In the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the perspective of a child with autism is explored.
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Christopher Boone is a fifteen year old boy who lives life with an unusual perspective. The differences between Christopher’s mind and the mind of one who does not have autism are easily observable. Two specific examples of these differences as told in the novel concern emotional and visual perception. Christopher takes a very logical approach to emotions.
He lives so much within his own very unique and literal world, he does not consider how others are forced to adapt to his specific requirements. He does not like to be touched, so in place of a hug, he touches fingers that have been fanned out with his mother or fathers fingers which have also been fanned out. When significant changes are introduced into Christopher’s world, the time it takes him to process it and grown accustomed to it is lengthy. If the changes conflict with what Christopher perceives as normal, he may even cope with it by not speaking, not eating, groaning or screaming. In the novel, Christopher is forced into making some fairly tough decisions. He takes these decisions and rationalizes them out through the use of flow charts and the process of elimination.
He does not consider what anyone may think about it or how people will react; he simply breaks it down to the logical facts and acts accordingly. He is not intentionally rude to anyone or devious in his manner; his mind is able only to process the logical side of the situation. At one point in the novel, Christopher discovers letters written by his mother, whom he believed dead. Discovering a mother you believed dead is, in fact, alive, is an incredible reality. While searching for a book, he came across these letters in his father’s closet. Understanding he would be in trouble if he was caught taking them, he waited until he knew his father would be out for a while and proceeded to read them.
The letter explained why his mother had left and how much she still loved him. Instead of crying uncontrollably or becoming angry, Christopher gets physically ill. He describes what sounds like an almost out-of-body experience where he notices what is going on around him and describes it to perfection, but doesn’t process it the way he normally would. He indicates he is confused at his lack of response, but doesn’t question it. Shortly thereafter, Christopher learns that his father is the murderer and comes to the conclusion that it is not safe to stay at home any longer. After reasoning out a plan, he applies mathematical logic to his fear and makes a difficult, but in his mind necessary, trip to his mother’s house.
Through the novel, Christopher describes what he understands to be true about emotions. While he has an accurate grasp of these feelings and what they are supposed to mean, he does not seem to be affected by them. Christopher’s visual perception can be characterized as being very acute. He sees every thing. He not only sees it, he notices it, he studies it, he remembers it, and he can conjure it up in his mind for years to come.
He can recall colors, shapes, positions of specific items, directions, signs, patterns and details about almost everything he observes. In the novel, Christopher suggests most people are lazy and do not see every thing the way he does. They tend to “ glance” at things and keep going.
If given the opportunity, they might notice surface details, but their minds would soon wander. Christopher takes pride that his mind is not wired the same way. He can concentrate on a chess board until his opponent is distracted by their thoughts and then proceed to win the match.
He looks at an open field and notices the minute details. He notices the cows and their coloring, the field itself and the direction of its slope; very little seems to pass this young man’s gaze. In the train station, Christopher saw so many things he was overwhelmed. Signs pointing this way and that, the noise of the trains, the noise of the people, it was all too much. He sought out and occupied an empty table so that he could organize his thoughts and decide what to do.
His mind got so overloaded, he lost his focus. In such a tumultuous world where the smallest occurrences can send him into a screaming fit, Christopher has found patterns and mathematical equations to be calming. He notices and mentions many times through the novel various designs he finds on the seat cushions and walls. Repetition and predictability are soothing to Christopher when he finds himself in situations where his mind is overloaded. In the previously mentioned train station, Christopher sat at the table for two and a half hours solving mathematic problems in his mind.
An employee came and spoke with him and he wasn’t aware she was even there in front of him. With the surplus of information presented to Christopher in the station, he needed to detach his mind and relax with his numbers. Once the panic has subsided, Christopher was able to take his visual skills, discern where it was he needed to go and then imagine a way to focus his energy into getting there. He winds up pretending there are thick red lines along the path he needs to take to get to his chosen destination. In another situation, he narrowed, or squinted, his eyes so the visual stimulation he experienced was minimal.
Another way Christopher uses his visual ability is through his love of astronomy. In his chapter 179, Christopher says it well when he says, “ And when you look at the sky you know you are looking at stars which are hundreds and thousands of light years away from you…And that makes you seem very small, and if you have difficult things in your life it is nice to think that they are what is called negligible…” This statement is actually one many of us can relate to. Sitting outside and imagining the cosmos and how very tiny we are in relation to it builds a sort of bridge between the reader and the main character. While many of Christopher’s detached and logical responses are difficult to interpret, finding a place where you discover you are insignificant in relation to the larger picture is a little more feasible. Christopher’s emotional and visual perceptions are impressive. The interesting thing about Christopher is he sees so much and yet he seems to feel so little. He understands, through his words, what feelings are supposed to look like and is able to describe them accurately, but his reaction to most situations is almost robotic when compared to what ours might be in similar circumstances. Christopher’s visual discernment leaves nothing behind.
He is able to set the emotionally impractical aside and view the world from an amazingly logical standpoint, and his feelings rarely factor in to the decisions he makes. This is truly a remarkable novel with insight into the lives of those living with autism. The insight shared through Christopher’s experiences is educational and invaluable to any reader.