The holy grail of autism in literature is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, where the author, does an unbelievable job of portraying his character's world, in both the internal workings of his mind, and how his disorder impacts his family.
I'm not sure I can place either of these in the same category as The Curious Incident. However, despite the fact that I think Picoult copied many themes and even direct phrases from Rules, by Cynthia Lord, she does an incredible job of giving a 360 view of her character's communication disorder, and how it impacts those around him. It forced me to ask tough questions for myself- how do we prepare our children for the real world? Do we make it possible for them to independently handle the strain of life? Is it our job in schools to prepare them for more realistic situations, or do we need to focus on teaching them important academic tools like reading and writing that they also need to be successful?
Picoult uses a court room with expert witnesses to educate her readers about autism, which occasionally comes across as what it is, paragraphs out of an autism text book, but because it is a court setting she weaves the lectures nicely into the story.
Maybe it is because Picoult did such an incredible job of writing in the first person for her character with autism, but I couldn't appreciate Frances Stork Young's portrayal of his autistic character in Marcelo in the Real World. Marcelo, who is the same age as Picoult's main character, is not nearly as convincing. Young seems to flirt with autistic tendencies in writing about Marcelo's world, but does fully decide which of these tendencies his character has. His character occasionally speaks in the 3rd person, but does not do it consistently or in any discernible pattern, and bounces back and forth from first to third person in the same sentence. I've worked with children with autism who do speak in the 3rd person, but they reserved this for particular situations, and once they were in their 3rd person world they did not easily switch out of it. Marcelo's characteristics seem to bounce back and forth between a character with autism and one with a severe auditory processing disorder which would cause him to respond slower to stimulation, questions, extended wait time, and would in fact limit his communication. Marcelo says throughout the book that Asperger's is the closest definition to what he has, and I can't help but wonder if they should revisit his eligibility.
I was disappointed with Marcelo, but enchanted with House Rules, neither of which were the reactions I was expecting when I began reading both books. Marcelo, which promised to be an enlightening young adult book turned out to be written as though it was jumping on the autism bandwagon, and House Rules, which I was sure would be an autism bandwagon book, read with a more realistic portrayal of the world children and families with autism live in.
Our school's amazing librarian felt the same way about Marcelo, and expressed disappointment that the library could not offer a book to young readers with communication disorders that they could relate too. I'd love to hear other thoughts on Marcelo in the Real World, House Rules, and other books that portray characters with autism. What is out there for our children with high functioning autism to relate to? Or, because of the nature of their disability, are we more concerned with finding someone for them to relate to than they are?