Friday, March 5, 2010

Is neurodiversity judging a book by its cover?

I have just finished the new Jodi Picoult novel House Rules which deals with an 18-year-old boy who has Asperger's syndrome and has a social skills tutor who mysteriously dies and then he is charged with her murder. The novel has an interesting twist in that the boy has an obsession with forensic science. It was an interesting novel and I enjoyed it. There are some people who have stereotypes of persons on the spectrum not enjoying fiction. I do not fit this stereotype. I read a fair amount of fiction and as some persons who follow my life know, I have also written some fiction, 23 short stories, a novel and a second novel in progress which I may never finish the first draft of.

It seems that Ms. Picoult, as have many others, has run afoul of certain characters in the neurodiversity movement. Sarah of the cat in a dog's world blog has written a blog post on this issue As well as an additional follow-up post She states that more blog posts will be written about Picoult's novel at a later date. Sarah is offended because she feels that Picoult has presented autistic people as having bizarre quirks, the autism-is-broken model as well the fact that the mother provides biomed treatments for her son and that many parents don't provide this. Also the insinuation that an autistic can only have friends if their mother pays for a social skills tutor to hang out with them. She also talks about the boy's father splitting up with the wife and the Maxine Aston syndrome about women who have psychological distress from being married to an Asperger's spouse. Sarah and her friends are also offended by the notion they wrongly believe that is portrayed in the book that autistics want to be normal. "Sadder but wiser girl" has jumped on the bandwagon and has put out a boycott list of persons who are engaging in "neurobigotry" with Picoult at the top of the list.

The "autistic bitch from hell" in one of the most bizarre comments of all seems to think that a lot of autistics will end up boycotting Picoult's works. It is amusing that anyone would believe that a #1 New York Times bestselling author would lose sleep at night because a small handful of neurodiversity proponents would boycott the book.

I would like to dissect these arguments from these few ND proponents and put them in perspective. Could the old cliche, "don't judge a book by it's cover" be operating here? When we discover in the first of the two posts that Sarah has only read the first 71 pages out of a more than 500 page book the answer would appear to be yes.

As far as the father suffering from Maxine Aston's syndrome, there is no reference in the book to the father having asperger's but rather being a computer geek who might be more prone to having an asperger's offspring. Of course it would seem that the wife did not leave him due to unhappiness of being married to an Asperger's man, that he left the wife and his two sons because he could not deal with having a son on the spectrum, admittedly another offensive notion to the ND's the claim alleged by some that autism breaks up marriages.

Does the mother hate having an autistic child? On page 157, the mother states that she loves Jake for who he is and is happy that she has found the social skills tutor who does not treat his quirks as abnormal but celebrates the way they make him worthwhile and interesting. She also states she does not wish to change the way he is, the theme throughout the book, contrary to what sarah, SBWG and ABFH say. Contrary to what Sarah says, the boy does not wish to become normal or even be cured, saying he is happy the way he is and that he might lose his intelligence or other redeeming features if the asperger's is taken away from him.

Both the boy and his mother state in the book that they do not believe that Asperger's is a disability in spite of the fact that some ND proponents have claimed I and others were mistaken when we said that they did not believe that autism is a disability. It would seem in some parts of the book Picoult is actually out neurodiversitizing neurodiverisity.

Admittedly there was one scene in the book which I enjoyed which ND proponents won't like as it showed a very pushy,overbearing neurodiversity proponent trying to convince the mother to make the accused murderer a poster boy for the neurodiversity movement in the style of Darius McCollum and other autistics accused of crimes. The mother expresses disdain for this idea and slams the door in the neurodiversitite's face.

The boy also uses the line that ND's like to use by saying I am not autistic but I am a person with autism.

One thing I did not care for was the celebrity diagnoses that Picoult offered which were questionable such as Stephen Spielberg and Peter Tork. Of course she stated John Robison in her book who is an example of someone actually diagnosed with Asperger's.

Sarah admitted to writing these blog posts before actually having read the entire book. From the comments of "sadder but wiser girl" and "the autistic bitch from hell" I have to wonder if either of these two individuals has actually read the book at all. I strongly suspect that the answer is no.

