Before Thanksgiving Break, I went to watch The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. As many of you may have seen the show, I will not be talking about the overall plot. Instead, I would like to describe some of the elements in the show that illustrated autism in Christopher, the main character, and briefly discuss what overall benefit or detriment this story can bring to the autism narrative.
Christopher exhibited a number of familiar autism symptoms. At one point, he is at the train station and suffers sensory overload multiple times. He gets himself into multiple difficult situations due to his sensory overload but still manages to make his way safely to London (after a near-miss with the train).
He mentions early on in the play that he doesn’t understand metaphors. He knows the definition of metaphor and how it is used, but, for example, being “the apple of someone’s eye” doesn’t make sense to him when he tries to visualize it. This could be reflective of what the Murry piece discussed about language fitting into patterns and organized locations rather than truly understanding the language. This could also explain why he doesn’t understand sarcasm.
Another interesting factor of Christopher is that he doesn’t like being touched. This becomes a serious problem because his family’s love language is touch. Whenever they are arguing or discussing something difficult with him, they want him to reach out and touch their hand to show that he is ok and still loves them. When he is reunited with his mother, she immediately tries to hug him, to which he reacts very poorly.
The play also dealt with how his parents reacted to him being autistic. His mother claims that part of the reason that she left him and his father in the first place was that she didn’t know how to take care of him. She was scared and overwhelmed and his father was patient and better with him. Thus, she left him. This is a very serious example of how some parents may react to their child’s autistic diagnosis.
Overall, the play was fantastic. The actor did a fabulous job of presenting the autistic character. I am, however, not sure it is the best representation of autism from a disability awareness point of view. For one, some of his autistic quirks were used for comic relief throughout the play (not maliciously, but in an “awwww, that’s kind of sweet and funny” kind of way).
Another thing to consider was his relationship with his parents. It had multiple problems. First, as I mentioned with the love language earlier, they kept trying to force their ways of love onto him rather than learning to accept him for who he is. Second, his relationship with his father had several indicators of developing into an abusive relationship (his father getting angry and even violent and then saying it will never happen again) though it worked out well in the end.
Even with these factors, I think the overall message was positive. Christopher ended the play having written his own story, passed a difficult math exam, and proved himself capable by riding the train by himself. Depending on the opinion of the audience, these may be things that many would not consider possible for an autistic boy. Thus, the play helped to introduce the audience to how an autistic boy might behave and prove that he wasn’t as incompetent as some might try to make him. There is a lot more that I could cover in this post but I will end it by saying that this was a fantastic performance and if you didn’t go see it, you definitely are missing out.