Author Archives: Amanda R

Gone by Michael Grant

Since I missed our literature circle for our YA book, here are my thoughts on Gone by Michael Grant (as well as the rest of the Gone series).

Warning: LOTS of spoilers ahead!

The quick description of Gone: Everyone over the age of 15 suddenly disappears and a barrier appears around the town, trapping in all of the children. Soon many of the children discover that they have super powers, and not only that, but that the animals in the dome are also mutating. The book has been described as Lord of the Flies if it had been written by Stephen King.

So, right away, I’ll admit to cheating. The second I finished reading Gone I immediately looked up the full summaries of the other five books in the series. I didn’t have the patience to read through five more books in order to get the full story, I wanted to know right away.

Here is a brief summary of the Gone series: The town the series is set in is home to a nuclear power plant. Years ago, what was originally thought to be a meteorite, slammed into one of the reactors. The damage was contained and repaired and all is well… or so they think. We find out later that it wasn’t a meteorite but an alien lifeform. The alien lifeform is mutated by the uranium and becomes an evil being called The Gaiaphage (also known as The Darkness). The Darkness’ mutation is also the cause of the children’s super powers (think X-Men mutants and their random powers). But what caused the adults to disappear and the barrier around the town? Little Pete. Pete is a four-year-old autistic boy with powers stronger than all of the other children. Because he is severely autistic, he isn’t able to control the powers. The day the barrier went up and the adults disappeared was the day that Little Pete’s father brought him to work at the nuclear power plant. The Darkness triggered the alarms to go off, which caused Pete to have a breakdown. The adults in the room tried to help, but everything got louder and suddenly… the alarms turn off, the adults disappear, and Little Pete goes back to calmly playing his Gameboy. In his autistic panic, Little Pete got rid of the loud adults and kept them out. Throughout the series he uses his powers here and there, but always when he is afraid/upset. The book calls his power the power of wish. He can essentially do anything he wants. But like I said, he doesn’t have control of it, so he only uses his powers to get what he wants when he is upset.

Things go from bad to worse when the kids start to run out of food for themselves, and diapers and formula for the babies (it is pointed out that only the babies in the abandoned daycare are taken care of, the ones left alone in homes are dead/dying). Then the mutated animals begin to kill the children. On top of that they have the evil Darkness to deal with. Astrid, Pete’s sister, originally tries to protect him, but she knows he’s the cause of the barrier. She knows that if everyone is to survive, the barrier needs to come down, but the only one who can do that is Pete. So she kills him. But the barrier doesn’t come down. That’s because while Pete is dead, his spirit didn’t move on. Instead his spirit stays. This is when Pete stops being autistic. It turns out it was his body that made him autistic, but once he left his body, he is no longer autistic. He knows that he needs to destroy The Darkness (he is the only one with the power) and that he needs to take down the barrier. He can’t do that without a body, so he possesses one of the Darkness’ evil minions. Him and The Darkness battle it out and they both end up getting destroyed. The barrier comes down, all of the children lose their powers, and everything goes back to normal (or as normal as it can get).

And that’s the Gone series. It’s surprisingly dark for a MG/YA series. Dead babies, sisters murdering brothers, and all kinds of chaos.

But this class is about autism. Little Pete is an accurate portrayal of an autistic four-year-old. He has all of the classic symptoms. And I imagine that if any real-life autistic child suddenly had super powers, something like this could happen. It’s an interesting concept. What happens if someone who is neurodivergent or someone with a disability gains super powers? It’s not totally original (X-Men has done it), but it’s still a thought-provoking story.

Advertisements

Rampenthal Analysis: With the Light

Before reading Keiko Tobe’s With the Light, our professor said that this is probably the most accurate portrayal of autism of all the texts we read. I kept that in mind while reading it. What this manga makes very clear is that having an autistic child isn’t this magical adventure like in films and other works of fiction. With the Light seems like non-fiction to me, even though it technically isn’t. It felt more like an educational guide on autism than an entertaining novel out to make money with gimmicky autistic characters (like some of the others we have read). This book shows how difficult it is having an autistic child and it had me curious about the experiences of real life parents, so I did some digging.

Recently, the father of an autistic boy went viral on Twitter after asking for help for his autistic son. His non-verbal, 14-year-old son will only drink out of the sippy cup he has had since he was a toddler. The original cup eventually became too old and trashed to use, so the parents have been replacing it with exact copies. However, the cup isn’t made anymore, so the father asked Twitter if anyone had the exact cup somewhere in their cupboards that he could buy from them. He got a lot of support, but he also got a lot of hate from people who didn’t understand “why he didn’t force the kid to use another cup.” The father had to explain multiple times that they tried that and it resulted in two trips to the ER for dehydration. This one little thing, a cup, has brought on so much stress for the parents of this boy – medical bills (the ER is not cheap), worry over the boy’s health, time and effort finding the exact same cup, getting slammed with comments (kind ones and rude), and getting hounded by news outlets looking for a story after his twitter request went viral. The last I saw on his Twitter, he has gotten over 40 of these cups in the mail. I am sure that is a stress relief, but only concerning the cups. Ben’s parents still have plenty to worry about.

