Brendan looks at his reflection in a mirror. He is wearing a smart suit and is well-groomed.

Being diagnosed with a condition often comes with a strong encouragement to dive deep into understanding it. What does it entail? How will it impact your daily life and those around you? What strategies can enhance your well-being? When I was formally diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder a few years ago, I received an extensive reading list along with my diagnosis letter. As you educate yourself, you start to see how your behaviours align with the condition, making it easier to spot similar traits in others. For example, autism is often hereditary, and I’ve since noticed many autistic characteristics in my mother, brother, and maternal grandfather. This newfound awareness even extends to fictional characters, turning my ‘autistic radar’ into a fun, insightful exercise.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that impacts interactions, communication, learning and behaviour. Characteristics typically become apparent when individuals are around two years old, as identifying the disorder before significant development is challenging. In 2013, the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome (a “high-functioning” form of autism) was retired and reclassified under the broader umbrella of autistic spectrum disorder, which is the specific aspect of autism I am focusing on here. Autism manifests uniquely in each individual, which is why it’s described as a spectrum, yet many common traits can be observed among autistic people.

Brendan stands outside, lit with blue hue light, hands behind his head.
Brendan Brady, surrendering to armed police.

One of my favourite TV and film characters is Brendan Brady from the serial drama Hollyoaks. First appearing on-screen in 2010, Brendan quickly became a standout character, winning numerous awards over his two and a half year stint. Often seen as a ‘bad boy’—sometimes even a bit psychotic—Brendan is actually a profoundly complex and vulnerable individual. His terrible actions usually stem from childhood trauma, which shapes his outlook on life. While this doesn’t (and shouldn’t) excuse his behaviour, it makes him a compelling and multifaceted character, capable of simultaneously being nominated for both Villain of the Year and Hero of the Year awards.

Brendan looks over his shoulder at Walker. A train is approaching in the distance.
Brendan looks over his shoulder at enemy Walker.

I recognise many autistic traits in Brendan’s behaviour. Though he’s never been canonically labelled as neurodivergent and would likely scoff at the suggestion (given his response to a family counselling session), these traits seem evident to me. I understand why the show might avoid labelling a ‘villainous’ character with such a condition to prevent negative stereotypes. Nevertheless, actor Emmett J. Scanlan’s method portrayal brings depth to Brendan that feels authentic. This nuanced performance adds layers to Brendan’s character, making him one of the most intriguing and unforgettable figures on Hollyoaks.

Brendan looks broken as he watches his ex-wife and children walk away.
Brendan watches on as his ex-wife and kids walk away.

Many autistic people reach adulthood without realising they are autistic or without a formal diagnosis. Several factors contribute to this, including:

  • Lack of awareness or recognition of autistic traits by yourself or others.
  • Traits that do not negatively or significantly impact your life.
  • Successful natural coping mechanisms, such as masking or camouflaging, which you may not even realise you’re using.
  • Barriers to assessment including cost, long waiting lists, or the stress of the diagnostic process.
  • Misdiagnosis with another condition or medical intervention focusing on individual symptoms rather than the overarching condition.
  • A personal decision to avoid pursuing a diagnosis or simply not seeing the point in doing so.

Autism in adults who have gone undiagnosed throughout their lives is typically identified by a multi-disciplinary team of specialists, such as speech and language therapists and clinical psychologists. These experts must unanimously agree on the diagnosis after a series of assessments. These assessments might include interviews with someone who knew you well as a child (like a parent), activities, observations, and conversations. All these methods are used to gather evidence to support a diagnosis. To be diagnosed with autism, you need to exhibit difficulties in two key areas:

  • Social communication
  • Restricted, repetitive, and sensory behaviours or interests
Brendan and his sister Cheryl sit on a park bench. Brendan looks distressed.
Brendan’s sister, Cheryl, supports him.

Let’s break down these two categories further to explain why I believe Brendan Brady might be autistic. Each example supports the diagnostic criteria for autism.

Social Communication

  • Sometimes pauses for longer than others might when processing information, as if needing extra time to think about it.
  • Often repeats back what people say to him, possibly low-level echolalia (although it could simply be how he sounds threatening).
  • Always has monotonous speech, with very little emotion in his voice unless distressed.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions of all kinds.
  • People often have difficulty knowing what he’s thinking.
  • Tends to talk ‘at’ people and not ‘to’ them in a conversation.
  • Gets frustrated if people don’t properly listen to what he is saying.

