Monday, October 06, 2008

Autistic children in modern fiction 

I have been rearranging books, and one accidental pairing surprised me: Ann M. Martin (The Babysitters Club) and Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time).

Martin wrote her books, including the Babysitters Club series, for kids. I read them compulsively through elementary school. Often she wrote in characters (always children) who had autism, and it was in her books that I first learned of the disease. I also learned about diabetes from her books, because one of her main characters was diabetic. Martin wrote about her autistic characters during the 1980's.

Haddon wrote his book (and its sequel, which I haven't read) in 2004, almost 2 decades after Martin introduced her first stories involving autism. Haddon's main character is an autistic teenage boy, older than any of Martin's.

Both had to get into the head of autistic characters. I believe neither has autism or Asberger's personally. So they had to rely on watching and talking to whatever friends or relatives they had who did have autism, and they had to read the scientific literature of the day.

I don't need to say much on the science of autism, other than that the clinical undertanding of the disease has changed greatly in the past twenty years.

I'd like Martin and Haddon to talk to each other about how each tried to write realistic, autistic characters. I'd like them to discuss the significance of the disease in how children learn to function in society. I'd like to hear how well they thought they identified with the disease and why they each chose that particular mental disability. I'd like them to share their understanding of the cause of, treatment of, and society's reaction to the disease.

And I'd like to listen.

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