Author Mark Haddon on Curious Incidents of Misunderstanding

curious incident autism

Published in 2003, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time curiously captured the hearts of millions over the years, making it a not-so-hidden treasure within bookshelves worldwide.

Author Mark Haddon’s wild success eventually led to the quirky novel’s live theater adaptation (which won a Tony Award) and a full-length movie adaptation. The film is still in the planning stages, though the cast is rumored to feature familiar names from the Harry Potter franchise.

Yet, Mark Haddon’s skyrocketing into literature history eclipses a more pressing matter: the fact that people have been using the novel as an instruction resource. Haddon explained to an audience at a 2012 Telegraph Hay Festival, “It is used as a textbook for social workers, and for policemen, which is something I heard recently. I never meant it to be a textbook.”

In an effort to keep things honest, Haddon has already stated how unrepresentative Curious Incident is of those on the autism spectrum. In a blog post, published in 2009, he states that he did little research for the book, and created most of the material out of pure imagination. The book was never intended to make people “enlightened” about autism at all.

“I slightly regret  that fact that the word ‘Asperger’s’ was used on the cover,” confesses Haddon. “It’s a novel whose central character describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’.

The impact the novel has had on the public’s understanding of autism reveals how perception of disabilities can be very misguided in some respects.

A telephone study, conducted by Global Strategy Group in conjunction with Widmeyer Communications for the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) released eye-opening findings about America’s perceptions of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Researchers discovered that most Americans had misguided perceptions of autism. The final report states, “A majority (53%) [of Americans] believe that Autistic children are typically smarter than the average child (39%) or do not know if this is the case (14%).”

The study also declared, “Three in four (75%) Americans – 70% of men and 78% of women – say they are familiar with Autism, but this high level of awareness does not translate into knowledge: more than half of Americans (55%) – 63% of men and 49% of women – say they are not knowledgeable about Autism.”

Such findings help demonstrate how Curious Incident can serve as a double-edged sword for Autism Awareness; it spreads awareness for a certain population with ASD, but it can also lead to a narrow understanding of how the disorder actually manifests itself.

“I want to say, ‘I wish the people in your life had been able to make the leap of imagination to understand your world without having to go into a bookshop and buy a book,” Haddon confesses in regards to mainstream Autism understanding.

And he has a point. Despite fundraising efforts, countless studies, and various outreach programs, the only true cure to the curious incident of misunderstanding is keeping an open mind. By working to treat all people like the individuals they are instead of a diagnosis or label, we may just solve the case once and for all.

Written by Samantha Mallari

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