The books I am about to discuss are works of fiction, wherein a main character is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, or something similar. Everything written here is my opinion about the portrayal of said characters, in their fictional context, and no part of this blog or any of the works discussed should be referenced in any sort of diagnostic or academic process. I assume no responsibility for how any reader interprets the opinions expressed herein.
Spoiler warnings are in place for the whole entry.
Autism and Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have been portrayed in many works of fiction. Whether or not the subject is accurately portrayed is more or less up to the interpretation of the reader or viewer. The main thing to remember is that every single individual who receives the diagnosis of one of these autistic spectrum disorders is still an individual. This is as true in fiction as it is in real life.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time ~ Mark Haddon
Main Character: Christopher.
Diagnosis: Never specified. Book blurbs claim Asperger’s, but the general consensus among readers is that Christopher would be more accurately described as high functioning autistic.
Traits: Dislikes touching. Sleeps with a white noise. Functional incontinence. Violent reactions to random discomforts. Likes dogs, the color red, nature documentaries, prefers animals over people, and becomes ill or violent when threatened by people. Skilled with math and physics.
Summary: Fifteen year-old Christopher is fascinated with detective stories, like Sherlock Holmes. A serious attempt at uncovering the death of a neighbor’s dog leads to uncovering some very disturbing facts about his own family life. As the story is told in first person, everything we are seeing is through his eyes and through the filter of his understanding of the world.
Christopher is quite capable of abstract concepts. He frequently expresses a desire for a world where regular human interaction is unnecessary. A functional inability to properly express himself to others leads to many of the confrontations within the story, especially with peers, teachers, cops, and his own parents.
In spite of his own limitations and the limitations placed on him by others, his problem solving skills are such that he’s able to safely get from Slough to London and locate the address of his estranged mother, whom he had not seen since his father told him she was dead. Later he also completes an A level in math. The general Aesop of the story is that he is capable of doing anything he sets his mind to.
Accuracy: Mark Hadden has stated that Christopher doesn’t have any set diagnosis, in spite of what the advertising would tell you. Within the first chapter it’s clear that Christopher has some sort of emotional or developmental difficulty, so if you’re not trying to pigeonhole him into any particular category, the overall portrayal is believable and consistent.
House Rules ~ Jodi Piccoult
Main Character: Jacob
Diagnosis: Asperger’s Syndrome
Traits: Obsessed with all aspects of forensic investigation and crime solving. Hates the color orange. Has to be the first to use the shower. Violent and explosive tenancies when provoked. Family must essentially rearrange their own lives to keep him centered.
Summary: Jacob has just turned eighteen. His obsession with crime solving has put him on the radar of the Vermont State Police and as a result, when someone he knows actually winds up dead on the street somewhere, he is the prime suspect.
Eventually it comes to light that the death was an accident and Jacob rearranged evidence to protect his brother.
Accuracy: There were so many negative opinions about this book from the Asperger’s Community that it was easy for my initial opinion of the character to be swayed at first.
Like many, it was easy for me to forget that I am no more a typical case of Asperger’s than the fictional Jacob. The fact is, I’ve known people who are far more sheltered than he is and they don’t even have the excuse of an autistic spectrum disorder. Still, he is an independent person who makes enough of his own decisions that in spite of his codependence he is still responsible for his actions.
This book is written from multiple viewpoints, so it’s very easy to see how the people in Jacob’s life are as much to blame for his behavior and current situation as he is. With no real coping skills of his own and a desire to be independent, his behaviors come across as strange (a to even other people on the autistic spectrum, or in some way involved with such and his portrayal may grate some nerves. But keep in mind that many of the opinions and viewpoints expressed by characters aren’t exactly things we haven’t heard before in real life.
Jodi Piccoult not only has a grasp of the character but of the people and challenges he has to deal with every day.
The Asperger’s Mysteries ~ Jeff Cohen/E.J. Copperman
Main Character: Samuel Hoenig
Diagnosis: Asperger’s Syndrome
Traits: Difficulty with the sight of foods in certain states and disturbing noises, set routines. Fear of driving and losing things.
Summary: Samuel Hoenig is not a detective. His business, Questions Answered, allows him to make a living by answering questions people put to him, but only if they’re interesting. Occasionally, he does work with police as a consultant.
His mother and his partner, Janet Washburn, and a cab driver named Mike provide the bulk of his support system that allows him to better interact with neurotypicals.
Accuracy: Jeff Cohen is the author of the Asperger Parent. His own son was diagnosed at the age of five. Even though the fictional character of Samuel is not based on the real life son, (Word of God), Samuel is probably the most accurate portrayal of the examples mentioned here.
I should admit a little bias. I see more of myself in Samuel, a man who was raised by a mother who tolerated his differences, but spent a fair amount of time trying to teach him to cope with the world (and continues to do so). Samuel is benefited by strong supports and although his severity is different than my own, I identify more strongly with this interpretation than with the examples in the previous books.