Friday, June 1, 2012

Asperger’s Syndrome In Fiction

Collapse (Sneak Peek of First Seven Chapters) (New America)Quick! Name a fictional character that has Aspergers! (Guest post by Author Richard Stephenson)
What did you come up with? Perhaps Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory? Good one. Anybody that is even remotely familiar with Aspergers knows that Sheldon is a textbook Aspie. He has all the telltale signs.
How about Dr. Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds? Yep, all the telltale signs are there once again.
Any Parenthood fans out there? A married couple has to cope with the diagnosis of their son having Asperger’s. Very touching stuff. My wife and I watched the first few episodes in tears because it hit so close to home for us.
OK, well, what about in books?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon comes to mind. Excellent book told from the first person point of view of an Aspie.
In the Millenium series, and in the recent film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the main character, Lisbeth Salander, is an Aspie.
One of my favorite literary characters from my childhood, Sherlock Holmes, is thought to have Asperger’s. Many psychologists have had a little fun and given a “fictional” diagnosis to the character.
Which brings me to the point of this blog entry, yes, I do have a point to make. If you have read the sneak peek to Collapse you know that one of the main characters, Howard Beck, has Asperger’s Syndrome. I knew that when I started writing this novel that one of the three main characters would have Asperger’s Syndrome. It was never a question, that’s just how it was going to be. Never occurred to me not to do it.

Why? My fourteen-year-old son has Asperger’s. He was diagnosed at the age of four. Dealing with the diagnosis was an ordeal for me and my wife. We had never even heard of Asperger’s, when we found out it was on the autism spectrum, we immediately assumed the worst. The only frame of reference that we could lean on was Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. We pictured our son requiring constant care, even into adulthood. Patience and education was our saving grace. We absorbed everything that we could find on the subject.
It didn’t take long into our journey for me to figure out that I very well could have Asperger’s myself. I’ve never been formally tested, but I share a lot of the characteristics. I become fixated on something to the point of obsession. I am awkward around people that I am not comfortable with. I seldom look anyone in the eye when they talk to me. I can retreat into my mind and stay there for a very long time and not come out. All of these traits I share with my son.
I feel that I have a duty to help raise awareness. People need to be educated when it comes to Asperger’s. Parents need to know what it is so that they can recognize it and get a head start on treatment. Our son was lucky, before he started kindergarden he been regularly attending speech and occupational therapy.
Parents also need to know that an Asperger’s diagnosis is not the end of the world. Their child will grow up to live full and productive lives. Some of the most influential characters in history are thought to have had Asperger’s. Men like Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Mark Twain, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Speilberg, and Bill Gates are all thought to be among the ranks of Asperger’s.
I’m proud to offer up a fictional character in the name of Asperger’s awareness. I’m not pretentious enough to put Howard Beck on the same level as the references I have made in this entry. That being said, if anyone opens up Collapse having never heard of Asperger’s, I hope they can close the book and have a better understanding of Asperger’s. If that happens just one time, I will be satisfied.

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