Author Archives: frickeh8

Fricke, Analysis 5

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  Out of everything we’ve read so far, Curious Incident felt like it was the most relatable to both neurotypicals and the neurodiverse. It was clear, easy to understand, and funny. I felt hopeful reading about Christopher’s adventures; was this finally the book we’ve been looking for? I did some searching for critiques on the novel and discovered, belatedly–

–no. It wasn’t.

My perception of what constitutes a realistic and non-stereotypical portrayal of ASD or Asperger’s will never be completely on point, I’ve come to realize.  I read several reviews, and though a couple of them had plenty of good things to say, most of them were the tired voices of individuals used to disappointment.

Author Eric Chen has written a few novels on autism, having ASD himself. In his critique of Curious Incident he gave examples of three passages from the book, and then rewrote them from a more realistic ASD lens.

For example, Chen took this passage:

And one day, Julie sat down at a desk next to me and put a tube of Smarties on the desk, and she said, “Christopher, what do you think is in here?

And I said, “Smarties“.

Then she took the top off the Smarties tube and turned it upside down and a little pencil came out and she laughed and I said, “It’s not Smarties, it’s a pencil” .

Then she put the little red pencil back inside the Smarties tube and put the top back on.

Then she said, “If your Mommy came in now, and we asked her what was inside the Smarties tube, what do you think she would say?“, because I used to call Mother Mummy then, not Mother.

And I said, “A pencil“.

That was because when I was little I didn’t understand about other people having minds. And Julie said to Mother and Father that I would always find this very difficult. But I don’t find this difficult now. Because I decided that it was a kind of puzzle, and if something is a puzzle there is always a way of solving it.

And rewrote it like this:

I was put in a cold room smelling of strangeness-A (translated: antiseptic). The lady with big black glasses asked me many questions. I just answered as much as I can.

For example, she showed me a Smarties (tube) and asked me what it is. I said, “Smarties“. Then she took out a pencil from the Smarties (tube) and made some odd sounds and movement (translated: slight laughing and smiling).

I remained still, not knowing what to do or say, except that the light glaring off her glasses is disturbing me, so I flicked my eyes around her spectacle frame. She asked me what I saw. Glancing at her hand, I replied “a pencil“. Then she put the pencil back into the Smarties tube.

She asked me, “If your Mommy came in now, and we asked her what was inside the Smarties tube, what do you think she would say?

I took a while to understand what she said. It was a long sentence and I must grind through it carefully. She repeated the question again, and again. After a while, I concluded that it meant: “What is inside the tube?” So I answered her: “A pencil.

And no one ever knew what was really happening.

Chen stressed that Christopher showed a level of self-consciousness that wasn’t realistic for a character who is supposed to be representing ASD or Asperger’s. This was something I hadn’t realized, or if I had I had dismissed the misrepresentation as a means to write something neurotypicals would also understand. However, Chen demonstrates with ease that it is possible to write realistically while also writing in a way that is easy to understand. Chen also made sure to point out that he wasn’t trying to be mean by criticizing Haddon’s work, but that he wanted to ensure nobody went into reading the novel as if it were a true representation of what it is like to live with ASD.

Another article, written by the father of a child with Asperger’s, expressed his distaste with Haddon’s own statement, “imagination always trumps research”. Greg Olear, writer for Huffington Post, had this to say:

I don’t begrudge Haddon his freedom of speech, or his ability to make a living as a man of letters. He can write about whatever he pleases. 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. After all, if his aim were to present an honest portrayal of the disorder, his research would have involved more than skimming an essay about Temple Grandin, who isn’t even an aspie (2012).

The rest of the article is a pretty harsh review of Haddon’s work, but I did see what he was getting at. Haddon insists the book isn’t about Asperger’s or ASD . . . but it clearly is supposed to represent something close to it.

I still loved the book, to be honest. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not, but I commend Haddon for creating a character who persevered despite his difficulties. But this book wasn’t the one. I guess we’re still searching for it.

 

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-olear/curious-incident-dog-night-time_b_1099692.html

http://iautistic.com/autism-myths-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time.php

http://www.markhaddon.com/aspergers-and-autism

 

 

Fricke, Analysis 4

“’Come a long way,’” says fat-faced Public Relation. They’ve made life look very pleasant with paint and decorations and chrome bathroom fixtures. ‘A man that would want to run away from a place as nice as this,’ says fat-faced Public Relation, “why, there’d be something wrong with him“(99). 

