Monday, May 11, 2009

Mystery and the Mind

There have been several books in recent years where the main characters fall somewhere on the autism or Asperger’s Syndrome spectrum. I am definitely not a medical expert, but I did notice this trend, and hopefully these books will help give folks some insight into how the brain works, and how autism or Asperger’s affects the world-view of some people.

Many of these books are tied in with mysteries. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, and The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd all combine coming of age stories with a central mystery. Some manifestations of autism/Asperger’s are portrayed as helping the characters in solving the mysteries—dependence on routine, obsession with numbers and puzzles, and having spent much of their lives trying to figure people out. Another typical trait of autism/Asperger’s is the lack of understanding of others’ emotions—this shows up in the characters having trouble reading people’s faces and moods, being overwhelmed by sensory input, and sometimes seeming insensitive to others’ thoughts or feelings—not because they’re mean, but because they don’t have a shared understanding of emotion. The first person narration in all of these stories gives you a real sense of being in the character’s head and seeing the world through his eyes.

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin does NOT involve a mystery, but deals more with a young man trying to find his place in the world—working out relationships with his sibling, friends, parents, and girls. Jason finds an outlet for his frustrating relationships in creative writing and routine.

If you’re interested in some true stories about this topic, try these autobiographies: Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin and Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet. Dr. Grandin is a pioneer in the field of humane treatment of animals who are being raised for food, and her autism has informed how she perceives animals’ comfort and worldviews. Tammet describes growing up with a talent for numbers and languages and finding his place in the world where he can use his talents to his advantage—one of his many projects is a company that sells online language courses.

Whether you’re looking for a different world view, or one to confirm that your world-view isn’t as different as you thought, these are all excellent reads. For more information on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, try visiting the Autism Society of America.


Ms. Yingling said...

As we see more children struggling with Asperger's, we'll see more books. I liked Anything but Typical, and our Asperger's unit teacher is reading it with several of her students.

Seth Christenfeld said...

I've also heard excellent things about Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison (who is the brother of Augusten Burroughs).