Mark Haddon (no significant spoillers)

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at
Mon Feb 16 03:17:46 EST 2004

Minnow wrote, and John quoted:
> [1]Oh, and a near-certainty that if this book gives
> a fair picture of a
> form of autism, if Nikola Tesla wasn't classified as
> autistic it was only
> because the term hadn't been invented in time
> (autism doesn't get listed in
> any of the dictionaries in this house pre-dating
> 1988, a bit late for
> Tesla).  As it was they simply called him
> "eccentric", I think.

In the infernal mess that now rules my room, I can't find the article that I
was reading just Thursday, in which the author speculates about several
mathematicians, physicists and musicians of the past who may have been
classified as having had Asperger's syndrome had anyone been around to
diagnose them at the time. I don't remember if Tesla was on the list, but
Einstein was, and Newton was almost definitely autistic. The article also
gave a nice concise history of autism which I don't remember now but there
is plenty of info available on the internet; the term predates the current
scientific use of it, autism as we perceive it today was first described in
the late 40's by someone whose name begins with a K. One of the interesting
points about the article was that it had been published in a journal on
mathematics, for mathemeticians, and tried to explain why having Asperger's
syndrome might actually contribute to one's mathematical abilities. The
thing about Asperger's, and indeed autism in general, is that you can't do a
bloodtest to find out if you have it: any person with a particular set of
behaviours qualifies. Sometimes it seems the only difference between an
eccentric recluse and a person with Asperger's syndrome is whether they were
ever unhappy enough in their lives to seek treatment.

I have a personal interest in this as my two-year-old son has several
autistic/Aspergerlike traits. Thankfully, he seems to have outgrown some of
the scarier symptoms that first set us worrying; a year ago he would not
respond to his name, or indeed to any verbal cue, as if he even heard it, he
seemed oblivious to the people surrounding him as if the world were composed
only of objects and artifacts, and he shied away from touch. Nowadays he's
very clearly bonded to the people around him, makes eye contact, talks,
cuddles, and most people who meet him would not pick him out from a group of
his peers. I say most, because people who have experience with autistic
children do still notice that he is extraordinary. I've gone from thinking
that autism is a terrible affliction and a terrible tragedy to the family,
to wondering how many of the people around me may have been classified as
having an "autistic-spectrum disorder", had they been as closely scrutinized
as my son: my husband was a very late talker, my grandfather was an
eccentric genius. Not that I don't think my son requires treatment. I
suspect that the intervention of a speech therapist has much to do with the
fact that he has started talking. But I've come to view his sessions with
the speech therapist and occupational therapist as private lessons, teaching
him how to learn from his environment and us how to help him learn, as
opposed to treatment for a disease. Overall it's a privelege to be his
mother. He's one of the most cheerful, good natured and "easy" babies I've
ever met (many autistic children are described in retrospect as having been
particularly easy babies), and in many ways he is brilliant: he picks up and
sings back tunes after just two or three repetitions; before he was
consistently saying "ima" or "aba" (mom and dad in Hebrew) he already knew
and used correctly the words for hexagon, rhombus, trapezoid, oval... as
long as he is also capable of harmonius social interaction, communication,
and living a fulfilling life, he can be different for all I care.

As for whether a character with Asperger's syndrome can be an interesting
protagonist in a book, the answer is "of course". Just like a deaf character
can be exceedingly interesting, or an alien from another planet, or someone
from the past or from the future. I'm not sure someone who is not autistic
can ever fully comprehend what it must be like to be autistic, and I'm not
even sure someone who is autistic can fully describe their own condition
when forced to use as tools a language and a logical progression that may in
some ways be alien to them. But I'm sure the attempts can be mighty
interesting to read.

Jon further wrote: >>> I have, at school, two autobiographies of  autistic
people; Donna Williams "Nobody Nowhere" and Kenneth
Hall "Asperger Syndrome, the universe and Everything".
The latter comes closest to Haddon's character. (the
other I've only skimmed through but she seems far more
articulate than Haddon's character)

Temple Grandin is a profoundly autistic woman who has published at least one
autobiography. I would describe her writing as articulate, though it does
retain a different "flavour". You can read a sample here:

I am currently reading a non-fiction book on the subject of  autistic
perception, which I think I can safely recommend despite being only on the
second chapter: "Mindblindess - an Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind" by
Simon Baron-Cohen, MIT press, 1997. It's short, accessible and absolutely
fascinating. I expect to finish reading it later today.

To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list