Many of us are familiar with “The Book Report” from You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. This isn’t that kind of book report. I am a total bookworm myself, and I’d like to spotlight some research that went into one of my favorite author’s works.
I am spending much of my spring break reading. My all-time favorite author is Jodi Picoult. I have read every book she’s written. Her most recent novel, Small Great Things, is my favorite (recently replacing her 2008 novel, Change of Heart). That post is for another day. Today I’m going to talk about House Rules. House Rules is a story about an adolescent with Asperger’s, and how he and his family go about their daily lives.
I recently emailed Jodi Picoult to ask about the research that went into this novel. It truly is a great read, and gives those of us who are neurotypical a look at this individual’s and his family’s way of processing and navigating the world. When I asked Jodi about her research, this is what she shared with me:
“When I was researching HOUSE RULES, I learned that kids who are on the autism spectrum are absolutely brilliant, fascinating…and challenging for the family members who live with them. I knew when I was interviewing kids with Asperger’s Syndrome that face to face communication wouldn’t work, so I sent out a survey of 50 questions. The first girl I sent it to replied with 200 pages of answers. The others were similarly detailed, and generous with their observations, and so, so smart. The thing that I took away from those tomes they sent me was that no two kids with autism are the same, and that kids with autism don’t think badly, or in a broken way — just in a DIFFERENT way. I treasured getting to puzzle together how their brains worked, and came away with a new way of seeing the world.”
I appreciate that right away the research was done in a manner in which would be most accessible to the children. Further, she read each response carefully and you can see the minutiae of their thoughtful responses throughout Picoult’s novel. Now, Jacob is a fictional character with a variety of abilities and pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Not all people with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome look like Jacob, and she acknowledges this as well, and doesn’t use Jacob to a) be the poster child for all people on the spectrum or b) make Jacob out to be a motiva’tional icon/person to be pitied/ a stereotype. This is one facet of a beautiful and complex spectrum. The detail of how this individual’s needs are depicted is incredible.
What I truly appreciate about this book is how the family dynamic is shown. We see the mother, doing her very best to meet her child’s needs. We see the brother, who understands that there are many things with which Jacob struggles, but wants to find his place within this family dynamic. Through their eyes we see what love looks like. We see what frustration looks like. We see what “for now” looks like, because in a split second, the world can turn upside down. This really is the beauty of this book.
The family dynamic of any person with special needs is many things. It is challenging and loving, accepting, and complex, in many ways like any other family and in many ways incomparable. Often, when I find myself having a hard time finding my way into a student’s perspective, I talk to past teachers and the student’s family for insight into whether or not a behavior is new, or how certain behaviors are addressed at home. My job is to work with people. I work with a student, that student has a family, other therapists, tutors–all of these are people with thoughts and feelings that are interconnected. I have found many times that if I can understand the family dynamic and build rapport, it’s easier for me to understand the child. After all, this is the dynamic that shapes the student. I’ve also found that my families are usually forthcoming whenever I ask about their students and want to build a partnership with me to help their child. These relationships have changed the manner in which I work with a child, allowing me to better understand how they navigate the world. I have many children who respond in single word utterances because, well, they did answer the question, why use more words to do so? That’s not logical. I get that now.
I hope everyone is getting to spend time with their families today. I know I’m enjoying my time with mine. The human connection connects us all and knows no limits.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP