspergers…I’m no doctor or anything close, just someone who has done years of research, and have 24/7 access to a research subject that I can see through a mere glance in the mirror…and all of it done with an autistic level of focus and interest… I look forward to seeing if anyone responds.

  • asperger’s isn’t a disease, jackass.

  • Yes, all three novels do, but the third one drives the fact home, that she does.

    Stieg Larsson wrote it, really you must read it yourself to come to your own conclusion, but Michael Blomkvist, Holger Palmgren and Dr. Anders Jonasson all three believe she has Asperger’s syndrome or something like it, she may also be a sociopath or psychopath (now known as Antisocial Personality Disorder), which The evil Dr. Peter Teleborian suggests, and Stieg may have agreed with this after the first novel, but the three people believing it is Asperger’s within the trilogy, never come across with that, both Asperger’s disorder and are defined within the DSM-IV-PR and the ICD-10. The author threw many references and keys to reference against Pippi Longstocking and her Villa Villekulla in the trilogy; Larsson stated in interviews that he based the character of Lisbeth Salander on what he imagined Pippi Longstocking might have been like as an adult. Lisbeth is a redhead although she dies her hair black.

    Excerpt, p. 367 “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”;

    Michael Blomkvist:

    Asperger’s syndrome, he thought. Or something like that. A talent for seeing patterns and understanding abstract reasoning where other people perceive only white noise.

    Excerpt, p. 414 “The Girl Who Played with Fire”;

    Holger Palmgren:

    “She has an extremely hard time relating to other people. I thought she had Asperger’s syndrome or something like it. If you read the clinical descriptions of patients diagnosed with Asperger’s, there are things that seem to fit Lisbeth very well, but there are just as many symptoms that don’t apply at all. Mind you, she’s not the least bit dangerous to people who leave her in peace and treat her with respect. But she is violent, without a doubt,” said Palmgren in a low voice. “If she’s provoked or threatened, she can strike back with appalling violence.”

    Excerpt, p. 167 “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”;

    Dr. Anders Jonasson:

    Jonasson looked intently at Dr. Teleborian for ten seconds before he said: “I won’t argue a diagnosis with you, Dr. Teleborian, but have you ever considered a significantly simpler diagnosis?”

    “Such as?”

    “For example, Asperger’s syndrome. Of course, I haven’t done a psychiatric evaluation of her, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would consider some form of autism. That would explain her inability to relate to social conventions.”

  • I had never read any of the books before, and this was my first viewing of the films; yet, about 30 minutes into the first film, I immediately suspected Lisbeth had Asperger’s. Indeed it was quite obvious — the way her social interactions with people seem a bit abrupt and awkward, and the implication that she has trouble picking up on social gestures and etiquette.

    To me, this makes the character of Lisbeth all the more interesting, as rarely are main characters with Aperger’s or Autism portrayed in movies/books/TV.

  • thanks im a big fan of you but your LOOK APPRECIATE ME VERLY

  • I am 49.
    I have a form or aspergers but it is different than what I have been reading about.
    I am socially withdrawn but I understand body language and voice inflection to an almost hyper degree.
    I recognize it automatically.
    Usually I am calm and quiet and talk my way out of it.I can become come violent sometimes.
    No one knows I have it.I function fine and have a full time job.
    I really don’t have anything to add other than my own experience.I have no one else to talk to about it

  • Excellent write-up. I definitely love this website.


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