This story is a wonderful work of fiction about a 15 year old savant mathematically gifted Autistic boy who decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor’s dog and eventually uncovers disturbing information about his parents. The author, Mark Haddon has prevailed at finding his way into the mind of this Autistic character.
Excerpts from the book by Mark Haddon – (2% indicates location in the Kindle version of the book, instead of page numbers).
2% It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’ house.
The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog. I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason…
But, I could not be certain about this. The dog was called Wellington. It belonged to Mrs. Shears, who was our friend. She lived on the opposite side of the road, two houses to the left. Wellington was a large poodle.
My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057.
< My Thoughts > Author Mark Haddon tells us that Christopher was NOT a “15 year old savant…” but just very good at Maths.
2% Treffert (2014) tells us that the “Savant syndrome is a rare but spectacular condition in which persons with developmental disabilities, including but not limited to autism, or other central nervous system (CSN) disorders have some spectacular ‘islands of genius’ that stand in jarring juxtaposition to overall limitations.” That “not all savants are autistic, and not all autistic persons are savants.”
3% I pulled the fork out of the dog and lifted him into my arms and hugged him. He was leaking blood from the fork holes.
I like dogs. You always know what a dog is thinking. It had four moods. Happy, sad, cross, and concentrating.
I had been hugging the dog for 4 minutes when I heard screaming. I looked up and saw Mrs. Shears running toward me from the patio.
I do not like people shouting at me. It makes me scared that they are going to hit me or touch me and I do not know what is going to happen.
< My Thoughts > “I do not know what is going to happen.”
Hodgson, et al. (2017) try to understand the child or persons who fear uncertainties due to underlying anxieties which cause ‘repetitive worries’, increasing and arousing worries. They believe that these uncertainties can be reduced by providing opportunities to build the child’s confidence about how to deal cope with unexpected events.
3% “Let go of the dog,” she shouted. I put my hands over my ears and closed my eyes and rolled forward till I was hunched up with my forehead pressed onto the grass. The grass was wet and cold. It was nice.
This is a murder mystery novel. Mostly I read books about science and Maths. I do not like proper novels.
4% But I do like murder mystery novels. So I am writing a murder mystery novel. In a murder mystery novel, someone has to work out who the murderer is and then catch them. It is a puzzle. If it is a good puzzle you can sometimes work out the answer before the end of the book.
I started with the dog. I started with the dog because it happened to me and I find it hard to imagine things which did not happen to me.
< My Thoughts > “I find it hard to imagine things…”
Woodard & Van Reet (2011), in their search for information about imagination and autism, suggest that those with Autism have difficulty in ‘representing the world mentally.’ They have difficulty with object substitution, imagining objects which are not there, or believing an object has specific imaginary properties. They cannot generate spontaneous, complex and varied symbolic play.
In other words, they are saying that without imagination, little ones would not enjoy having tea parties with their teddy bears. Inanimate objects like a toy teapot could not hold or pour tea.
Neither could the inanimate toys join in the fun. They could only partake and sip the tea within the bounds of the child’s active imagination.
4% I wanted to write about something real and I knew people who had died but I did not know people who had been killed.
The police arrived. I like the police. They have uniforms and numbers and you know what they are meant to be doing. There was a policewoman and a policeman.
The police woman put her arms round Mrs. Shears and led her back toward the house. I lifted my head off the grass.
The policeman squatted down beside me and said, “Would you like to tell me what’s going on here, young man?”
I sat up and said, “The dog is dead.”
“How old are you?” he asked. I replied, “I am 15 years and 3 months and 2 days.”
“And what, precisely, were you doing in the garden?” he asked.
“I was holding the dog,” I replied.
“And why were you holding the dog?” he asked.
“I like dogs,” I said.
“Did you kill the dog?” he asked.
I said, “I did not kill the dog.”
“Is this your fork?” he asked.
I said, “No.”
“You seem very upset about this,” he said.
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< My Thoughts > “questions… were stacking up in my head like loaves in the factory where Uncle Terry works.”
Typical human brain cognition behavior allows us to process a great variety of complex information all at once. Minshew & Goldstein (1998) believe that when there is a potential deficit in certain cognitive behavior, individuals with autism often have difficulties when an ‘increasing number of cognitive processes are needed for task performance.’ That common feature of their cognitive processing is difficulty in organizing information, especially as the information becomes increasingly more complex.
5% I rolled back onto the lawn and pressed my forehead to the ground again and made the noise that Father calls groaning. I make this noise when there is too much information coming into my head from the outside world.