I continued digging and found plenty of parent blogs and this article on the hardships of raising an autistic child. Some of the postings include:

“It has hurt our marriage beyond belief. It has caused us to fight quite a bit, something that is very common among parents of special needs children. Initially, my husband blamed me for our son’s behavior — I was the reason he was so difficult.”

“My daughter is in mainstream pre-school and she sometimes acts aggressively towards other kids, hitting or biting them. The teachers and some other parents have accused me and my husband of not being strong enough disciplinarians with her; some parents have attempted to get my daughter kicked out… Even my own extended family has said we either don’t discipline her enough or are ‘too soft on her’ — as if enough time outs would solve my daughter’s problems.”

“Once he was diagnosed, I gave up going to law school to manage our son’s therapies. He has TSS [therapeutic support services workers] come into the home twice a week for two hours, and I take him to occupational therapy once a week, which is 30 minutes away. My other two children now have speech therapy as well (but no diagnosis of anything yet) and there was just no way I could find time for school and all of their therapies and appointments.”

Those are just a couple of stories from a few parents. But I imagine that every parent of an autistic child has similar stories. It’s not easy raising an autistic child.

Rampenthal, Analysis: Curious Incident

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time made me feel… sad. That seems to differ from everyone else’s thoughts on the book. I don’t think the book is bad by any means, but I when I finished it I felt bummed, not hopeful.

Christopher has two severely dysfunctional parents, parents that he is stuck with. His own mother abandoned him and no amount of letters can make up for that. His father is verbally and physically abusive to him. His father also brutally stabs a dog. Stop and think about that – he killed a dog in a fit of rage. That’s not a normal act. Stabbing a dog (or any animal) is psychotic. I wouldn’t go near him again if he was my father. But Christopher’s choices are limited and he is stuck with his awful parents. This made me think of all of the autistic children in real life and all of the terrible parents out there. What are the chances that every autistic child has a patient and understanding parent? Zero. I imagine there are autistic children out there that have it much worse than Christopher. In fact, I looked it up and found that 1 in 5 autistic children have been physically abused and 1 in 6 have been sexually abused. Other sources say children with disabilities are twice as likely to be abused than their neurotypical peers. Due to their difficulties communicating, autistic children make perfect targets for predators.

I know that other readers of this book were left with feelings of hope, but I just can’t see it that way. Just because it ended on a semi-decent note doesn’t mean that everything is ok. Christopher’s parents may seem better at the end, but it’s naïve to think that everything will stay ok. There will be more fights, more drama, and more bad parenting.

Then there is college. The book ends with Christopher’s dream of going to college. While people with ASD can and do go to college, succeeding there is easier said than done due to the fact that there are very few colleges with autism support. The UK, where the book is set, does seem to offer more help to autistic students than the US does. But either way, college isn’t a cake walk for someone with ASD (or even for someone who is neurotypical).

I feel like this post may seem really pessimistic, but I think I am being a realist. The book ends so hopeful and that just doesn’t feel real to me.  Life is hard for all of us, but it’s especially difficult for someone who is autistic.

Rampenthal, Analysis: Martian Time Slip

When the notion of precognition (seeing into the future) came up in Martian Time Slip, I immediately thought “super powers!” I know that the author wasn’t trying to make autism/precognition seem like a super power, but rather as an explanation for mental disorders/neurological disorders. However, it did make me think on various autistic characters in fiction and how many of them do have a super power of some kind. It seems to be a theme among autistic characters in fiction. Examples include:

Mel (The Farm by Emily McKay): *****spoilers!***** The Farm is a recent YA dystopian novel about two sisters, twins Mel and Lily. Lily is neurotypical and Mel has both autisism and a super power. Mel is what the book calls an “abductura,” which is someone who can control people’s emotions.

Black Manta (DC Universe): Aquaman’s archenemy. Like most comic book characters, his backstory has changed over the years (especially during the New 52). But one of his origin stories is that he was sent to Arkham Asylum for being autistic. There he was abused and experimented on. One of the experiments cured his autism, but made him evil. He has a few powers, like breathing underwater.

Darryl McAllister (Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series): The book series is about wizards with an assortment of magical powers. Darryl is one of those wizards. Interestingly, when the series was republished, it was altered (which isn’t common in books). Originally (when I read this series as a kid), Darryl is cured of his autism at the end. But in the newer version, he stays autistic and instead is better at coping with it.

Spencer Reid (Criminal Minds): The actor of the show has said that Spencer has Asperger’s. Spencer doesn’t have magical super powers, but he does have an unrealistic amount of amazing abilities that seem more like super powers than reality. Spencer graduated high school at age 12, he has an IQ of 187 (an average IQ is 100), two BAs and three PhDs, an eidetic memory, he can read 20,000 words per minute (the average adult reads 300 per minute), and he is fluent in multiple languages (including Russian, Dutch, and Korean). He has more super powers than some super heroes and his character is set in our regular world.

