“In many ways, Haddon’s construction of Christopher’s writing seems accurately to represent how someone with autism might write. In his story, Christopher has not internalized knowledge of narrative conventions or readers’ expectations. His writing contains eccentric tangents… He numbers his chapters with prime numbers and fills them with diagrams, graphs, maps, lists, puzzles, equations, and timetables”
-Ann Jurecic “Neurodiversity”
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the most well known works of fiction with an autistic protagonist named Christopher. Ian Hacking reports, “Haddon’s tale has become a staple textbook in teacher-training courses, in the unit dedicated to working with children with special needs” (“Autistic Autobiography” 1469). The book follows the young Christopher as he navigates various mysteries in his life. While the plot is captivating, the prose also gives the reader insight into inner life of the protagonist.
The book is written from Christopher’s point of view and he explains, “My memory is like a film. That is why I am really good at remembering things… And when people ask me to remember something I can simply press Rewind and Fast Forward and Pause like on a video recorder, but more like a DVD player…” (76). Whereas people normally think in words, individuals with high functioning autism, like Christopher, think in pictures. This means that if a normal person is thinking about a goldfish, it is a general picture of what a goldfish looks like. Someone with autism thinking about a goldfish is picturing a specific goldfish that s/he has come in contact with over the course of his/her life.
Christopher also describes his relationship to emotional states in the novel. Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, is instrumental in helping Christopher navigate the neurotypical world in which he finds himself. Christopher recalls, “Eight years ago, when I first met Siobhan, she showed me this picture
and I knew that it meant “happy,” like when I’m reading about the Apollo space missions, or when I am still awake at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning and I can walk up and down the street and pretend that I am the only person in the whole world” (2). Christopher can relate to the basic emotions of happy and sad however, as the book continues and Siobhan introduces Christopher to new more nuanced emotional states he finds himself lost and confused. Christopher lacks the ability to recognize another’s emotional state and the ability to quickly adapt to various social situations. These are difficult tasks for someone with autism, but are taken for granted by neurotypical people.
While examining the plot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Ann Jurecic explains, “…the story of the teacher who reaches the unreachable student and enables him to discover his potential is utterly familiar” (“Neurodiversity” 424). The plot that carries Christopher through his autistic narrative is a plot familiar to the neurotypical person and is one a neurotypical person can relate to. With this familiarity the stigma attached to the disorder slowly begins to dissipate. While a neurotypical person may never fully associate with someone autistic, the depictions provide an explanation, a way of understanding the other that does not seem so foreign. The ability to empathize is heightened with a deeper understanding of who one is empathizing with.
At the very end of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher writes, “…I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything” (221). On some level who doesn’t align themselves with Christopher here? He overcame his fears and is on top of the world. Our fears may be different, but when we face something and overcome it don’t we have the same reaction? That feeling that we can conquer anything in the world no matter how big or small. We relate to the autistic characters here in certain ways which almost completely dispels the other.
Below is a trailer for a movie based on a novel about a boy with autism. In many ways his journey is similar to Christopher’s journey.