 

 

After finishing the second half of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I was initially left feeling as though I’d been on an emotional roller-coaster.  I felt angry at McMurphy’s lobotomy, distraught at Billy’s death, bitter about Nurse Ratched, and joyful that the Chief finally escaped and found his voice. I thought about what aspect of the book I wanted to examine further in this blog post. A few things came to mind; I found the depictions of the black characters unsettling, I thought that perhaps Kesey was a bit misogynistic in the way that he portrayed women, and I also considered talking about the possible Freudian symbolism at work–and quickly threw that idea out because I am admittedly biased quite heavily against Freudian theories. I settled on examining the pathology within One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and how this pathologizing of symptoms relates to society today, and hopefully how it relates to the purposes of this class.

 

Mental illness is real and valid, and often requires individuals to seek out help from the medical community. The increasing awareness and (hopefully) de-stigmatization of mental illness and neurodivergency has opened up doors for people to get the help they need, especially as it concerns insurance companies.  However, the increase in diagnoses comes with a potential for pathologizing symptoms that would otherwise be considered normal, or perhaps strictly medical and not psychological. This is seen in what the characers in  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are institutionalized for–Harding, in for homosexual tendencies; Billy, in for the stutter he was born with; Sefelt and Frederickson whom are both in for epilepsy. McMurphy sees the fact that many of them aren’t ‘crazy’ and becomes frustrated after the patients compare themselves to helpless rabbits: “With a loud hissing o breath McMurphy turns from Harding to the rest of the Acutes standing around. ‘“Here; all you guys. What the hell is the matter with you? You ain’t as crazy as all this, thinking you’re some animal”‘ (52). It is clear that Nurse Ratched and the rest of the hospital serve to add to their helplessness in order to keep them there longer. It is later revealed that many of them, almost all of them, were there voluntarily, and though the hated it they were made to believe that they could not survive the real world.

 

I looked into this pathologizing, which is a real problem today. I found that “examples of mental health professionals pathologizing may include treating noncompliance with recommendations as evidence of a psychiatric disorder” (GoodTherapy.org). Is this ringing any bells? Remember that Nurse Ratched counts noncompliance against the patients and uses it as evidence for harsher forms of ‘therapy’, such as electrotherapy and lobotomy. And while those specific risks are virtually a non-issue today, some other risks of over-diagnosing exist:

While some people’s behavior may indeed evidence a medical or mental health condition, no single condition or disorder can affect every single behavior or thought a person has, and pathologizing tends to negate the feelings, needs, and thoughts of people with mental health diagnoses. Pathologizing can also, paradoxically, cause mental health issues to be treated less seriously (GoodTherapy.org).

 

 

How does this relate to our class? We’ve been encountering characters within our readings that either intentionally or unintentionally exhibit characteristics of neurodivergency. It is worth asking ourselves if we at times pathologize these characters, and in doing so unintentionally adding to the problem of stigmatizing behaviors that are beyond the ‘norm.’ I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because something is different, it doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be treated.

 

Sources:

Kesey, Ken. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest: A Novel. New York: Viking, 1962. Print.

http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/pathologizing

Fricke, Analysis 3

While all three chapters from this week’s reading were incredibly interesting, I’d like to stop and take a closer look at chapter two, “The Boy Who Loves Green Straws”. Without trying to be too dramatic here, I have to say that many parts of the chapter were extremely heavy for me and elicited feelings of frustration and anger.

[As a sort of disclaimer, I’d like to note that I am not a parent or sibling of a child with ASD, and given that fact I feel as though I can’t make completely informed/nuanced judgments about how to handle such a situation. However, I do feel that I am able to form some criticisms in how ASD has been regarded and treated throughout the history of the diagnosis.]  

Silberman begins chapter two light-heartedly, drawing us in to the lives of the Rosas’ and their son Leo. I’m not sure if it’s just me being a softy, but Leo wins me over instantly. Everyone in the family lovingly molds their lives around Leo’s in order to meet his needs. It is clear that they love Leo for who he is and would do anything for him. Leo became a sort of glue for the family, rather than the “pernicious myth” that autism would be more of a wedge:

“One of the most common misconceptions about autism is that it drives families apart. . . But helping Leo become the best Leo he can be has brought the family closer, binding them into a tight circle of love and support around their boy”(50).

This love for Leo is likely what prompted Mrs. Rosa to search desperately and exhaustively for a ‘cure’ for autism early in Leo’s life. What media had portrayed and what some parents had described about autism–for instance, what Scot Sea said about understanding why Delfin Bartolome had shot his son and then himself–made her physically ill (59). As a parent, she felt compelled to do everything she could to provide the best life possible for Leo . . . which is exactly what organizations such as DAN! take advantage of.

