Tag Archives: autism

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.

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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

 

 

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?

Schweda Analysis 3: Baskerville

After our discussion last Monday, I decided to further research the term “savant” in relationship to autism and Sherlock Holmes.  To begin with the absolute basics, Meriam-Webster defines the word savant as either “a person who knows a lot about a particular subject” or “a person who does not have normal intelligence but who has very unusual mental abilities that other people do not have”.  With his unique detective skills, Sherlock Holmes clearly fits the first definition however I’m not 100% sold on the second part. It’s hard to clearly define “normal intelligence” but Sherlock Holmes has at least the basic functions to make it in the real world without a strong dependence on any sort of assistance (besides splitting rent with Watson, although that’s not a completely unusual circumstance).

From there, I decided to research the autistic savant. The Wisconsin Medical Society states that “the combination of Autistic Disorder + extraordinary special abilities + remarkable memory is the autistic savant”. I think it is very important to note that savant skills are not limited to autistic persons, nor are all autistic persons savants.  Therefore, I do not think it is extreme to label Sherlock Holmes as only savant rather than autistic, since they’re separate entities. Last week I found an article in the Huffington Post that suggests viewing Sherlock Holmes as an “autistic savant” can harm society’s (already poor) understanding of autism:

“If people are lead to regard Holmes as the autistic archetype, then it minimizes the full range of behaviors that people with ASD exhibit. People with autism won’t be seen as needing understanding and support, instead they’ll be expected to be geniuses with a quirky forthrightness unencumbered by social inhibition, when the reality is far more complex.”

As I stated last week in my comment, Sherlock Holmes is well known for his quirks and sometimes peculiar behavior but there’s no evidence that the writer intended for this to be signs of autism (especially since the diagnosis didn’t exist when the original stories we have read were wrote). I think it is important to repeat my observation from last week.  If the general public begin to associate Sherlock Holmes’ behaviors with what they think is ASD, they won’t understand the entire spectrum.  Instead, they’ll associate quirks and seemingly odd behaviors with autism without understanding the full diagnosis.

In conclusion, after reading both short stories, I think it’s safe to say Sherlock Holmes is a savant.  However, concluding he’s on the autistic spectrum has the possibility to invalidate the actual diagnosis in real people with ASD.

Citations:

https://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/professional/savant-syndrome/resources/articles/the-autistic-savant/

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/savant

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

Rampenthal, Analysis 2: Misogyny

“He was a misogynist – a feature not uncommon in persons with Asperger’s syndrome (e.g. Wittgenstein, Spinoza).” –  Michael Fitzgerald

Out of everything we read this week, it was this one little sentence that stayed with me the most. Sure, Herman Melville’s novella “Bartleby, the Scrivener” was an entertaining read full of notable quotes. But Fitzgerald’s comment about misogyny being common among people with Asperger’s made me stop. Was he saying that misogyny is some type of symptom of Asperger’s? Hatred can’t be a symptom of a disorder, right?

First off, if you don’t know what misogyny is – simply put, it’s the hatred of women. Or as dictionary.com says: it’s the “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women.” I fully believe that misogyny, racism, ageism, and all other hateful things, are 100% learned. I don’t think someone is born hating millions of people. That’s just absurd. So why would misogyny supposedly be common in people born with Asperger’s syndrome?

I did some digging into misogyny and Asperger’s syndrome and immediately found loads of articles on Elliot Rodger. As you may remember, in 2014 Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old man, murdered six people and injured fourteen more near the University of California. Rodger posted a Youtube video and wrote a manifesto expressing his hatred for women. Shortly after the events countless “news” sites wrote that Rodger was autistic. They claimed that he had Asperger’s – which led to a lot of backlash from the ASD community. Why? Because while Rodger’s mother said he had Asperger’s, he wasn’t actually ever diagnosed with it. And since the event, many have chimed in stating that he didn’t. Including Dr. David Gustaf Thompson, who wrote:

“…his problem wasn’t Asperger’s, bipolar, clinical depression or any other sort of brain disorder. His psychopathic episode, the ‘day of retribution’ as he called it, in which he killed six innocent people with plans to ‘slay’ many more, was driven by a less elusive problem. Because of the intimate, confessional videos he posted online, and the 137-page autobiographical ‘manifesto’ he left for public viewing, Rodger provided a valuable opportunity to more deeply understand the forces that lead to such a tragedy.”

Dr. Thompson, an expert in his field, believes that Rodger’s actions and behaviors were the result of bad parenting. Not autism. Other professionals in the field agree. So why did so many news sources claim he had Asperger’s? And why did so many people believe them?

I admit, I couldn’t find a clear answer. But from what I read online, a lot of people are asking if people with Asperger’s are also misogynists. This site gave a pretty good answer, it and others like it, say that autism is frequently used as an excuse for bad behavior, even when the behavior isn’t a result of autism. Linked on that page is this blog post, and one quote that immediately struck me was, “Abusers who are also autistic exist; I dated one.  And I maintain that the problem was never his autism.  The problem was his abuse.”  This and everything else I read leads me to believe that misogyny isn’t necessarily common in people with autism (like Fitzgerald said), but that there happen to be people with autism who are misogynistic and have their autism used as an excuse for that behavior.


Somewhat unrelated side note: Another thought I had was that the idea that people with mental disorders are bad people or are criminals may have something to do with these individuals once being placed in prisons. While that occurred ages ago, that type of ignorance tends to stick around throughout the decades. Also, a link I didn’t use, but found interesting was this one from the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. It could be useful to someone in the future. I did find it interesting that supposedly 63% of arson cases were committed by people with hfASD diagnoses.