You touch him and he screams. You hug him and he lashes out at you. He never looks at you. You have to word everything carefully because he takes your words literally; if you said it was raining cats and dogs he’d expect to see cats and dogs coming down and if there weren’t he’d accuse you of lying.
And his days, life, must have predictable patterns and routines so he knows what sensory bombardment to expect, otherwise he can be reduced to a curled up huddle there’s no communicating with.
Yet he’s brilliant mathematician and can store data like a computer.
Such is the character in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’, the wonderful book written by Mark Haddon, told with the voice of a lad with Asperger’s Syndrome.
And I’ve been lucky enough to go to see the stage production too – a truly amazing experience.
And I say experience because that’s exactly what it was. Even more so than the book, you truly experience some of what it must be like living with a teenager with Asperger’s and the difficulties it presents.
It is so easy to judge and condemn as we sit smug with our ‘normal’ children, behaving in ‘normally acceptable’ ways, and think how we would do something about the behaviour of others we observe but know nothing about.
If you haven’t lived it, you can’t know what it’s like from the inside. You can’t know what’s best to do and certainly aren’t qualified to judge. Some parents have challenges to face we cannot even conceive.
Stories like these go a long way to helping those of us in ignorance to live it and thus understand and appreciate that not every person reacts to life in the same way as our own children do. Everyone has challenges to face. Everyone is different. Some extremely so.
A story can reach an audience in ways a factual text cannot, like this production reached me, because it promotes not only understanding, but ignites compassion too.
And it is compassion we need to practice in order to live alongside one another and all our quirky differences in harmony and acceptance.