Archive for July, 2009


I wanted to describe a couple of the traits often associated with autism that were displayed by the character of Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but that don’t describe me, at least not in the same way.  (This sort of difference is to be expected simply because no two people are alike, and that holds for people with autism or Asperger’s– on top of the fact that Christopher is a fictional character!)

I remember that when I was talking about the trait of obsessiveness according to the DSM-IV‘s criteria for diagnosing Asperger’s syndrome, that I was able to give some examples of the part about having extremely focused interests.  However, I wasn’t able to think of a good example for the following criterion:

2.  Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals.

The character of Christopher in Mark Haddon’s novel hates the colors brown and yellow and loves the color red.  Based on these preferences, he has a fairly complicated procedure that he uses every day when he watches cars from his bus window as he goes to school.

  • Passing 4 red cars in a row means it is a “Good Day.”  (He later clarifies that this means “a good day for starting projects and planning things.”)
  • Passing 3 red cars in a row means it is a “Quite Good Day.”
  • Passing 5 red cars in a row means it is a “Super Good Day.”

(Why is 3 better than 4?  I don’t remember Christopher explaining that, but I think it’s because he likes prime numbers, and 4 is not prime.)

On the other hand, passing 4 yellow cars in a row means it is a “Black Day,” which Christopher defines as “a day when I don’t speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don’t eat my lunch and Take No Risks.  If he has two “Black Days” in a row, on the following day, he allows himself to keep his eyes shut for the entire bus ride to school.

This behavior seems pretty strange to most people, especially in light of the fact that in the rest of the book, Christopher places a great amount of importance on logical reasoning.  He does not respond to others’ emotional outbursts the way people might expect, always giving each matter a lot of thought, and he rejects supernatural explanations for mysteries, believing that a natural explanation will eventually present itself.

So why does Christopher allow the color of the cars he sees on the way to school to influence what he does during the day?  Here is how he explains it: Continue reading

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A couple of days ago, I picked up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and ended up reading through it in just a few hours.  The narrator in the novel is 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who is on the autistic spectrum.  At the beginning of the book, Christopher finds that someone has killed his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, and he sets out to solve the mystery of who committed the murder.  His investigation ends up revealing a lot more about both Christopher himself and the people who live around him.

I think that Haddon did an excellent job of writing with his main character’s voice.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is different from a typical novel in many ways.  Instead of chapters, the book has short sections labeled with the prime numbers (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23… up to 233).

These sections may at times seem to leap around to unrelated topics, discussing math, history, and philosophy in the middle of painstakingly detailed descriptions of seemingly mundane events.  But if you give Christopher time to lay out his thoughts neatly, you will find that it is all connected quite logically; in fact, it helps to explain actions on Christopher’s part that other characters in the novel’s world do not understand.

Most novels introduce the major characters with at least a paragraph describing their appearance and mannerisms.  This book never does so, even for Christopher’s father and mother, because those social cues are not what Christopher notices.  When he does include descriptive information, the things he notices are often not what would be apparent to other people– and he always explains that he is deliberately including a passage of description because he knows he is supposed to.

The novel includes a lot of diagrams and figures in accordance with how visually Christopher’s mind works, and it does a great job of getting across the idea of sensory overload.  When Christopher has to navigate through a train station, he sees the words of every sign, every ad, every bit of graffiti screaming at him, and it makes him physically ill.  It takes all of his will to find the next bit of information he needs.

I found that there were a great many things about Christopher’s writing style that reminded me of my own, particularly his effort to be specific and exact about what he means.  Interestingly, the book never mentions Asperger’s, non-verbal learning disorder, or any specific diagnostic label other than autism to describe Christopher.  I think that this was a good choice, because it allows you to see Christopher as his own person, without getting distracted by what category he fits into.  Still, reading the book helped me to clarify some of my thinking about the way that my mind works– and it helped me to understand a little more about some of the traits of autism that don’t apply to me.

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been thinking, and hopefully, I’ll be able to do that in my next post!

(One last note I should make– I would certainly recommend this book for others to read, but I should mention that it contains strong language; it’s not a children’s book.)

Pride

Yesterday, my pastor preached about pride, working from the book of Proverbs (which has a lot to say about the subject).  I’ve been thinking about the ways that I tend to be prideful.  I have a sneaky, backwards type of passive-aggressive pride that is hard for me to counteract.

See, as I was growing up, I somehow became convinced that the “Christian” thing to do is to look for reasons to think less of yourself, to put yourself down, so that you are humble and not prideful.  So if someone complimented me for something like a musical performance or a drawing, it made me very uncomfortable; I had to think of a way that what I had done was flawed.

Later, I learned that it’s not really polite to refuse to accept compliments; that’s like telling the other person they have bad judgment.  So I would say “Thank you” for the compliment, but I still believed that I had to internally dismiss it.

My mother says that this is actually false humility, which is still pride– it’s pretty hard to escape!  But my mind says, in what way is it false to find something wrong with whatever I do?  The Bible tells me that I have a sinful nature, and even the best things I do are affected by my sin.  Something may seem impressive to another person, but it always falls far short of God’s standards.

