This is my first post reviewing autism in literature. Patients recommend various books, as do other professionals, there are publishers’ tables at conferences, and titles that appear in various other autism information that I peruse each day. I plan to set aside a separate section in this blog so that readers may offer their choices and opinions, as well. Also, I would like to use this venue for discussions about autism in other media forms, such as movies, TV or the theater.
One problem of our digital age is that it’s more difficult to actually share books. In their pixelated form, I’m the only one who gets to see them. So, I can only provide the URL and the reader will have to ultimately decide whether the purchase is worth it. Above all, these are just my opinions – yours are welcome.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
A parent in my medical practice first recommended this 2003 novel. The characterizations are vivid and compelling. The narrator-protagonist is very familiar to our ASD community, since he is a teenage boy who is ‘on the spectrum.’ Because of the first person point-of-view, we are forced to see the world through the eyes of an affected individual, and I think that Mr. Haddon does a splendid job in that endeavor.
I’ll get back to the story in a bit. The middle-age British author was so convincing in his descriptions of the mental processing of the story’s 15 year-old “writer” that I believed that he must be autistic himself. This is not the type of description that Temple Grandin supplied in her book, Thinking in Pictures. Christopher (the central figure) asks the reader to follow his line of reasoning in real-time. Chapters are presented as 2,3,5… prime numbers – not I, II, or III – because that is what makes the most sense to Christopher. Sound familiar? He suffers from a lack of understanding jokes, repetitive thoughts, restricted interests, few friends, sensory issues – all from the first person viewpoint. That creates a 3D picture of what it must be like to be a “15 years, 3 months, 2 days” old ‘spectrum’ resident.
Mr. Haddon has written and illustrated several children’s books. He is not affected by Asperger’s or autism, and asks readers to get “the real thing” from authors who are, in fact, actually affected with the condition. Having examined so many ASD infants, children, teens, and even adults, I think that his background working with disabled people, writing children’s stories and creating art has given him the unique ability to paint a very accurate picture. His interpretation of Asperger thoughts adds to my knowledge and can enlighten many people’s understanding about how such individuals are different. Readers learn that the character is not dumb, or retarded, or a “spazzer” (Christopher, in the book, insists that he is not one of them), but that he is really smart, clever, and worthy of listening to and learning from.
The author is able to take us into Christopher’s mind by offering detailed discussions how the boy perceives truth, logic, relationships, and social situations. Readers are witness to the terror of a crowded railway, shutting out the world with behaviors and even the thoughts associated with dreams and daydreams. Mr. Haddon uses italics and bold-face type to express scripting, pictures to express the narrator’s obsessive thinking and scheduling, and offers an appendix to further explain the workings of such a complicated mind. We get a better understanding of how jokes are perceived and there is even a Theory of Mind discussion, from the subject’s viewpoint.
The story itself revolves around Christopher’s sleuthing (he loves Sherlock Holmes’ novels) of the murder of his neighbor’s dog. In his search to solve the crime, we see his world expand; from his room, to his small neighborhood, to the city of London. In the end, it’s not the murder mystery at all, it’s a complex story of one family’s struggle with ASD. The story covers elopement, tantrums, sensory overload, the struggles involved in caring for such individuals, and their struggle to live with the rest of humanity.
I highly recommend this short, insightful, interesting and instructive story that brings such empathy and understanding to the world of Asperger’s Syndrome and other ASD diagnoses.