The policeman took hold of my arm and lifted me onto my feet. I didn’t like him touching me like this. And this is when I hit him.
< My Thoughts > “I didn’t like him touching me like this. And this is when I hit him.”
Sicile-Kira (2014) tells us that a typical characteristic of children with autism is “to become stiff when held, and does not like to be touched.”
Being touched triggered flight, it flipped my circuit breaker. I was overloaded and would have to escape, often by jerking away suddenly (from Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures).”
Another excerpt from Sicile-Kira tells us that “Some babies become stiff when you pick them up… usually this indicates that their tactile sense is out of whack.” She also tells us that when interviewing Temple Grandin, “From as far back as I can remember, I always hated to be hugged, but it was just too overwhelming…
Howe & Stagg (2016) cite the sensory pain of hugging as to be so stressful as to cause real pain to the recipient. Some say that being hugged made them lose concentration, ‘feel tired’ and was physically uncomfortable to the degree that it could bring on severe anxiety.
Contrary to this, some children experience sensory-seeking behavior which is only satisfied by deep pressure hugs. Almanza (2014) quotes the same Temple Grandin who despised ‘hugging’ as saying that she designed a “squeeze machine” in her head to artificially suppress sensory overload. The famous machine allowed the user to experience deep pressure on both sides of the body, in order to relax and control her neurosensory experiences.
5% The policeman looked at me for a while without speaking. Then he said, “I am arresting you for assaulting a police officer.”
This made me feel a lot calmer because it is what policemen say on television and in films. Then he said, “I strongly advise you to get into the back of the police car, because if you try any of that funny business again, you little shit, I will seriously lose my rag. Is that understood?”
< My Thoughts > “…if you try any of that funny business again…”
Police today are being trained to look for signs of Autism. Also, to check for bracelets or tags which may give necessary information about the person’s serious medical condition. Many children with autism also have epilepsy and sensory issues. Heat, sound and bright lights can trigger both seizures and panic attacks.
Persons with Autism exhibit these unusual behaviors and often try to run, may spin, rock, run around and may seem to be in pain. Some laugh, hum, sing, remove clothing, or refuse to be touched. Often times, both children and adults with autism do not comprehend pain or danger. Speaking to them in clear one or two word, easy to process commands may work best in this situation. Make certain to pass any information on to those who may be transporting the person to another place.
6% I watched the sky as we drove toward the town center. It was a clear night and you could see the Milky Way.
I have decided to give my chapters prime numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, and so on because I like prime numbers.
This is how you work out what prime numbers are. First you write down all the positive whole numbers in the world. Then you take away all the numbers that are of 2. Then you take away all the numbers that are multiples of 3. Then you take away all the numbers that are multiples of 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and so on.
The numbers that are left are prime numbers.
7% When I got to the police station they made me take the laces out of my shoes and empty my pockets at the front desk in case I had anything in them that I could kill myself or escape or attack a policeman with.
I was also wearing my watch and they wanted me to leave this at the desk as well but I said that I needed to keep my watch on because I needed to know exactly what time it was. And when they tried to take it off me I screamed, so they let me keep it on.
< My Thoughts > “And when they tried to take it off me I screamed, so they let me keep it on.”
Roa & Gagie (2006) remind us that the passing of time is an abstract idea; where as concrete thinking is factual. Therefore, the passing of time requires ‘abstract’ thinking and telling time on a watch or clock requires factual thought. Visual strategies, like visually keeping track of the time helps persons with autism stay centered, communicate appropriately and have more positive behavior. This also allows them to focus and helps to reduce their anxiety. Visual schedules, calendars are also tools which help older children have the structure which allows them better social functioning.
Charlop-Christy & Haymes (1998) state that often the child will tantrum when the object of the child’s obsession is withdrawn or they are given only limited possession. Also, that there is an ‘immediate reversal of undesirable behavior when the object of the child’s obsession is returned.’
7% They asked me if I had any family. I said I did. They asked me who my family was. I said it was Father, but Mother was dead.
Then they asked me for Father’s phone number. I said he had two numbers. I said both of them.
It was a nice police cell. It was almost a perfect cube, 2 meters long by 2 meters wide by 2 meters high. It contained approximately 8 cubic meters of air. There was also a padded bench.
8% it was 1:12 a.m. when Father arrived at the police station. I did not see him until 1:28 a.m. but I knew he was there because I could hear him. I heard the policeman telling him to calm down. Then I heard nothing for a long while.
