A Different Point of View
Austism and Asperger's Syndrome in Fiction
In 2003 British children’s author Mark Haddon created a sensation when he published his first book for adults.
The idea for the book came to him first as an image of a dead dog.
“It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog.”
After the image came the voice of the narrator and then the narrator himself. “My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know the counties of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057.” Christopher is 15-years, 3-months and 3-days; he likes the color red, he dislikes the colors yellow and brown, and he “doesn’t tell lies.” Christopher has extraordinary mathematical talents, but he also has autism, and he finds it difficult to communicate with other humans, and extraordinarily difficult to recognize their emotions.
Autism, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is also known as Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) or Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), “The main signs and symptoms of autism involve communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors.
Children with autism might have problems talking with you, or they might not look you in the eye when you talk to them. They may have to line up their pencils before they can pay attention, or they may say the same sentence again and again to calm themselves down. They may flap their arms to tell you they are happy, or they might hurt themselves to tell you they are not. Some people with autism never learn how to talk.”
Christopher, however, can talk quite well, and he doesn’t like cruelty to animals or unruly behavior. So, like his hero Sherlock Holmes, he decides to solve the case of Who killed Wellington? (Wellington was Mrs. Spears’s standard poodle, now deceased.) His father, however, wants him to stop this ridiculous detective game! Christopher is not deterred, and in the process discovers more than the dog’s killer.
Haddon, who worked with children affected with autistic spectrum disorders earlier in his career, uses Christopher’s way of perceiving and reacting to the world as a point of view from which the reader can reflect on human passion and behavior. Since then other authors have employed this different point of view with similar effect.
Marcelo in the Real World / Francisco X. Stork
Marcelo Sandoval is not happy. He has been looking forward to his summer job, working in the barn with the ponies at his school. But his father, a partner and principal in a prestigious Boston law firm, wants him to work at the firm for the summer so that he can get experience working in the real world. His father doesn’t think a job in a barn at a school for students with special needs qualifies as the real world. He thinks the school is a protected environment, and Marcelo, at seventeen, a young man with Asperger’s syndrome (often referred to as a high functioning form of autism), needs a more challenging workplace.
The mail room at the law firm is more challenging. Marcelo’s new boss, a young woman named Jasmine, wanted to hire someone else for the job. Wendell, the other partner’s son, wants to befriend Marcelo, but only because he wants to influence the attractive Jasmine to go out on his boat with him. And while organizing the files for the firm’s biggest corporate customer, Marcelo, like Christopher, uncovers some very disturbing evidence.
The Second Opinion / Michael Palmer
Let’s turn from high profile Boston lawyers to high profile Boston Doctors. Dr. Petros Sperelakis, a brilliant diagnostician and head of a prestigious clinic bearing his name, at the Beaumont in Boston, a place that likes to think of itself as the world’s greatest hospital is the victim of a hit and run driver. The proud man “strictly Old Country in his attitudes and philosophy,” and known to his children as “the Lion” is now a patient in the Intensive Care Unit of his own hospital. He’s paralyzed and apparently comatose. His children, three of them physicians, have gathered around him. His youngest, Thea, has just arrived from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she’s been working for Doctors Without Borders. She’s just in time to preside over a Code Blue emergency to restart his heart. She’s perturbed with her older brother, a skilled heart surgeon, who’s content to stand back and let her take charge until the very last moment. Thea performs well, but she doesn’t like stressful situations. For her stress triggers many of the less appealing symptoms of her Asperger's syndrome. But the syndrome has also given her an ability to take in and remember a vast quantity of facts. This will be an aid to the detective works she undertakes when she discovers that her father’s condition was not the result of an accident and that someone is using the Beaumont as a cover to murder people for a price.
Dr. Palmer, the father of a child with Asperger's syndrome, writes a first-rate medical thriller, complete with creepy villains, unexpected plot twists, medical drama and scary situations. It come with an author’s note about AS in a question and answer format.
A Road Through the Mountains / Elizabeth McGregor.
And finally, from Legal Drama and Medical Thriller to Literary Domestic Fiction sent in the Boston Art scene that includes a prominent character from England, the land of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Anna Russell is a successful painter. She’s had enough sales to pay off all her debts. She’s on her way to an opening at a prestigious Boston gallery when her car is hit by a truck. The accident puts her ten-year-old daughter Rachel’s hand in a cast and Anna into a coma.
Against the wishes of Anna’s manager, her mother Grace makes a decision to call David Mortimer in England. Anna hasn’t had contact with David since he fathered their daughter. It’s been over a decade, and David isn’t aware he has a child until Grace makes the call.
This is a brilliantly constructed novel with vivid characters. Woven skillfully throughout the book is the difficulty of human connection whether obstructed by false assumptions, fear, Asperger’s syndrome, or coma, and its ultimate triumph through love and persistence. The sense of place and atmosphere in the novel, whether England, New England, or China is vividly described by its enumerated flora, color, and light.
Two other nonfiction books about the syndrome, written by authors with Asperger’s, that you may find interesting are the new autobiography by music critic and composer Tim Page, Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's and Asperger Syndrome in the Family: Redefining Normal by Liane Holliday Willey.