Social Interaction

Brendan dances awkwardly in a busy night club.
Brendan dancing awkwardly.
  • Can appear insensitive, misreading when situations require tact or seriousness.
  • Seeks out time alone when overloaded; for example, retreats to his office with the door closed or flees to his hometown of Dublin to escape reminders of people and surroundings.
  • Doesn’t tend to seek comfort from other people unless in extreme situations and finds it uncomfortable when his sister hugs him.
  • Often behaves strangely or in a way that could be thought of as socially inappropriate, such as hanging Joel’s abusive stepfather from a lighthouse to “take back control”.
  • Appears awkward in nearly every social interaction.
  • Finds it hard to form friendships and appears to show no interest in this, despite clearly feeling content when his loved ones are nearby.
  • Difficulty recognising the feelings of others and understanding when they are hurt, upset, or angry.
  • Ignores—or perhaps doesn’t understand—social rules, such as interrupting people or walking away when he’s done, greetings and farewells, or etiquette, such as talking with his mouth full.
  • Generally avoids eye contact as if it’s uncomfortable for him, usually choosing to look elsewhere when talking to someone.
  • Had hidden or “masked” his sexuality his entire life, like when he tried to embark on a relationship with Lynsey to provide normalcy to his son. Perhaps he was also masking autistic traits by trying too hard to fit in.
  • Prefers to work independently rather than as a team.
  • May struggle with cognitive empathy, but once somebody becomes special to him, he goes out of his way to care for them. For example, how he took Mitzeee and Joel under his wing and how everything he does is for Steven.
  • To show off to his son, Brendan played football with a group of teenagers, and thought it appropriate to focus on taking down the teenagers rather than playing football, showing a misunderstanding for the point of the game.
Ste and Brendan stand facing each other. Ste has his hands placed lovingly around Brendan's neck.
Brendan’s lover Steven supports him.

Repetitive and Restrictive Behaviour

  • Exhibits what may be described as ‘stims’ with hand movements and neck twitches, usually when he’s trying to regulate himself when stressed or anxious.
  • Notices small details that others don’t, such as tiny cracks in office walls, which become a big distraction for him.
  • Prefers to use full names for everybody, such as Steven for Ste and Douglas for Doug.

Sensory Sensitivity

  • Gets highly irritated by certain sounds/smells; for example, when young Leah was tapping her foot under the table, he became increasingly frustrated before snapping and lashing out at her.
  • Not really into hugging but appears to make exceptions for specific people he cares for, such as Ste, Cheryl, Lynsey, Joel, and Declan.
  • Goes to a posh deli to order jam sandwiches, indicating a restricted palate or preference for basic, familiar flavours. Admittedly, there was also an element of ruffling the feathers of the owner.

Highly-focused Interests or Hobbies

Brendan guides Mitzeee in boxing.
Brendan guides Mitzeee.
  • Always highly focused on running his business, which is a massive part of his life.
  • Very proud of his moustache and can regularly be seen taking care of it.
  • Essentially addicted to “Steven” and can’t leave him alone despite their relationship being highly toxic and dangerous.
  • Very intelligent and can quickly think of unique solutions to his problems.
  • High justice sensitivity—when Brendan sees an injustice, he wants to right it, for example, when a photographer tried to steal intimate photographs of Mitzeee, or when his protégé was dealing with his abusive stepfather.

Meltdowns and Shutdowns

  • Appears to have meltdowns when things get too much for him—shouting, screaming, and lashing out (a crucial part of his character).
  • Occasionally has minor shutdowns where he’d switch off and not deal with what’s happening properly.
  • Enormous difficulty regulating his emotions, which often leads to him physically assaulting his loved ones when he can’t cope with what he’s feeling (another crucial character trait).
Brendan rages as he is restrained by two prison guards.
Brendan rages as prison guards restrain him.

There are, of course, traits that don’t align with the traditional expectations of an autistic person. For instance, Brendan often struggles with honesty and manipulates situations to his advantage rather than being transparent about his intentions. When dealing with criminals and criminal activity, Brendan focuses solely on his goals, disregarding who might get hurt in the process. For example, when his son needed money for an operation, he deceptively involved local women in a faux-romantic trip to Barcelona, using them as unwitting drug mules. He’s also been involved in drug dealing, rationalising it by blaming the victims for taking the drugs and showing no remorse for the death of Cameron. Brendan’s moral compass is skewed in these areas, possibly rooted in self-preservation and survival, as his intellect and quick thinking give him an edge in such activities. Additionally, his justice sensitivity might clash with these morally ambiguous traits. Furthermore, I can’t identify any traits consistent with extreme anxiety; this is particularly challenging to distinguish from natural or situational anxiety in the heightened drama of Hollyoaks, where every character must be perpetually on edge.

Brendan holds up a saw in a workshop.
Brendan deals with his problems in his own special way.

Of course, I’m not claiming that these traits definitively mean Brendan Brady is autistic, but it’s an interesting perspective to consider as part of a character study. There’s a good chance I’m reading too much into it, especially since this fictional character wasn’t necessarily developed with this in mind. Essentially, what I’m suggesting is that if Brendan ever sought psychological help, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to diagnose him as autistic. Such a diagnosis could give him a newfound understanding of his life and behaviours.

Brendan's father attempts to sexually abuse him.
Brendan’s father attacks him.

There’s another possibility that might align more closely with the character’s backstory, given that much of Brendan’s behaviour stems from the sexual abuse he endured as a young child and the trauma that followed. This possibility is complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD). Similar to PTSD, c-PTSD includes additional symptoms such as difficulty controlling emotions, feeling angry and distrustful of the world, feeling hopeless and damaged, feeling different from those around you, believing no one would understand your experiences, avoiding or struggling with relationships and friendships, experiencing dissociative symptoms, and having physical symptoms and suicidal feelings. Brendan exhibits some, but not all, of these symptoms, and could be diagnosed with c-PTSD if he ever sought professional help.

Delving into a character’s psychology is one of my passions. There’s an abundance to uncover with someone as complex and multifaceted as Brendan, even if we may never witness his journey continue. If you’re intrigued to learn more about Brendan Brady’s captivating story, I encourage you to explore further on the Hollyoaks Wiki.

By Sam

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