Criticism or Approbation? : Mark Haddon’s Interpretation about Autism in The curious incident of the Dog in the Night-time Simon Makin’s article about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) introduces that “core abilities involved in drama match up strikingly well with what is often described as the main triad of impairments in ASD: problems with social interaction, communication, and imagination” (Makin, vol 26).
Willamson’s research can relate to Mark Haddon’s first person narrator – Christopher- in his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which proposes the following question: does Haddon criticizes people with autism like Christopher? Although not mentioned explicitly in the novel, we can see Christopher’s condition as similar to autism which many critics express their arguments in many other ways.
According to Sarah Jaquette Ray, Haddon illustrates that “through Christopher’s views of nature, language, knowledge, and social constructions of disability, we learn that disability is an unstable category, and that dominant society can be disabling” (vol 33). What Ray is trying to say is that Haddon is letting his readers gain more knowledge about people with autism and they can change based on how people treat them; it is how others treat people with autism that makes their condition worse in a societal view.
Jennifer Martson William also argues that “the novel’s greatest contribution lies not in its representation of autism or Asperger’s, but in the attention the work calls to the highly individualistic processes of Theory of Mind (TOM), a faculty that constitutes a common bond as well as differentiator for human minds” (vol 11). William conveys that Haddon is giving some evidence of how autistic people used to deal with others who are seeing them differently.
Also, William portrays that people with ASD is different from one another. My argument is quite similar to the three critics’ point of view: rather than criticizing people with autism, Haddon is trying to let his readers change their minds about what autism can do and most of the stereotypes that we know about this condition are oftentimes not true. People with autism can do a lot of things that most of the “normal” people can not do.
Haddon is trying to change his readers’ perspective about autism, and he is introducing a new image for people like Christopher. We often see people like Christopher as unusual because of the way they see the world, but if we try to think of it we are just like them: the only difference is that there are a lot of people in the world that interpret things the same way as we do and they can adapt into the society where they belong just like “normal” people.
In order to provide a clear evidence of how Haddon is trying to break people’s point of view about ASD stereotypically, he uses Christopher as a tool: Christopher is very naive and it is hard for him to notice facial expressions at the beginning; it is also hard for him to distinguish people’s emotions unlike the majority can. Christopher finds people very confusing because “people do a lot of talking without using any words… if [people] raise one eyebrow it means a lot of things” (14-15) which normal people can often perceive.
But in spite of Christopher’s difficulties, Haddon shows that there are things in which Christopher is very good at although very few: solving math problems and visualizing things. We can see that Christopher is really good at math when his father’s coworker Rhodri asks him what is 251 times 864, after answering the question he explains that “it [is] really easy sum because she will] just multiply 864 x 1,000, which is 864,000. Then divide it by 4, which is 216,000 and that’s 250 x 864. Then just add another 864 onto it to het 251 x 864” (66) which is very unusual but very clever way to solve a multiplication problem.
Also, when Christopher agrees with Marilyn vos Savant about her game show, he explains why Savant is right in two ways: through a mathematical equation and through a diagram which is showing the aspects of what Christopher is good at. In addition, Christopher refers his memory as a “film” (76). Christopher’s way of remembering things is like a film and he can just “simply press rewind and fast forward and pause like on a video recorder” (76) if someone asks him to remember something that happen in the past.
His capabilities of doing this kind of strange skills makes him different. People often see autistic people as “stupid” just like how Christopher’s classmates see him, but they are actually gifted because of what they can do. For instance, when Christopher failed the Smarties test, he explains that “when [he] was little [he] didn’t understand about other people having minds” (116). Then Christopher tries to overcome this kind of difficulty by doing some remedy on how to “solve it” (116).
Christopher is also very dependent on visual images. He metaphorically describes people’s mind as computers. He shows similarity of how people see things just like “looking at a screen inside [their] heads, like a computer screen” (116). Moreover, Christopher’s unusual way to notice things around him makes people defamiliarize the things that they already know. When Christopher tells that he does not always do what others are telling him to do because it is either confusing or not making any sense.
He gives an example when people “often say ‘Be quiet’, but they do not tell [him] how long to be quiet for” (Haddon 29): which makes other people think and gets confused as well. Also, the sign that says “keep of the grass but it should say keep off the grass around this sign or keep off all the grass in this park” (29). When people try to think of it, Christophers’s way of seeing things differently is actually valid to some extent. People often undervalued the things that they think are just ordinary but Christopher makes people realize and make them think twice if they really know what they knew.
Christopher becomes aware of mostly everything about the reality when he sees his mother’s letter and discovers that his mother is still alive. Aside from the unexpected information that Christopher learns, he also solves the murder mystery: his father kills Wellington. Christopher overwhelms about the information that he has and when he no longer trusts his father, he decides to find his mother in London. Christopher has never been anywhere that far and “the thought of going somewhere on [his] own [is] frightening” (129).
Despite the fact that Christopher is an autistic child, he copes up his difficulties and faces his fears: by showing the readers that someone like Christopher can set aside the fearfulness that he/she feels, Haddon conveys that people with autism can change and the way they portray themselves are uncertain. Christopher’s successful arrival in London also depicts his greatest accomplishment and might also foreshadows his independence. Haddon conveys his readers an idea that Christopher can do things that others think he can not do once he has been established in his mind-set to do so.
Another evidence that Haddon is making a new image of people with autism is when Christopher got the result of his maths A level and got an A grade. In the beginning of the novel, Christopher says that he is going to ace that exam to let his classmates know that he is not stupid; this shows that they can do anything they want to if they are really determined. Christopher might learn how to accept the reality as well. When his father lies to him, Christopher thinks that his father does not really love him but at the end of the book Christopher might probably forgive his father because he is not that frightened at all.
Christopher and his father “[plant] carrots and peas and spinach” together; there is a possibility that Christopher is trying to accept that his father lied to him because his father is worried about him. According to William’s article, Haddon admits that Christopher could be diagnosed as having a form of autism but he never addresses Christopher as autistic. Haddon does not “want [Christopher] to be labeled, and because, as with most people who have a disability, [Haddon does not] think it’s necessarily the most important thing about him” (qtd. in William vol 11).
William suggests that Christopher not being labeled as autistic will make the readers understand that those stereotypes people know is unreliable. Critics viewed “Christopher is a highfunctioning autistic rather than a character with Asperger’s” (qtd. in William vol 11). This extraordinary novel makes Haddon’s readers come into a realization that people with autism are capable of doing mostly everything that “normal” people do. Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time conveys an idea that people with autism is phenomenal and they are not ignorant as what others see them.
They can excel on one certain aspect and they keep on doing what they are good at. People like Christopher depends on how people treat them. By showing prime numbers as a symbol for Christopher, Haddon conveys that people with autism “are very logical but [people] could never work out the rules, even if [they spend) all of their time thinking about them” (12). In Haddon’s novel, Christopher portrays an idea that his condition is not going to prevent him from achieving what he wants in life.
Rather than believing others that he is incapable of doing what others can do in life, Christopher uses these cliches as a foundation to be a better person. People should not depend on what others might think or say about them. People should do what they think are the best for their lives just like what Christopher did and they should also view people like Christopher with respect. If people are not going to change their habit of judging someone like Christopher as soon as possible, then when will be the right time?