My experiences with autism

After recently going to London to watch the play ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ (try saying ten times fast) I was planning to write a review of it, like I did with The Light Princess a while back. However given the subject of the play, I decided to write about my experiences as someone who is on the autism spectrum. Because after seeing the play, it really did make me do quite a lot of thinking, in terms how I’ve coped in the world, compared to others like me. Note that autism affects people in different ways, some cases being worst or better than others. This isn’t the be all end all on the subject. This is just my experiences, along with  an analysis of the story, showing how the story represents autism and other conditions from the point of view of someone with said condition.

But first and quick catch up to those who haven’t seen the play. Based on the book by Mark Haddon, the play (I’ll keep calling it given how long the title is) follows a teenage boy named Christopher Boone, a fifteen year old character with Aspergers Syndrome. After finding the dog of his neighbor dead in the garden, he investigates and searches for the person who did killed the dog named Wellington. During this process he uncovers some dark truths about his family and his parents. That’s about as much I can say before giving the whole story away; also I need to mention how the majority of his inner thoughts are told from a journal he writes in, with it narrated by his teaching assistant named Siobhan. Caught up is what you are.

Now then I bring up my own autism experiences in relation to Christopher, because well I see parts of myself in him, for better or for worst. For one thing during the first act he explains how he struggles with understanding metaphors, people’s facial expressions such as raised eyebrows and how his pretty much is a logical and literal thinker. I admit that I have a straight forward way of thinking, always trying to find the most sense out of, well anything I look at or experience. Example, for a while I spelled the word ‘urge’ with a ‘er’ at the beginning due to the sound that’s used to pronounce them. That always made sense to me until someone corrected me. As a child understanding new things was certainly a challenge from time to time. Whether it’d be a subject at school, an event or a task I was asked to do. Which was why I had tutors to help me through primary and even my first years at high school; like Christopher does. This is quite common for people with similar cases.

Then there is his social skills, or lack there of. And this was the point in the show where I started to relate to the character. Throughout the play Christopher is shy when talking to many different people, he barely looks at people when talking (especially strangers) , along with how he likes spend time on his own. As a child in pre-school, I often failed to look at people when they talked to me, at least according to my mum. In any case I also attended speech therapy during those years, which has certainly helped, and I even still keep in contact with the woman I had the meetings with. This links to another trait of developing with autism as a baby, lack of response to parents. However there some traits I still have; anyone who knows me knows that I’m quite and I keep to myself. While I can interact with people, I never usually know what to say to them, I often feel uncomfortable when speaking because i don’t know what to say when stating a lot of the time. Plus I often mess up what I’m saying when talking, due to my nerves kicking in, so that doesn’t help.

Which is why I loved doing drama at high school, the whole point was that we had express our emotions and lines clearly and confidently, so this has helped me quite a bit in my life. But also when it comes to drama clubs and the such, pretty much everyone try’s to make each other laugh during activities like improvisation and the such. And I have to admit in those activities it did make me more willing to say or do something and not look like a damn fool, no matter how clever or how stupid.

That said while i like interacting and seeing people, i often feel the most comfortable on my own; no judgment, no distractions, just me and whatever thing that kept me busy. Christopher is most of the time alone during his monologues, with the exceptions of Siobhan reading his journal to the audience with him addressing her every so often. And during multiple scenes of the first act, his seen setting up a model train set on the floor; with multiple letters from his mother explaining how he loved playing with the train set. And as a young kid i did often prefer the comfort of playing with action figures rather than meeting the other kids….well depending on who i was set to meet that day. And i can say i still have the same habit, only with my phone and my Ipad, because well it’s less stressful situation.

Then we get to the second act where to make a long story short; Christopher goes to meet his mother by taking a train and then the London Underground by himself. Part of the scene can be viewed here, sorry about the quality. Notice how the beginning was loud, busy and flat-out chaotic? Depending on the persons condition, some people with Autism, Aspergers and the such do tend to be effected by loud and crowded situations, due to them often being more sensitive; in what is usually called “Sensory Sensitivity”.  Some cases being more painful for the person than others, with sounds often mashing together into one big mess. Which is the point of that scene, using the busy day-to-day life of the Underground as a way showing part of his condition. With the people, adverts, tannoy systems and the loud techno track showing how it affects Christopher. And while I’ve never broken down like Christopher and many other people like him; I will admit when it comes to events like parties and the such, i do like a little get away from the noise when i want some peace and quite, and i usually have the urge to leave and go home during the later hours….depending on how the rest of the day went. And I’m often hopeless when doing something new without assistance.

Do you see what I’m getting across with drawing connections between Christopher Boone and myself? Many people would identify with a fictional character or real life person; whether they want to be like them, have things in common with them or see bits of themselves in that character. This is a similar case with me, I connected with Christopher as i experienced and shown similar traits in my life; and given how it’s done in a respectful way, it makes me all the more conformable connecting with a like able character like him and feel for him during the story. And that’s why the play works in terms of the issues it addresses. It’s done in a respectful way that gives anyone watching a clear understanding of what life’s like for him, without over explaining, exaggerating or simplifying it. With the staging and incredible effects helping to show what goes on in the characters head. And the all around great performances from the actors, showing how Christopher acts in his life, but how people around him react to his condition; especially his parents.

I do recommend seeing the play. Great story, great acting, amazing effects, and you may even learn a thing or two. I certainly did.

Thank you for your time.

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