October 24

Twins – Are You Seeing Me?

GrothTwins think and act alike, right? Even fraternal twins do many things the same, right?

Yes, to some degree. I can speak from personal experience of fraternal twins who would often pick the same birthday cards for relatives, and scheme together against the other siblings in the family – often in their own personalised language.

However, as many twins (both identical and fraternal) scream – they are still individuals! The twins in ‘Are You Seeing Me?’ are certainly individuals – both of whom scream for different reasons…

Perry screams when his world gets out of hand. At times when he is faced by the unfamiliar, “Perry has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviours.” 

This is the spiel that Perry’s sister regularly rolls out to explain her twin brother’s unusual behaviour. As his twin, she is determined to protect him from the judgemental gaze of others. When Justine screams, however, Perry isn’t the cause – it’s the interfering concern of others, like her boyfriend, Marc.

In ‘Are You Seeing Me?’ much of the journey for Perry and Justine takes place as they travel to Canada, to seek out their estranged mother, Leonie. She left the twins in their father’s care when they were 4, unable to cope with twins – especially since Perry has a ‘special needs’ tag. Unfortunately, in their nineteenth year, Perry and Justine are left alone as their doting father dies of cancer.

There is also an emotional journey for them as they attempt to re-establish links with Leonie – and she has much to learn about Perry. A chance for her to re-connect.

I love the characters Darren Groth has created. They are authentic and believable. The communication between Justine and her father occurs through a diary he kept from birth, and it provides her strength, understanding and support as she strives to support her brother as he tenuously begins to negotiate the adult world. Perry’s comments and insights provide a ‘look inside’ as he struggles to find independence and ‘free’ his sister of her twin commitment.

Finding out that Groth’s own twins were the inspiration behind this book cements the authenticity and appeal of this book. While it has been aligned to Mark Haddon’s ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, it tells a completely different tale. The relationship of twins shows how the Autism Spectrum Disorder impacts the whole family – and how they adapt and deal with it.

Groth proudly speaks of this in ‘A Dad’s Gift to his Neurotypical Daughter’, which is a very interesting prelude to the novel.

Groth’s tale is funny, informative and optimistic. The bond between Pez and Just Jeans is so lovable, it is a great tale for teens to enjoy.

N.B. I am also looking forward to reading ‘Kindling’, an earlier book by Darren Groth – which also deals with autism.

March 14

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

curious“All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I’m not meant to call them stupid, even though that is what they are. I’m meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But that is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult, and also everyone has special needs, like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put into his coffee to stop him getting fat, or Mrs Peters who wears a beige coloured hearing aid, or Siobhan who has glasses…”

Christopher Boone doesn’t behave like most of the kids at his school – and this often causes him strife and trouble. He  usually says exactly what he is thinking, and sees things in a rather black and white manner, with little room for emotion or pretence. He can’t understand the way many people behave, and why his honesty often causes him, and others around him, grief.

On the positive side of things, Christopher is a bit of a maths whizz and enjoys working out puzzles – though puzzling why a neighbourhood dog is brutually killed gets him into lots of strife. He decides he is going to solve this murder mystery and keeps track of things as he writes a story about his discoveries. Difficulties come about when he can’t understand ‘normal’ social cues, and the idea of telling a white lie or avoiding issues to protect others is beyond his comprehension. this is especially serious when the police become involved and secrets from the past are revealed.

As the above quote suggests, there is really nothing wrong with his thought processes, except for how they fit into society’s way of thinking. ‘The Curious Incident…’ is an interesting insight into how many autistic people view the world, as it is written from Chris’ point of view, as it reflects how he views normal daily interactions which we often intepret quite differently.

It is food for thought for teachers and students as we learn to accept the differences between ourselves and those around us. The struggles Christopher has dealing with relationships, adolescence and school are often magnified by his autism, but Haddon’s tale  is intriguing as he reveals the many complexities involved, while providing an insight to how others could empathise better with those who are different – since “everyone has special needs.”

Recommended to anyone with an interest in thinking about how others tick… And isn’t that you and I?

Further reading:

Robison, John Elder. 2007. Look me in the eye: My life with Apserger’s. North Sydney. Random House

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