Monday, April 02, 2007

Perspectives

Yesterday I listened to "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime" by Tom Haddon. I got the book on tape from the library. It was pretty good. The ending is predictable but that's okay. You'd be very upset if the book ended badly after all the hardships endured by the narrator. In case you don't know, the book is narrated by an autistic boy named Christopher. He sets out to find out who killed the neighbor's dog and the investigation sends him on an odyssey. He has what would be a very ordinary adventure for your average child but for him it is like climbing Mount Everest. The worst part is, of course, that no one he meets on this journey understands what is happening to him. They think he's crazy and walk away. Though this is what Christopher wants. His favorite dream involves him being one of the last people on earth and all the others that are left are like him so they stay away from him. And yet he does not want to live alone, without someone to care for him. He does get some help on his way but it is grudging and wary. I think that even now, in the information age, many people don't know anything about autism unless they know someone who is autistic. To further confuse the issue there are different kinds of autism and different levels of functioning.

I have also read "Animals in Translation" by Temple Grandin. She is a consultant to the meat and poultry industry; she helps them design their systems to minimize stress and fear in the livestock. She is also autistic, high functioning autistic. Her book prepared me for some of the things in "The Curious Incident" but it is still a compelling experience to see the world from a very different perspective. What must it be like to live without filters? Imagine walking into Times Square and seeing everything. And hearing everything. If you have not read "Animals in Translation" I highly recommend it. In both of these books you will find a whole other world.

Listening to the book made me think of my experience working with "special needs" children. When I was in high school I spent two years as a volunteer at a center for neurologically impaired children. The center had a range of children, some who were merely a bit hyper-active to those who could barely communicate. One of the boys was named Anthony. We volunteers were not privy to medical information but one of them told me she thought Anthony was autistic. I think she was right. His favorite color was blue and he wouldn't wear any other color. He had a blue cardigan sweater that he wore all the time, even in the summer sun. He said it protected him from aliens. He didn't like to be touched and often sat apart from the others. As an added bonus he was diabetic and you had to make sure he ate enough so he wouldn't slip into an insulin coma. We all carried candy in our pockets just in case. It happens so fast, the blood would drain from his face and he would start to sink to the floor. Then you would stuff some Lifesavers into him and hope you did it soon enough. His parents were really great. So very kind. They owned an Italian restaurant and they used to bring food to our parties. Baked ziti and lasagna. I think that they had to put Anthony in an institution. He was not high functioning and as he got older and bigger he was getting hard to handle.

The human mind is an amazing thing and I believe we can learn a lot about the world and ourselves if we listen to those who see things from a different perspective. We just have to be willing to open our own minds.

1 comment:

Kicking N. Screaming said...

I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Terry Gross interviewed the author a couple years ago.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1310766

Haddon, interestingly, points out that Christopher would most likely be diagnosed with Asperger's but states that he doesn't want to state that in the novel because he doesn't want him to be labeled. He doesn't think it's the most important thing about him.