It’s at this point that I realize something is wrong with my thinking, because there is supposed to be a difference between a sin, which is morally wrong and an offense against God, and a mistake, which is not morally wrong and is a consequence of being human and not all-seeing and all-knowing like God alone is.  I often operate as though it is a sin to make a mistake– that’s what keeps me fearful of even attempting a lot of things.  The reason is that I really, really don’t like being reminded that I make mistakes, because I am a perfectionist.  It’s a form of pride.

I know this, but I am really used to thinking this way, and I’m not quite sure how to adjust my thinking even though it’s harmful to me.  Let me use classwork as an example:

Practically every time I had to write a paper for college or grad school, it was an excruciating ordeal for me.  I usually can’t write until I have a pretty good idea in my mind of what the entire paper’s layout should be, and until then, I spend a long time staring at a blank screen.  A lot of times, I would procrastinate– not doing things I enjoyed, since I knew I was supposed to be working– but doing whatever I could to avoid being confronted with that screen.  By the time I handed my paper in (late or on time), I wanted to never see it or think about it again.  And that apprehension would only get worse with each paper I tried to write.

My professors sometimes gave me very positive feedback on the finished product, but I still felt very negative about what I had written (except for being glad the ordeal of writing was over).  It seems certain that while some of my difficulty was the result of my own limitations rather than sin, surely some of it was due to sin.  I could always look back and think of times I could have worked harder rather than putting off my work.  In that sense, every paper I wrote was marred by sin, so shouldn’t I feel bad about it?

This is the pattern that my mind is caught in; it keeps me from looking positively on any endeavor for which there is a chance I might fail.  I know that it is wrong, and its root is pride, because it’s a standard I would never apply to anyone else, and it doesn’t reflect well on God.  But it’s a challenge to convince my mind of that.

Harry Potter shows his "new" textbook to his friends Ron and Hermione.

Harry Potter shows his "new" textbook to his friends Ron and Hermione.

The movie adaptation of J. K. Rowling‘s sixth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is the most serious and intense of the series so far.  The forces of evil are beginning to attack openly, and the film ends quite somberly with the death of a beloved character and the sense that things are about to get worse.

Director David Yates does a good job for the second movie in a row of bringing Rowling’s magical world to life in a way that fits the mood of the story.  The greatest strength of the movie is in the interaction between the characters– the students and teachers of Hogwarts that we have come to know over the course of the series.  Yates wisely includes a good amount of humor in the scenes between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which helps to keep the grim tone from totally overwhelming the movie.

Overall, I still count the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as my favorite of the movies so far.  It had a coherent focus and message, and a real sense of accomplishment by the heroes.  It may not be fair to judge the movies the same way, as they play different roles in the overall scheme of the series.  Half-Blood Prince is less suited to stand alone, as it is mostly a buildup for the conflict about to take place in the last two films, and as a result, it leaves a lot of things unresolved.

Still, I think some things about Half-Blood Prince could have been handled better.  My main criticism of the film is that it feels rushed.  This is likely a result of each Harry Potter novel being longer than the last, and therefore harder to condense into a single movie.  (That’s one reason why the seventh and final novel is being made into two movies.)  At times, the plot seems to press forward as if it is ticking through a list of the major events that need to take place, and there isn’t enough time to explain their significance or to give the audience a good sense of how much time has passed.

At this point, I should probably come clean and admit that I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books– my familiarity with the series comes entirely from the movies (and from a family who are all huge fans of the books!)  So I’m looking just at what I know from the movies in this review.  You are invited to discount any huge mistakes I make in Harry Potter knowledge, and to disregard any complaints that are based on my ignorance of the books– I certainly remember being on the other side of this when people who hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings complained about misunderstanding things in Peter Jackson’s films that were much more clear in the books!

Warning:  there are spoilers ahead!

Continue reading

Hi!  It’s been way too long since I posted here.  I often find that if I get out of the habit of writing, my perfectionism becomes greater and I have a lot of trouble getting started again.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the chance to spend some time with friends and family close to my age, and I’m really thankful for that opportunity!  A couple of weeks ago, my pastor invited me and some other church members over to his house for lunch.  I got to meet their new puppy and stayed for a while to talk and play cards.

The card game we played was called Nertz, and it works like a simultaneous giant game of solitaire in which each player has his or her own deck of cards that they try to get rid of by playing them on top of other players’ cards in the middle of the table.  For example, if someone plays the ace of spades, anyone who has the two of spades showing can play it on that pile– but if you miss your chance, you will have to wait for another ace of spades to be played by someone else.  The game can get frantic!

I was talking to my mother about playing the game and wondering if my Asperger’s related to it in any way.  I’m actually not sure that it does– if it does, it relates in an area of relative strength because of my mind being so rule-oriented.  It took me a while to get the hang of the rules (and I ultimately didn’t end up winning any rounds), but as I played, I was able to focus more on what I needed to keep track of in order to get rid of my cards.

I think it helped that there weren’t a lot of distractions– no loud music or TV or activity going on in the background– but often I can play a game at home with the TV on; concentrating on the rules of the game can be relaxing.  I suppose the fact that I was able to just pay attention to the game means that I was comfortable spending time with friends.  If I’m nervous about something like not knowing a person’s name, or fearful that someone will do something unpredictable that I’ll get in trouble for, I can’t relax and enjoy myself.  But in this case, I did.

This probably wasn’t a hugely insightful post, but maybe it will help me get back into the habit of writing!