And this is precisely where my anger began. It isn’t directed at Shannon or families like hers; no, it’s directed at the insidious ideas that fuel the panicked search for treatment. Anti-vaccination blogs, chelation, strict and extreme dietary restrictions, holding therapy that disregards private space, and BioSET all clamored for Shannon’s money and time. Leo undergoes countless tests, and gradually the spark that endeared so many to him slowly leaves his eyes. The people in the white coats responsible for the tests hadn’t even spent time with Leo, or gotten to know him. What did they know about his passions? Nothing.

What does it even mean to defeat autism? Why not instead focus on teaching and enriching, instead of ‘defeating’ and destroying? Shannon eventually realizes that a ‘cure’ is not necessary for Leo; she can love him and provide a good life for him just as he is. The misinformation that gets spread about the supposed causes of autism just serve to stigmatize and ostracize those with ASD even further. Where is the justice for the families searching for answers, who only get met with a million different ways to waste money and emotional energy? For those who believe that autism have ‘stolen’ their son/daughter, I can only ask: how so? And for goodness sake,  how is it better to have a sick child who never got vaccinated than a neurodivergent one is healthy and happy?!

I love that Silberman is writing about people like Leo and Cavendish, showing that a fulfilling life is easily had by those with ASD, and that neurotypicality isn’t the baseline requirement for a life worth living.

Fricke, Analysis 2: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes: scientist, chemist, violin enthusiast—and undoubtedly the most famous detective in literature. His eccentricities are many, his knowledge profound, and his knack for solving crimes inexplicable. And yet, his social inadequacy and his experience with matters of the heart prove that Sherlock Holmes isn’t an expert in all areas of life. In fact, upon further scrutiny, his knowledge proves to be quite specialized, serving the specific purpose of helping him to solve crimes as a consulting detective. The extent to which this is true is especially apparent when, in A Study in Scarlett, Sherlock reveals that he didn’t know that the earth revolved around the sun. How could this be! Surely a genius such as Holmes would know this most basic of facts . . . but the knowledge does nothing to help him solve a mystery, and so he promptly purges this knowledge from his mind, lest it take up space for more meaningful knowledge (like which reagent is precipitated by hemoglobin, and nothing else).

It has been widely speculated that Holmes’ character has ASD or the now somewhat obsolete Asperger’s, and it’s a simple matter to see why. He has highly specialized interests, difficulty relating to others, and will talk at length about topics that seem to interest only him (without him realizing he’s the only interested party). The fact that Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character and not an actual person adds difficulty to the question of diagnosis. However, I think it would be hard to make a concrete diagnosis anyway, especially given the incredibly diverse nature of ASD. Is Holmes autistic, or does he merely have personality “quirks”? It brings to mind the discussion about who decides what neurodivergent is (hint: it’s not the neurodivergent).

I stumbled upon an interesting article after completing the reading. Author Susan Loftis warned that although talking about Holmes as having ASD may seem like a positive notion at first, it could feed into tropes about autism that perpetuate harmful stereotypes:

Furthermore, the presumably redemptive fiction of the autistic hero often proves oddly dehumanizing: even as his incredible feats of deduction are praised as a work of genius, Holmes is objectified by his beloved Watson, who constantly compares the brilliant sleuth to machines and repeatedly describes him as “inhuman” (2014).

We talked about this when discussing Raymond in Rain Man. It seems authors and film makers struggle with the problem of how to represent autism with a character that doesn’t play into tropes and stereotypes, while simultaneously making it clear that the character is autistic. I guess it might be too much to ask to consult with actual people with ASD /sarcasm/. Though to be clear, I’m not trying to put Doyle in the hot seat. Asperger’s wasn’t even a thing when he created Sherlock Holmes, so playing off of the stereotypes of Asperger’s wasn’t even possible, not on purpose anyway. Still, current media has formed a template of sorts and Holmes happens to fit into quite nicely. He’s the detective savant; aloof and cold, and just a little too familiar with crime. How long will such an individual be satisfied with merely solving crimes? It’s this sort of mindset that adds to the troubling and harmful notion that those with ASD are dangerous and cold-blooded, a sort of mystery in itself. “The other characters dwell on Holmes’s autistic traits as symbols of mystery and exoticism, thus casting the character with autism as a puzzle in need of a neurotypical solution” (Loftis).  It’s at this point that people stop viewing neurodivergent individuals as human, and start to objectify them in their fascination.

              Loftis is pretty critical of the portrayal of Holmes as having Asperger’s. I think her comments are justified, but I also feel that it is still important to keep trying to get it right. Though the dangers of stereotyping are many, representation in media and literature is still vital.

 

References

Loftis, S. (2014). The autistic detective: Sherlock Holmes and his legacy. Disability Studies Quarterly, 34. http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3728/3791

 

Also interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/magazine/06diagnosis-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1