This guest post is by Jodi Picoult, author of “House Rules,” which is currently the top bestseller on The New York Times hardcover fiction list. “House Rules,” her 17th novel, is about a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Picoult has a cousin who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Read more about her and “House Rules” at www.jodipicoult.com.
One of the great pleasures I’ve had on tour is meeting kids with Asperger’s Syndrome who are coming to my readings; or getting letters from people with Asperger’s who’ve already finished the book. It’s great to hear them say that they can identify with Jacob; that his voice sounds exactly like their own. One young boy stood up at an event to say that Jacob thought and spoke like he did and that he too has a special passion – not for forensics, like Jacob, but for vacuums! He got a standing ovation from the crowd, which was great for him. Last night I had an impassioned boy on the spectrum ask me how it felt when the ending of “My Sister’s Keeper” was changed in the movies – and believe me, he had the whole crowd behind him when he talked about how upset he got at the change. Then there are the letters I’ve received from parents of kids with Asperger’s who have wound up walking in Emma’s shoes, when their children are misinterpreted by the legal system. One dad wrote to share with me the story of his son’s two year trial – and how the comments made by the DA in ”House Rules” were almost verbatim what were said in the courtroom to his son. Another parent wrote to tell me about his son with Asperger’s Syndrome, who – after being bullied at school – brought one of his antique swords (his passion – collecting them) to show the school resource officer how he felt he had to protect himself. The officer, though, only saw a boy with a weapon – and shot and killed him. He said, “Our son was sweet and gentle, respectful of others. He had no history of violence. He was never even in detention. He was thrilled to be admired by younger Aspies for learning social skills to make friends with some kids at school. He delighted the entire family when he danced like Michael Jackson at his sister’s wedding, moves that he had practiced in his room. …I hope a book like yours might help other kids like Trevor and prevent a tragedy such as we’ve had to go through.”
It’s a funny thing when you write fiction – you don’t expect to change people’s lives, or to touch them so deeply. But every now and then you strike a nerve and get a letter like the one from Trevor’s dad. With 1 out of 110 kids being diagnosed on the spectrum, I expected parents who have children with Asperger’s to read ”House Rules” and be able to relate to it; to see their experiences validated. But if I had one hope for “House Rules,” it was that people who do not live with autism in their daily lives might take away the thought that “different from” doesn’t mean “lesser than”. I know that Autism Speaks is doing a lot of work to help raise awareness around the globe, and maybe reading about Jacob – and why he does what he does – will mean that the next time a reader runs across a kid who might not look her in the eye, or speaks differently than she does, or who makes a stimming motion with his hand – well, maybe that reader will think twice before dismissing the kid, or pretending not to see him at all.