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Constance Alexander: ‘Curious Incident’ leads to reflections and discussion of needed resources


True to its title, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” begins with a boy and a dog, not an unusual pairing. But the dog in the story is dead, pierced by a garden fork that has gone through the animal’s flesh and into the ground.

“It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream,” the narrator says.

Christopher John Francis Boone, the 15-year-old boy of the title and the book’s narrator, does not appear horrified by his discovery. In fact, with clinical detachment, he kneels down and touches the corpse.

Christopher pulls out the fork, lifts the dog into his arms and hugs him.

“I like dogs,” he muses. “You always know what a dog is thinking. It has four moods. Happy, sad, cross and concentrating. Also, dogs are faithful and they do not tell lies because they cannot talk.”

The 2003 novel by Mark Haddon starts with Chapter 2, then goes to 3, skips to 5, then 13 and then 17 after that. When we get to Chapter 19, Christopher explains that his approach to chapter numbering eschews the traditional sequence of cardinal numbers. Instead, he prefers prime numbers. He includes a chart to help the reader understand, a technique used throughout the book.

Christopher believes he is writing a mystery, and he is determined to follow the clues and identify the dog’s killer in the manner of Sherlock Holmes. But the real mystery of “The Curious Incident…,” is Christopher’s Asberger’s syndrome.

Asberger’s, as defined on the Autism Speaks website, is a “mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.”

A grant to the Calloway County Hospital Foundation from the Kentucky Arts Council funded purchase of “Curious Incident” books for a public reading and discussion at the Calloway County Library. Responses ranged from “quick read” to “heartbreaking” to “excellent rendition” of autism. Other comments emphasized a range of needs for inclusion of adults with disabilities, including the possibility of peer mentoring.

For a former school nurse who relocated to Murray from New England, “The Curious Incident…” reminded her of high school students she worked with in the past, who found refuge in her office as they recovered from the many misunderstandings and miscommunications kids on the spectrum encounter in school.

Library Community Relations Coordinator, Sandy Linn summed up the consensus saying, “The book just points out that everyone’s flawed.” Most of the audience nodded in agreement.

Valerie, one of the discussion participants, is mother to a grown son with autism. She declared that “The Curious Incident…” is the equivalent Autism 101, a course in the basics. She went on to explain how the novel renders a realistic view of the daily challenges people on the autism spectrum face, and the impact of autism on caregivers, family, friends, neighbors, and others encountered at random every day.

One parent, who deals with her own Asberger’s while also teaching at the university and parenting an adolescent daughter, shed light on the way Christopher interpreted words literally. She mentioned her own confusion between the concepts of guidelines, rules, and laws, and how imprecise communication still causes her confusion.

In the book, Christopher decries the use of metaphors.

“I laughed my socks off. He was the apple of her eye. They had a skeleton in the cupboard,” are some of the examples he used. He thinks such bewildering expressions should be called lies. “It makes you forget what the person was talking about,” he observes.

Carrissa Johnson, from the Center for Accessible Living, and Laura Miller, who heads up Special Olympics in the region, were on hand to share their own insights and to provide information about available resources available for adults with disabilities.

By the end of 90-minute discussion, the group concluded that adults with special needs and their caregivers could benefit from peer support, perhaps to be offered through a mentoring program similar to The Penguin Project, a theatre program for kids with disabilities, limited to those between 10 and 21 years of age.

The Arts Access Assistance Grant is made possible through the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, which is supported by state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

For information about the Murray-Calloway County Endowment for Health Care contact Keith Travis at 270-762-1908. Visit www.MCCHEndowment.org, or email Mr. Travis at ktravis@murrayhospital.org.

Another book discussion associated with the grant is slated for March. Contact Sandy Linn at the library: sandy.linn@callowaycountylibrary.org.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit her website.

Read all posts by Constance Alexander on KyForward


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