Autism, Culture, and Representation

Books are one of the best and worst ways to learn about autism. While books allow readers to get inside a person’s head, they are not always written to be accurate depictions of autism spectrum disorders. Even so, I do believe that there is something to be gained by reading each of following 4 books about autism:

Haddon’s book in particular was one of my favorites. This fictional book was written to be just that: fiction. Haddon has had little experience with autism, and in no way does he claim to be an expert. While Haddon never explicitly states that Christopher is autistic, his personality and tendencies seem to align with autism in many ways.

This brings up an assortment of questions about the representation of autism in literature. When is an autistic character’s depiction considered to be “accurate”? Autism itself is so diverse, and it is represented by different individuals in so many different ways. Christopher appears to embody many of the stereotypically autistic characteristics: his absorption of information, his natural talent with numbers, his social anxiety, etc. Although the author may not have known a lot about autism, this book can still be interpreted as a representation of autism as long as readers accept Haddon’s work as fictional.

I, personally, was glad that Haddon never attached the label of ‘autism’ to Christopher’s personality since he did not try to make it an accurate portrayal. I thought that this was a good way of allowing Christopher’s personality and traits to speak for him and allowing a reader to focus on his character instead of his disability. At the same time, his autistic tendencies are obvious enough that omitting the label of ‘autism’ may not have made a difference. And since this is a work of fiction, including the word autism would not necessarily have meant that Haddon had done his research.

Even though it may not be entirely accurate because of the author’s limited exposure, there is a lot to be learned about autism through Christopher’s interactions with the world around him. Seeing the world through Christopher’s eyes creates a whole new perspective. Even though autism is never spelled out, it is clear that Christopher struggles in social relationships and perceives the world differently. Although Christopher is the main character, this book is not only about autism. It also explores his relationships with other individuals like his father and mother as well as interactions amongst his neighbors.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time changed the way that I thought about autism in young children because it helped me to understand some of their behaviors. This book is a must-read not only because of its unique first-person narrative by an ‘autistic’ child, but also because it is well-written and entertaining. Christopher welcome the reader to embark on a journey with him to solve the ‘curious incident of the dog in the night-time,’ and his adventure does not disappoint.


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