We're on a bit of a vacation around here, so I put my feet up yesterday afternoon and finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. It is a selection for our book club next year, but I had read so much hype about it that I couldn't wait until the appropriate month to read it.
The book is "sort of" a murder mystery. A murder of a dog. Investigated by a 15 year old boy. Who just happens to be autistic. Who then writes this book as he goes along, giving us a look into the mind of the autistic person. But the book is really about the disintegration of a family, the difficulty of raising a child with this problem, the difficulty of BEING the kid with the problem and a whole lot more.
I've read a lot of the reviews on Amazon, searching for response from either autistic readers (there were several) or parents of autistic children. The reviews I read were generally extremely favorable about how well Mr. Haddon captured the "autistic mind."
Now, I'm not naive enough to assume that this is a textbook example of what it is like to be autistic. No book can do that, nor capture every autistic child's experience. Like my pet peeve, books that claim to capture "what women think", it is impossible to put in ONE book the experience of ALL of anybody. But I think the book is a valuable look into "differentness" and its trials.
Christopher is a savant in some areas--math and science in particular. He is fairly highly functioning--he assumes he will go to University and get a degree in math. But he is really an alien in our world--unable to relate to the simplest emotional issues other than on a strictly rote basis. It highlighted for me, as a parent, how difficult it would be to deal with this on a routine basis. And how much we take for granted in our daily life.
One of the things that struck me was the paradox of Christopher. He is completely unable to tune into the complexities of human interaction--emotion, subtext, etc. But he is hyper tuned in to the complexity of actual physical things--which then overwhelm him. He cannot simply see a field with 4 brown cows. He sees a field, higher at the southeast and northeast corners, folding down to the middle. With four cows, 3 facing north, one facing south. All with different patterns on their hides, which must be seen and cataloged. Two of which are eating grass, two of which are not........... You get the drift. It is no wonder he turns to (to us) weird coping mechanisms to shut out the overabundance of information to process. There's simply no filter--no ranking--nothing that can be ignored. The only option is not to process it at all. Christopher groans or taps or counts or does math problems in his head to shut out the world.
Here's a quote:
And when I am in a new place, because I see everything, it is like when a computer is doing too many things at the same time and the central processor unit is blocked up and there isn't any space left to think about other things. And when I am in a new place and there are lots of people there it is even harder because people are not like cows and flowers and grass and they can talk to you and do things that you don't expect, so you have to notice everything that is in the place, and also you have to notice things that might happen as well. And sometimes when I am in a new place and there are lots of people there it is like a computer crashing and I have to close my eyes and put my hands over my ears and groan, which is like pressing CTRL + ALT + DEL and shutting down programs and turning the computer off and rebooting so that I can remember what I am doing and where I am meant to be going.
It's a book worth reading. I recommend it.