Review published on September 23, 2015.
Or what life with Asperger syndrome can teach all of us.
Learning difficulties were a relatively new idea when I went to school. They used to be a black mark against your name to have them. However, now Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is an integral part of all schools in the UK. The Curious Incident looks at learning difficulties and how they can affect those that live with them.
Mark Haddon’s book is told from the first person perspective of Christopher, a 15 year old with Asperger syndrome. Conventional novel form is broken to introduce a series of smiley faces to show that Christopher finds it hard to empathise with others. Asperger syndrome is a form of autism that is not always easy to recognize. Individuals with the condition can find social communication, interaction and imagination difficult. In The Curious Incident Christopher comes across his neighbour’s dog who has been murdered and decides to solve the mystery of who did it. Through the course of finding out he also discovers more about himself and his family than he expected.
Learning difficulties and mental health problems are on a spectrum. The way in which Haddon opens up a dialogue about the issues individuals face with such diagnosis is thoughtful. In The Curious Incident Christopher suffers from panic attacks. Panic attacks are a fight or flight response suffered in the wrong place. An example of a wrong thing that causes panic attacks is stress and in the book this happens when Christopher finds out his Mum is still alive. Individuals can also suffer from such attacks in the right place, for example Christopher talks about having them when he is hit by his classmates.
It is very valuable knowledge to know how to deal with panic attacks in yourself and others and Christopher impressively manages his own fear at the age of 15. He goes to London to visit his mother finding himself in an unknown situation. He manages to make his way through a busy train station and tube. By including images, timetables and other details Haddon shows some of the possible tactics that people use to overcome their fears of the unknown and achieve their dreams.
Christopher has dreams and aspirations as a teenager. Despite the strains on his family that his diagnosis exacerbates he manages to achieve some of them. Through this novel Haddon shows that one individual’s emotional limitations can be supported. The Curious Incident illustrates how one person’s weakness can allow another’s strengths to shine. When Christopher tells his Mother the lie his father had led him to believe she wants to hold his hand. Christopher does not like physical contact and so his Mum has to be content with drying him off after having a bath. Through this exploration on how to tackle life with asperger syndrome Christopher and those around him grow stronger and more resilient. And we as the reader learn to support each other.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon was published in pbk by Vintage in 2004