When autism was first “discovered”, many did not fully understand what it really was. Hollywood, however, still included characters with this condition. This often led to the distorted depiction of Asperger syndrome in fictional characters, especially because very little research was done. This is the case with Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in which his character, Christopher Boone, has caused a large amount of controversy for reinforcing many of the untrue stereotypes associated with autism.

Christopher has been poorly and inaccurately represented as a boy with Asperger syndrome because he is portrayed as a genius, he has difficulties communicating with others, and he has an obsessive behavior that dictates how he reacts to the world around him.

When less informed people make assumptions about Asperger syndrome, the first thing they usually presume is that everyone with this condition is brilliant, but only in one area. This idea of the idiot savant was popularized because of the 1989 movie Rain Man and has quickly spread since then. Throughout the book, Christopher solves many complicated math problems with great ease.

We also see him express his passion and love for math (as it is the sole thing he is remarkably good at) as he struggles to be allowed to take a higher-level math test and celebrates his triumph when he tells us: “I got the results of my maths A level and I got an A grade, which is the best result” (Haddon 103.)[1] Even though he is highly skilled at math, his limited vocabulary and short, chunky sentences prove that he is portrayed as an idiot savant. He is spectacular at math, however, has a basic vocabulary for a 15-year-old.

This depiction of autism is very similar to Rain Man’s main character, Raymond Babbitt as he can solve complex math problems in his head, however, he has trouble articulating his thoughts and feelings. On page 3 of the article “Autistic Strengths and Stereotypes,” Trisha Paul[2] comments that there is “a need to further consider how literary representations of autism can influence readers.” This is especially true when it comes to depicting everyone affected by Asperger’s as a genius. This causes confusion and insecurity to those who do not have these qualities and manages to make them feel even more different than society already does.

Not only does it negatively affect the neurodiverse community but neurotypicals also have a negative takeaway. Wrongfully representing autistic people creates untrue stereotypes that are spread like wildfire and complicate their already difficult lives. According to Gordon Cairns, an educator who has worked with autistic students, “The truth is that, while many people who are geniuses have autism, the reverse does not hold true, and the range of intellectual ability is as wide as in the neurotypical community.”[3]

Conceiving this fake idea of Asperger’s in society creates various complications to the neurodivergent as their interactions with misinformed people become more complicated and stressful. The generalization of the autistic community negatively affects them as well, since they lose their sense of individuality and feel like they must tick every box to actually have autism.

Another very common stereotype of autistic people is that they lack social skills and have a hard time communicating with others, especially strangers. There are many instances in the book in which Christopher does not understand what someone means because he takes everything too literally and has a hard time reading facial expressions.

As he says himself, “I find people confusing … people do a lot of talking without using any words” (Haddon 8.) Throughout the book, Christopher has gotten into trouble due to his problems reading people and understanding what they mean. People react impatiently towards him and do not understand why he acts the way he does. This increases his sense of isolation and inability to connect with people. Christopher mentions, “Usually people look at you when they’re talking to you. I know that they’re working out what I’m thinking, but I can’t tell what they’re thinking.

It is like being in a room with a one-way mirror” (Haddon 11.) Not understanding what others are thinking while aware they know what he is, furthers his feelings of isolation and makes him feel powerless, trapped, and lonely. Haddon makes it very clear that Christopher has a hard time comprehending jokes. Cairns explains that the entertainment industry usually does not show how funny people with autism are.

He says that “On TV, they are usually the straight-faced outsider … Yet the reality of working with children with autism is having a class full of kids cracking jokes, making funny comments, smiling and laughing.”[4]  The fact that their humorous side is not shown in the media only further worsens people’s view of the autistic community. They end up being seen as cold, unempathetic, and distant. Because of this, many make up their minds without even meeting someone with autism. Their predisposed opinions blind them to who autistic people actually are and end up missing out on all these great people.

Lastly, Christopher has many obsessive behaviors and needs things to be a certain way. If things do not fall into order the way he requires them to, he will feel lost and powerless, usually leading to a mental breakdown. Christopher tends to count cars and determine what his day will be like depending on their color. An example of this is when “[he] saw 4 yellow cars in a row on the way to school, which made it a Black Day, so [he] didn’t eat anything at lunch and [he] sat in the corner of the room all day and read [his] A-level maths course book” (Haddon 24).

This shows us how his obsessions control his actions and feelings. He has various little ‘rituals’ which help him understand the world around him and deal with the hardships in life. He compares his mental collapses to a malfunctioning computer that needs to reset: “And sometimes when I am in a new place and there are lots of people there it is like a computer crashing and I have to close my eyes and put my hands over my ears and groan, which is like pressing CTRL + ALT + DEL and shutting down programs and turning the computer off and rebooting so that I can remember what I am doing and where I am meant to be going” (Haddon 65).

Christopher talks about his coping mechanism (making “white noise” or groaning) and compares it to restarting a computer because it clears out his head and helps him think. This is another misconception Haddon spreads as it is not what most autistic children do. Greg Olear, the father of an autistic child, makes a convincing point when he argues that “Most [autistic children] are “high-functioning.” They don’t refuse to go to school if they spy a yellow car, or curl up into a whimpering ball on a train because there are too many people around, as Boone does in Curious Incident.”[5]

As Olear points out, the way Haddon portrays autistic children is untrue and highly exaggerated. That is the result of Haddon doing minimal research before writing his novel. Thanks to his irresponsibility, the lives of many are affected.

Haddon has failed to properly portray Christopher as a child with Asperger’s for he has depicted him as an idiot savant, as someone with no social skills whatsoever, and as a person with an obsessive demeanor. By generalizing autism he puts people in a box and strips them of their personality. He shows no regard for the autistic community as he helps the circulation of misleading assumptions about Asperger’s.

Furthermore, Haddon reinforces the stereotypes commonly seen in popular culture. He does not do justice to the complexity and uniqueness of the autistic community and is part of a much bigger, serious problem.

[1] Pages numbered referring to the “blue book”

[2] University of Michigan

[3] “Four Autism Stereotypes Teachers Should try to Dispel” (Cairns 2)

[4] Page 2

[5] Page 2 of “When Popular Novels Perpetuate Negative Stereotypes: Mark Haddon, Asperger’s and Irrseposible Fiction”

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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