Autism and The Curious Incident

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 3, 2016, 8:23 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I saw the tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time last night here in Orlando. Initially I thought I would write a review of it, but after having a day to think about it, the play (and specifically this production) tends to create a lot of other things to think about. The show was brilliant, I thought, and the lead's performance of a 15-year-old that presumably is on the autism spectrum was solid in every way. It's written and directed in a way that is not offensive. The visual and audio effects work surprisingly well in trying to convey to the audience the sensory experience of a person who can't process the noise and overload of our society. We did wonder if people who have little or no knowledge about autism would get the show. There were so many times that we kind of looked at each other and thought, yeah, we've been there, even if not in such extreme conditions.

Simon was diagnosed almost three years ago, and I feel like we've been lucky that there hasn't been any serious regression or extreme challenges similar to those that the protagonist faced in the play. More than anything, we're thankful that he isn't averse to touch, and in fact he's a serious cuddler. He's a lover, not a fighter. He definitely has little use for certain social contracts, is challenged by inflexibility and change in routine, takes things literally and can't reconcile sarcasm, and he cycles through various self-stimulation patterns likely perceived as weird (a topic for another day), but he's learning with us how to cope with those things. Sometimes we're just completely confused by things that conflict. He actively seeks physical sensory input and loves amusement rides, but I took him to an NBA game and he literally crawled under his seat and covered his ears in the arena. Academically and socially, school is going well for him in some ways, but also challenging in other ways.

The most striking thing about the experience these last few years is how Simon's story is so intertwined with my own. The play made me realize this even more. There's little doubt in my mind that I fall somewhere on the spectrum, and I talked to a therapist that said it's likely the case when you look at the challenges I had growing up. To that end, I feel like I have empathy for Simon and what he goes through at times. There were scenes in the play where the father lost his cool over something the boy did and then felt terrible about it... I've been there and it feels awful. I'm just lucky that my kid will let you hug it out later.

Sure, there are some kids and adults who simply aren't functional, but there's a huge part of humanity that is fully functional and simply wired differently. I wish we didn't think of these people as weird, because honestly they're capable of amazing things. That was really the takeaway from the show, that someone with alternate wiring can likely still achieve great things. It's an incredibly optimistic and necessary way to view the world.

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