Friday, March 17, 2006

Asperger Dogs

Just finished reading Mark Haddon’s beguiling novel ‘The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night Time’. Despite winning the Whitbread Book of the year for children's fiction, this is a book for adults.

Though it is never explicitly stated in the book, the 15 year old narrator Christopher Boone suffers from a form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome.

Sufferers of this syndrome are often mathematically gifted but deficient in basic social skills and unable to filter out extraneous external influences. To them, all incoming information is equally valuable and when presented with a high value situation such as a busy railway station, their sensory perceptions are overloaded and they cannot cope with the resulting stress.

Autism is seen, for reasons unknown to Woolly Days, as a particularly male disease.

Many university maths departments are filled with its sufferers. And yet they lead mostly well adjusted and important lives. The brain is off-kilter but still functioning and compensating in wonderful ways.

In the book, Hadden drags us into Christopher’s black and white world. We get the absoluteness of his moral universe and his codeset. Through his valid, albeit imperfect testimony we get the exasperated reactions of his parents, his carers, his neighbours, the policeman and others he meets on his adventure.

We are enveloped in Christopher’s claustrophobia and can almost sense his overloaded brain sorting through the ephemeral paraphernalia. We get the nausea as he cascades his way through the station with people pressing all round him (he starts to ‘bark’ if anyone approaches too close).

The 'curious case' of the title is merely the first act that gives Asperger an off-beat title but does not truly reflect what the story is about.

The scene in the underground station where he waits paralysed and panic-stricken for hours is especially powerful. Eventually the sheer force of repetition allied to his native brute strength of logic allows him to conquer his fears and set forth on the next stage of his journey.

His world is chaotic, strange and alas not very unique. We are privileged and horrified to be a part of it.

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