A GOOD LOOK AT AUTISM
This is another of my Guardian challenge books finished. Honestly, I’m really glad I signed up for this challenge; otherwise I might never have got around to reading this really great book on autism.
Christopher Boone is an autistic child, who lives with his father after his mother dies of a heart attack. He cannot fathom emotions and social niceties, hates to be touched and has a pathological fear of crowds. When his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, is killed with a pitchfork, Christopher decides to become a detective to find the murderer. But what ensues is a startling discovery about his mother and a harrowing journey to London, which shakes him to the core.
The first thing which strikes you about his narrative is the digressions. Every other chapter has Christopher talking about his likes and dislikes, famous puzzles and solving numerous math problems. He numbers his chapters in primes (2, 3, 5, 7 etc), something I found really interesting. Christopher has a lot of quirks: he won’t eat his food if the different items touch, he doesn’t like yellow and brown, he can’t stand any change in his routine.
Mr. Jeavons, the psychologist at the school, once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks.
But that doesn’t mean he is stupid, no way. His general knowledge is great and he is a whiz with numbers, knowing all the primes up to 7057. But he cannot interact with people and has difficulty making simple connections, such as a smile implies happiness, raised voices mean an argument and so on. His life is one of routine, order and stability, and any deviation from status quo can have him curling up into a ball, screaming or groaning. He also displays a complete lack of emotion, and some of the most heart-rending moments, such as his mother’s death are presented dispassionately. He doesn’t pick up on obvious facts, such as the disintegration of his parents’ marriage. If you expect an adorable kid, he is not it; if you’re looking for a rebel’s story, this is not it. But you are drawn into Christopher’s neat, emotionless, analytical routine, as you learn how his mind works. There is a saying that when God closes a door, he opens a window. The door of social normality is probably closed to Christopher, but he has a huge French window of analytical brilliance to make up for it.
The character I hated most was Christopher’s mother. I understand that taking care of an autistic child is a mentally draining job and it can take a heavy toll on marital life. But that did not excuse her actions. Essentially the message she was sending was: my son, you are a freak and I can’t stand to take care of you any longer, I need my own life; I’m sorry. The dad is not nice either, but at least he tries. I was also a little surprised that despite going to a special school, Christopher is still not comfortable with change in his social environment, as I was given to understand that autistic behavior improves with a proper support structure. But then, this book is about how Christopher sees things, which differs from a third person’s view, so we really have no idea if there has actually been any change.
I cannot say if Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is an accurate portrayal of an autistic child, considering that my only exposure to autism is watching the movie Rainman. But I do believe that this will help neurotypical people understand an autistic person’s needs and be better equipped to interact with him/her.