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Sarah S’s final: Neurotypicality in “Curious Incident”

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Because Mark Haddon’s book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, is so strongly linked with autism and disability studies, readers see Christopher, the main character, as having many of the responses or “quirks” generally attributed to autistic individuals. We consider many of his theories and fixations to be characteristic of autism, and write them off as being “symptoms” of a “disability.” In reality, many people considered “normal,” or neurotypical, by society possess many of the same characteristics, interests, and issues that Christopher does, making him relatable as a character because he reflects in his disability many traits we consider to be “normal.” (Though the idea of “neurotypical” or “normal” is rife with problems, using this generalization to highlight the social repercussions of Christopher’s behaviors is effective.)

One example is his interest in math. Christopher is very smart, taking advanced maths and even receiving a high score on his maths A-level, which had to be specially arranged because his school did not have the facilities. If you take out the fact that Christopher is autistic, this is impressive but not unusual. Many “normal” children perform far above their grade level, especially in specific subjects, as in Christopher’s case. Outside of the label of autism, this would be considered neurotypical behavior, but with the label, high brain function of this kind is seen as a trait of autistic individuals and not a personal interest, as it very well may be.

Another example is his fear of loud noises and/or hectic environments. Though he handles himself very well when he takes public transportation, he is very disturbed by all of the hustle and bustle, and several times has to retreat into himself and distract his mind to get through it. Many view this as a characteristic of autism, but many individuals who do not share this diagnosis share Christopher’s uncomfortability. Those who suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, or other milder disorders would react the same way in a similar situation, but many even more “normal” people simply dislike crowds or crowded areas, and can feel edgy, nervous, or distracted for a variety of reasons. Again we see that Christopher’s “quirks” exist outside of the label of autism, though other autistic individuals may share this characteristic.

Some of Christopher’s ideas are harder to generalize—his dislike of yellow, or penchant for certain foods, or distrust of strangers, etc.—though even here, he applies such straightforward logic that it is hard to say that any of these are irrational. Many of these, in a different situation, are called “personal preference” or “superstition.” Neurotypical people are not usually required to defend even silliest of opinions, and though some might say his system of colors and numbers of cars determining the mood of the day is ridiculous, most people work the same way. Getting up on the wrong side of the bed makes no sense, but if someone believes in this adage, their entire day can be ruined—and the same goes for black cats and walking under ladders. And so we see that even Christopher’s greatest “quirks” could exist unfettered in the neurotypical world, unchallenged and undiagnosed as the fixations they may be.

Some might say that this kind of discussion is useless because autism is such an integral part of Christopher’s identity as Haddon writes it that taking his disability away destroys who he is. The point is not to ignore Christopher’s autism altogether, but merely to examine the traits which we might see as dependent on the disability, considering the possibility that some characteristics correlate, but are not caused by, disability. Rather than trapping someone into a small mold, this way of looking at things frees a disabled person to own their identity, instead of having to always fall back on their disability as a default identity. Now Christopher can say, “I love maths and hate loud noises, and I’m autistic,” instead of, “I’m autistic (and I love maths and hate loud noises).” his interests and characteristics are not made parenthetical by his diagnosis.

Word count:  691

Written by sarahsmile

December 8th, 2010 at 3:00 am