What do we know of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time?
We know it was written by Mark Haddon.
We know that “Aspergers” was used on the cover of the book.
What we know is that it has nothing to do with Asperger’s Syndrome.
How do we know these things?
We know these things because Greg Olear, a father of a boy with Asperger Syndrome, gives us the facts. In fact, in an excellent article for the Huffington Post, he goes so far as to seek out the author’s blog and then tells us what author Mark Haddon had to say about the book.
Here are some choice quotes from Mark Haddon’s blog exactly as it appears on his blog, all in lower case letters.
Regarding autism and Asperger syndrome: “i know very little about the subject.”
Regarding his research into autism: “i did no research for curious incident. i’d read oliver sacks’s essay about temple grandin and a handful of newspaper and magazine articles about, or by, people with asperger’s and autism. i deliberately didn’t add to this list.”
Regarding the book itself: “curious incident is not a book about asperger’s.”
Regarding his use of the word Asperger’s on the cover of his book: “i slightly regret that fact that the word ‘asperger’s’ was used on the cover.”
Greg Olear says in the Huffington post:
“What I find objectionable is that he seems unaware of — or, worse, indifferent toward — the fact that he has made both his name and his fortune exploiting the Asperger’s community, my son included.”
Now here’s what I have to say: Every autistic who has trumpeted this book as being the definitive book on how those with Asperger Syndrome behave can pretty much be quiet. About the only thing that can be said about Curious is that the if the character in the book shares traits with people with Asperger’s, it’s probably either superficial or coincidental.
What Olear omits in his article is that what many Aspies do is take some piece of fiction or fictionalization and use it to promote their own disorder. I cannot tell you how many times I have observed or participated in online discussions where people with AS gravitate to an autistic character in a work of fiction because that character has admirable or heroic traits. Of course the irony here is that whenever an Aspie is painted with bad traits, like in newspaper articles where an Aspie is arrested for a crime or convicted for a crime, Aspies blast the newspaper for printing a “slanderous” view of people with Asperger Syndrome.
What it boils down to is that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a metaphor for The Emperor’s New Clothes. People look at it and see what they want rather than what is actually there. So I ask everyone who is reading this, if you have promoted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time as a book that depicts Asperger Syndrome perfectly, what does that say about you? And what kind of damage are you doing to the autism community when you perpetuate the illusion?
Now before all you Aspies of the world unite and start writing all kinds of comments to this blog objecting to what I’ve said above, perhaps what you need to do is take a look at something else Haddon wrote in his blog entry:
labels say nothing about a person. they say only how the rest of us categorise that person. good literature is always about peeling labels off. and treating real people with dignity is always about peeling the labels off. a diagnosis may lead to practical help. but genuinely understanding another human being involves talking and listening to them and finding out what makes them an individual, not what makes them part of a group.
In other words: If you’ve seen one Aspie, you’ve seen one Aspie, and to think that there is a single description that fits all of them — good or bad — is wrong.
Will Haddon’s words about labels fall on deaf ears? How much do you want to make a bet they will?
Thomas D. Taylor
MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO