Wednesday 8 February 2023

The joy I get from fictional autistic characters

The Sound of Violet Movie Image Credit:'Morning Star Pictures'

Whereas some people wonder if Sherlock Holmes had Asperger's Syndrome, it's difficult to tell if this fictional character was designed on the autistic spectrum.  However, there are some absolutely brilliant novels which are, in my opinion, better for their autistic adult characters.  

I've read lots with autistic children but I wonder about adulthood too.  I know few autistic adults and in some ways, though glamourised by text, books give me insight. 

I was recently sent a copy of The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf and was once again sucked into a story where I smile at the traits and sigh when I see a challenge ahead.  Additionally the novel is set in New York City and as we visited it (autistic kids and all) in the summer, I was able to picture all the scenes along the Highline, where the main character Shawn meets date after date from an app he's part of.  His brutal honesty and challenges with physical contact cut most dates short.. in fact it's quite a few chapters before he manages a second date.  And unbeknownst to Shawn, it's a date with a prostitute named Violet.  

In some ways the book reminds me of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.   This hilarious feel-good book is based around it's main character Don Tillman, a genetics professor whose difficulty with social interactions has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. Until he embarks on a new project to find him the ideal partner. And then of course there is Rosie, an unsuitable prospect who needs his help.  However, unlike Don in the Rosie Project, Shawn in The Sound of Violet has little idea of the unsuitability of his would-be girlfriend.

He is also in some ways like Sam, from the Netflix series Atypical. As a 17 year old college student on the spectrum, Sam thinks he is in love with his therapist and gets himself a 'practice girlfriend' with the hope of 'one day seeing boobs'.  Sam and Shawn share similar challenges when it comes to flirting, both needing to dial down smiles and consider how much eye contact is the right amount.  

This is really obvious in the classic rom-com motion picture of The Sound of Violet  which picks up on many of the themes in the book well.  There have been a few movies with autistic characters but this is one of the first I've seen where it's the main character and a main focus of the plot. 

One of the things that possibly struck me most about the book and movie though was how this relatively quirky and humorous story was able to highlight the serious issues around human trafficking. Violet was manipulated and forced into her situation. Shawn's absolute resolve in helping someone most people deemed unsuitable really touched me.  

Many neurotypical people have the misconception that people with autism are incapabale of empathy, are unsympathetic and even I've heard the idea that they don't have any emotions at all. Like a Vulcan I guess? Though I'd like to point out that as a Trekky, Vulcan's do have emotions, they choose to suppress them with a preference for logic. 

But like Shawn in this story, I've found the opposite.  Often, my sons don't understand why someone is feeling the way they are but they can be absolutely hell bent on helping you feel better.  I've had my son cry because he'd not want to upset me with something. I've had a son not say about bullies because 'I don't want them to feel bad if they get into trouble and the teachers call home'.

Shawn and Violet's story is informative, inspiring and intimate in a way I didn't expect.   I often struggle to get to the end of books, simply running out of energy or time and unable to pick them back up again.  But it's often the personal connections we get that makes us continue reading.  And this was certainly full of that. 

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