From reading the book, we see for the most part that Picoult does in fact show some sympathy for the neurodiversity movement and their positions (with the exception of the scene in the book with the pushy ND) The boy and his mother seem to have a pro-neurodiversity outlook rather than an anti-neurodiversity outlook if anything. Though I agree with Sarah that the character is stereotyped and is sort of a mixture of a person with all autistic features and not necessarily representative of a true autistic person, one must remember that this is fiction. Rainman and the boy in the curious incident of the dog in the night time were fictitious characters also. They are not supposed to represent the real world, but Picoult's imagination of what the most possibly compelling character with autism could represent to someone in order to hook them into the novel.

When I was nearly 3/4 of the way through the book and enjoying it, I decided on impulse to send the author an email and warn her that some members of the ND movement might approach her and tell her how much they dislike what she has done and urge a boycott of her books. I urged her not to listen to these people or take them seriously. I reminded her how stupid ABFH's comment was as if a #1 new york times bestselling author's sales would be affected by a few neurodiversity malcontents. I knew that she is a busy celebrity and was not sure if she would respond.

I was pleasantly surprised when she in fact did write me a nice response. She stated correctly that for every member of the ND movement who was opposed to her book there were 10 who worked to raise awareness of autism for research and were happy with the book's different is not lesser than message. That if the ND's actually read her book in its entirety they would see that was her message.

Perhaps Sarah, SBWG and ABFH can read a book in its entirety before judging it by its cover.


SM69 said...

Interesting post- regarding what you are saying: " The boy also uses the line that ND's like to use by saying I am not autistic but I am a person with autism", what I have heard is just the opposite of this. Patents and the professionals I deal with prefer to say people with autism, but I have a few HFA/ AS kids who correct their parents, saying, no I want you to say that I am autistic, not a boy with autism, meaning they feel autism is a part of who they ate they can not be dissociated from.

It is not a very important issue other than I try to respect how people want to present self of their children when I speak on their behalf.

You made me want to read the book, though I fear the cliches. I suppose, a fiction story is no more cliche though than any individual true story because it only presents one story, and what we are dealing with in autism is many individuals stories that can have little in common. So we need more stories still, rather than less.

farmwifetwo said...

I haven't read it and probably won't. I managed Moon's story, and Curious Dog I couldn't finish. I have a hard time reading the stereotypes, reading someone's fictional view of autism. Probably b/c I spend a lot of time with the "just b/c you know one child with autism... means you know one child with autism", issues that crop up with school etc.

100% personal, and nothing to do with the author or her story.

I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I liked reading your review of it.

Adrianna said...

That's one of my pet peeves in blogging. Someone reads one sentence they don't like and they send you an email ripping you to pieces. When you read it, you find out that the person is putting words in your mouth because they didn't actually read the entire thing or even most of it. Or they distorted it and took it out of context.

When you try to explain or even just show them the sections they didn't bother to read, they mysteriously stop responding to you. I wonder why!

Anyway, I myself prefer non-fiction over fiction as I often have trouble reading and understanding fiction. That said, I still really like fiction and I might read this book.

ABFH needs to a) stop calling herself autistic and b) do something about those persecutory delusions of hers.

I agree with some of her material, but most of it is just bizarre.

Sarah said...

To clarify, I have read the book in its entirety and I finished it before writing the second post. You bring up a number of accurate points, but I still have a problem with the book as a whole. It's the same problem I have with her previous book about disability, "Handle With Care." I will probably continue to explain more in my blog posts in the future. But it is not true that I haven't read the entire book.

jonathan said...

Sarah at the time you wrote the first post you had not read the entire book, in fact you had read less than 20% of it according to your own admission. I am glad you finished the book before writing your second post. I will look forward to reading your other posts about the book.

Larry Arnold PhD FRSA said...

It's the universal problem Jonathan, you assume there is a "neurodiversity" party line, that any one person who subscribes to a neurodiversity philosophy speaks for all.

I haven't read the book, and don't intend to, not on the basis of what people are saying about it, but because I know nothing about the author anyway, being that stereotype who does not read contemporary fiction. I only ever read the "dog book" as background for a conference I was attending, not for enjoyment.

I prefer H G Wells myself :)

John Best said...

I see that the 16 year old Sadderbutwiser doesn't know that Stagliano, Kirby and Olmsted are partners with Neurodiversity.