At 1:28 a.m. a policeman opened the door of the cell and told me that there was someone to see me. I stepped outside. Father was standing in the corridor. Father wants to give me a hug but I do not like hugging people so we fan out our fingers instead and our fingers and thumbs touch each other.
9% Then he said, “You know that it is wrong to hit a policeman, don’t you?” I said “I do.” I said “I did not kill the dog.”
He said, “So do you know who killed the dog?” I said, “No.”
He said, “Are you telling the truth?” I said, “Yes. I always tell the truth.” Then he said that we could go.
< My Thoughts > “ literal thinkers…& telling the truth…”
Many children and adults with Autism and/or Asperger’s are literal thinkers. They always tell the truth for the simple reason that to tell a lie takes ’abstract thinking,’ ‘imagination’, and ‘long term memory’ to keep the ‘lie’ going. One mother commented that her ‘literal thinking’ son started frantically looking around for ‘giraffes’ when she exclaimed while driving, “This parking lot is a zoo!” Smiles.
10% There were clouds in the sky on the way home, so I couldn’t see the Milky Way.
I said, “I’m sorry,” because Father had had to come to the police station, which was a bad thing.
He said, “It’s OK.” I said “I did not kill the dog.” He said, “I know.”
Then he said, “Christopher, you have to stay out of trouble, OK?”
< My Thoughts > “Christopher, you have to stay out of trouble, OK?”
Again, an ‘abstract’ request – requiring ‘imagination’, and ‘long term memory.’
11% In the bus on the way to school next morning we passed 4 red cars in a row, which meant that it was going to be a Good Day, so I decided not to be sad about Wellington.
< My Thoughts > “I decided not to be sad about Wellington.”
Montgomery et al. (2016) tell us that from a cognitive perspective, some persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and those with High Functioning Autism (HFA) present varying degrees of correctly identifying their own feelings and the feelings of others. Those with ASD seem to have a more ‘active but odd’ social behavior when showing empathy than those with HFA, who show a more passive social profile.
11% 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day which is a day when I don’t speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don’t eat my lunch and Take No Risks.
< My Thoughts > About rituals…
Wolff, Hupp, & Symons (2012) explain that ritual and compulsive behaviors may be considered ‘functionally avoidant’ because they serve the person by preventing some future advent. They believe that the person performs the ritual when they are unable to effectively communicate what they are feeling.
Christopher perceived his rituals as both creating and avoiding future events. Dr. Ronit Levy, Bucks County Anxiety Center, Newtown, PA gives us the reasoning that when persons with severe anxiety need reassurance they often times perform ritualistic behaviors. This person is helped through frequent self-determined images of things going well or terribly wrong.
13% Because it was a Good Day I decided that I would try and find out who killed Wellington because a Good Day is a day for projects and planning things. And that is when I started writing this story.
< My Thoughts > “A Good Day is a day for projects and planning things.”
Taddei & Contena (2013) believe that those with High Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger’s, those without language and cognitive delays may more closely resemble the thinking of those persons with more typical development. These persons are capable of ‘planning behavior’ as well as monitoring changes that may occur.
15% I thought that Mrs. Shears probably didn’t kill Wellington. But whoever had killed him probably had killed him with Mrs. Shears’ fork. And the shed was locked. This meant that it was someone who had the key to Mrs. Shears’ shed, or that she had left it unlocked, or that she had left her fork lying around in the garden.
16% The next day was Saturday and there is not much to do on a Saturday unless Father takes me out somewhere on an outing to the boating lake or to the garden center. But on this Saturday, England was playing Romania at football, which meant that we weren’t going to go on an outing because Father wanted to watch the match on television. So I decided to do some more detection on my own.
< My Thoughts > Persons with Autism thrive on routines…
Cea (2014) thinks that aggressive behavior may arise from a disruption of routines or stress from changes in daily circumstances. They believed that these aggressive acts were rarely linked directly to real criminal behavior. Judges interviewed in this study felt that when Autism is a mitigating factor, we can appropriately balance the deed with the ‘level of culpability’ of the autistic offender.
16% I decided that I would go and ask some of the other people who lived in our street is they had seen anyone killing Wellington or whether they had seen anything strange happening in the street on Thursday night.
Talking to strangers is not something I usually do. I do not like talking to strangers. So talking to the other people in our street was brave. But if you are going to do detective work you have to be brave, so I had no choice.
17% I said, “I’m Christopher Boone from number 36 and I know you. You’re Mr. Thompson.” He said, “I’m Mr. Thompson’s brother.” I said, “Do you know who killed Wellington?” He said, “I haven’t a bloody clue.”
He said, “Look son, do you really think you should be going around asking questions like this?” And I said, “Yes, because I want to find out who killed Wellington, and I am writing a book about it.”
20% Next month I’m going to take my A-level in Maths and I’m going to get an A grade. No one has ever taken an A-level at our school before, and the headmistress didn’t want me to take it at first. But Father had an argument with her and he got really cross. She said they didn’t want to treat me differently from everyone else in the school.
21% After I’ve taken A-level Maths I am going to take A-level Further Maths and Physics and then I can go to university.
Then when I’ve got a degree in Maths, or Physics, or Maths and Physics, I will be able to get a job and earn lots of money and I will be able to pay someone who can look after me and cook my meals and wash my clothes, or I will get a lady to marry me and be my wife and she can look after me so I can have company and not be on my own.
< My Thoughts > Planning for the future…
Baldwin, et al. (2014) believe there are significant challenges faced by adults with Autism and Asperger’s Disorder.
Difficulty in –
- ‘Thinking on their feet’
- Acclimating to new procedures after learning & following set ones
- Responding flexibly to unexpected situations
- Planning & juggling multiple tasks
- Communicating effectively with co-workers
- Interacting socially
- Managing sensory sensitivities in the workplace
On the other hand, persons with ASD may perform extremely well in jobs which require –
- visual thinking
- systematic information processing
The best jobs requiring visual thinking & systematic information processing, according to Temple Grandin (1999); retrieved from: https://www.autism.com/advocacy_grandin_job are physicists and mathematicians. She also cautions that physicists or mathematicians face fierce competition in this field, believing that only the very brilliant can get and keep these jobs.
24% The next day I saw 4 yellow cars in a row on the way to school, which made it a Black Day, so I didn’t eat anything at lunch and I sat in the corner of the room all day and read my A-level Maths course book.
I have had 2 Black Days in a row I’m allowed to do that. But it wasn’t the end of the end of the book because five days later I saw 5 red cars in a row, which made it a Super Good Day, and I knew that something special was going to happen.
End of excerpts from the book by Mark Haddon.
< My Thoughts > The determination and perhaps the obsession to get at the truth about Wellington, led Christopher to take the train to London and to learn shocking facts about both his mother & his father. You'll LOVE the rest of the story! Smiles.
REFERENCES used in < My Thoughts > are:
Almanza, M. (2014). Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine as Prosthesis; Joural of Modern Literature; V39, p162-174.
Baldwin, S., Costley, D., Warren, A. (2014). Employment Activities & Experiences of Adults with High-Functioning Autism & Asperger’s Disorder; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders;V44, p2440-2449.
Cea, C. (2014). Autism & the Criminal Defendant; St. John’s Law Review; Summer V88, p496-529.
Charlop-Christy, M. & Haymes, L. (1998). Using Objects of Obsession as Token Reinforcers for Children with Autism; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders;V28, p189-199.
Hodgson, A., Freeston, M., Honey, E., Rogers, J., (2017).
Facing the Unknown: Intolerance of Uncertainty in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder; Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities; V30, p336-344.
Howe, E., & Stagg, S. (2016). How Sensory Experiences Affect Adolescents with an Autistic Spectrum Condition within the Classroom; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders;V46, p1931-1940.
Minshew, N. & Goldstein, G. (1998). Autism as a Disorder of Complex Information Processing; Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews; V4, p129-136.
Montgomery, C., Allison, et al. (2016). Do Adults with High Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome Differ in Empathy & Emotion Recognition?; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders;V46, p1656-1668.
Roa, S., Gagie, B. (2006). Learning Through Seeing & Doing: Visual Supports for Children with Autism; Teaching Exceptional Children; V38, p26-33.
Sicile-Kira, C. (2014). Autism Spectrum Disorder (Revised): The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism; New York, New York: Penguin Random House Company.
Taddei, S. & Contena, B. (2013). Brief Report: Cognitive Performance in Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome: What are the Differences?; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders;V43, p 2977-2981.
Treffert, D. (2014). Savant Syndrome: Realities, Myths & Misconceptions. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders; V44, p564-571.
Wolff,J., Hupp,S., & Symons, F. (2012). Brief Report: Avoidance Extinction as Treatment for Compulsive & Ritual Behavior in Autism; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders; V43, p1741-1746.
Woodard, C., Van Reet, J. (2011). Object Identification & Imagination: An Alternative to the Meta-Representational Explanation of Autism; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders; V41, p213-226.