For those of you who have first-hand experience with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger Syndrome, this book will be a welcome read.
Mark Haddon delves into the mind of an individual with Asperger Syndrome, and this 15-year old displays all the signs of a Savant. The story is charming in that the Savant character of Christopher narrates with such bare-boned honesty and hilarity. Haddon cleverly uses the dual perspectives inherent in journal writing as well as writing a piece of non-fiction to convey the workings of Christopher’s mind. He does so with such clarity that the reader is able to appreciate how people with Asperger and Autism are different from, but also the same as what our society might view as the “norm”.
This book is also a touching tale of family relationships and the hardships that come with dealing with stress, developmental disabilities and mental illness. The characters are painted as real people with a plethora of flaws, but also endearing qualities that allow them to redeem themselves.
What really struck me about this book was Haddon’s ability to capture the concept of emotions in Christopher. Haddon gives physical and literal descriptions of Christopher’s emotional roller coaster ride. This is a sophisticated attempt by Haddon to help his audience understand that people with Autism and Asperger Syndrome are not completely bereft of feeling emotion, even if they are unable to express their emotions in socially-recognizable ways. I also appreciated that Haddon left the interpretation of the physical descriptions to his audience’s intellectual abilities, proving that he is not only a clever writer who is able to convey complex concepts, but one who trusts his readers’ ability to understand those concepts for themselves.
For teachers who are looking for ways to bring components of inclusivity into the classroom, this book is a well-written and easy-to-follow account of what it means to have a developmental disability like Asperger Syndrome. For many students who do not understand the nature of this Syndrome, this is as close to a science class as they can get while having a lot of fun. I would recommend this for junior classes (Grades 4-6) and structure the reading of this as a Book Talk to spark critical-thinking skills and allow for student-directed informal discussions.
Further, in Christopher’s mother, Haddon uses the opportunity to touch on what it means to live with a Mental Illness. While this should not be used as the complete manual for understanding mental illnesses, it is certainly a good place to begin a conversation around this fast-growing illness that is crushing many in our society. Teachers, this book will ignite a lot of very profound conversations in your classroom! If you do decide to use this in the classroom, please get in touch and I will help with ideas for how to implement the same.
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