Gary Bell (Alphas): Gary is autistic and a transducer. A transducer is someone who can perceive and manipulate electromagnetic wavelengths. Using just his mind he can read texts, watch videos being transmitted, hack into cellphone signals, television broadcasts, WiFi frequencies, and so on.

And those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. I am sure there are more super powered autistic characters in fiction. But why? Why do so many of the autistic characters in fiction have some kind of super power, be it a supernatural power or a seemingly natural one? As we talked about in class, only 10% of people on the spectrum have savant abilities, yet here we see in fiction that most have some kind of amazing ability. Why?

Rampenthal, Analysis One Who Flew

“He conducts these tours – serious women in blazer jackets, nodding to him as he points out how much things have improved over the years.” – Bromden on Public Relations

There are a few times in which someone in the story talks about the improvements of the hospital, about how much better it is compared to years past. That has me wondering what people will say about our current mental hospitals in a few years. They will most likely cut them down in the same way.

In my first post on this blog I commented on my personal experiences with mental hospitals. I have had family spend time in a high security facility. Patients aren’t allowed out until they are given approval by the doctors there. Most are out pretty quickly though, not because they are healthy enough to be released, but because their insurance doesn’t cover the stay. Doctors are often forced to release patients against better judgment. Not only because of insurance issues, but also because of a lack of space. There are always new patients coming in (often from the ER) and so they need to release the less-serious patients, even if they haven’t properly been helped. I read about these issues on a few sites, including this one with multiple accounts by people who stayed in a ward. I also saw it first hand – my family member was released after only three days, only to have a massive breakdown shortly after, which led to them being re-admitted.

I noticed that the doctors, and especially the nurses, were almost zombie-like. They weren’t mean or cruel, but they weren’t friendly and warm either. They are overworked and understaffed. They don’t have the time to do much for patients. They make sure they don’t hurt themselves, but they don’t do too much to help in the long run. My family member was given a bottle of pills and sent away after those three days. The medications were never taken. That visit to the psych ward was essentially useless.

I also once had a class with someone who worked at a mental hospital. She said she lost count of how many times she had been bitten, punched, and spit on by patients. Nurses and other staff may go into the job with good intentions, but are quickly shut down by the reality of it. Plus, there isn’t much they can do in only a few days.

The only one who was friendly and kind was the social worker. She really wanted to see the patient get the help they needed. But again, as nice as she was, she couldn’t do much other than give a pile of pamphlets on mental health. She wasn’t heard from again after that.

Thy cruelty and experiments of the old days may be gone, but it’s been replaced by apathy and insurance battles.

Rampenthal Analysis: The Hound of Baskervilles

For this Holmes story, I thought I would look at Dr. Watson’s behavior and mental state (as we discussed in class). I decided on noting specific thoughts of mine and moments in the story as I read it.

(Since I read the story on my kindle, I don’t really have page numbers, but instead percentages.)

45% through the story: We are finally alone with Dr. Watson. Up until this point he has only acted as a narrator, repeating back what he has seen, but not sharing his own personal thoughts. This makes it difficult to get a read on him. All I could say before now is that he is a bit of a pushover. He does exactly what Holmes asks. Other than that, not much to report. However, we are now in Baskervilles and he is alone. So far he is suspicious of the neighbors, as we see when Stapleton says, “You are perfectly right to be wary and discreet.” But is he suspicious because of his own mental issues or because there is a murderer running around? Probably the murderer.

We do see Dr. Watson starting to feel down and dark at this point.  In his first letter that he transcribes, he writes about the gloominess surrounding him.

73%: Watson has gone off to examine the hut that the boy dropped food off at. He stays and waits, gun in hand. This is either brave and courageous or impulsive and stupid. It depends on how you look at it. Fortunately for him, it turns out to be the hiding spot of Holmes. Had it been the killer, Watson could have found himself in serious danger.

74%: Watson is upset that Holmes deceived him. But he instantly forgets his anger when Holmes compliments him. I knew a lot of girls/guys in high school who did the same thing when their significant other was in the wrong.

100%: The case is solved and Holmes and Watson are back at home. Watson doesn’t appear to be neurodiverse. He does seem to be a Holmes fanboy. He also seems to be one of those people who forgives and forgets too easily (as seen at 74%). But really, throughout this story, he seems like a normal guy.

The more I looked into him the more normal he seems. Fan sites even consider him an intelligent ladies man. It seems that the damaged, depressed Watson is seen in movies and shows, but not in the originals stories (or at least not in this one).

One odd thing about him though, was that him and Holmes work to catch killers, yet he didn’t report the convict brother. He even seemed to pity the man, which is insane because the guy was a killer. Odd.