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Author Topic: Is Oskar on the Spectrum?  (Read 812 times)

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September 11, 2014, 09:03:06 PM

RiverSpirit

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That nerdy kid in the classroom. The silent type. Socially awkward. The one with the obsessive interest in trains, or cars, or something else. The person who corrects your grammar. Is pedantic about detail. These can all be used to describe someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

A lot of people in the world would have been introduced to a character who displays many, many markers of ASD, Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory.  The reason that it is called Autism Spectrum Disorder is due to the vast differences in people who have received a diagnosis. No two people with ASD have exactly the same traits.  There is no cure, just strategies. Those within the high-functioning portion of the spectrum, formerly known as Aspergers, actually go on to be some of the most successful people in the world.

In the novel there is a hint that Oskar might fall on the spectrum. Most people with ASD don't go out and spread it to the world so as this is Oskar's story he probably isn't about to go out and introduce himself and add that he has ASD.

As someone who works with ASD students everyday, Oskar's behaviours made my ASD radar go berserk. ASD is genetic. His father's letters and his grandfather's behaviour also had alarm bells ringing. 

Do you think Oskar is on the Autism Spectrum or is he a product of his upbringing (no tv etc.)? What clues led you to this conclusion?

 


  
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September 14, 2014, 05:58:04 PM
Reply #1

paint it Black

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I do not work with ASD kids, so I do not have as much to go on to classify Oskar, but I have done some reading on the subject, and as a parent one ends up encountering a variety of children.  I think it is probably hard to evaluate Oskar completely because of the extreme trauma that he has experienced.  ASD kids may have anxieties and unusual fears (like Oskar has of the phone, among many other things), but given what he's been through, we can see why he might be anxious.  Still, the way that Oskar copes with his anxieties might be more indicative of an ASD person.  Oskar is obviously extremely bright, and it seems that he uses this to help him instill more order into his world.  In order to maintain some kind of closeness with his father, he develops an obsession with a key he had owned (this obsession on its own may be a bit of an ASD trait), and to solve the mystery surrounding it he sets out to visit each person in NYC with the last name of Black, in alphabetical order.  I had to think, wouldn't such a smart kid think to arrange the Blacks by address first?  But insisting on doing it this way is one of one of Oskar's ways of keeping some control and order over his world, I guess.  I think there are many others in the book, from his inventions to his collections, and more.

I think you have a good point about Oskar's father and grandfather.  His dad enjoys circling grammatical errors in the New York Times, and I remember another character (maybe Mom or Grandmother) saying that he had trouble seeing the forest for the trees; in other words, he was hung up on detail and had trouble seeing the Big Picture.  These might be ASD traits.  And Grandfather... well, wow.  Sure, he also endured horrific trauma, but it rendered him unable to speak, so he wrote obsessively.  And he seemed totally incapable of developing anything like a normal relationship with his wife.  So, he's not at all typical either.

To answer the question of Is Oskar on the Spectrum... well, obviously we cannot definitively do this (especially as he is fictional :) ).  But as you point out, ASD is a spectrum, and I think it entirely possible that he falls upon it somewhere.  In the story, we only see how this one boy deals with his trauma and his grief, but I think a more typical child may have reacted to these events entirely differently.


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October 04, 2014, 09:48:00 PM
Reply #2

Evreka

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Do you think Oskar is on the Autism Spectrum or is he a product of his upbringing (no tv etc.)?
To take on the easy question first: I do not have the feeling that he has been brought up without a TV. We certainly know that he has been researching lots of things on the Internet, whereof at least some is done from his home, and given what you can find on that "channel", and indeed he does!, I think he normally can watch TV.

However... For a kid whose Dad was in one of the towers, no wonder his Mum and Grandma did not want him to see the only things that ran on TV in the days following 11 September! I think that's all there is to it, really?


As someone who works with ASD students everyday, Oskar's behaviours made my ASD radar go berserk. ASD is genetic. His father's letters and his grandfather's behaviour also had alarm bells ringing. 
I have no real knowledge in this field whatsoever, I don't even have children, but isn't he unnaturally intelligent for a 9 year old?  :mcgonagall2: I agree with paint it Black that it is hard for us to judge given that he's had a terrible chock and any normal kid going through this kind of trauma could, perhaps, develop very strange behaviour as a result.

However... there is another clue. We know something about the kind of games Thomas (Jr) and Oskar used to play. And the kind of interaction went on between the two of them on a normal night's good night tale. And I ask myself if that rings normal?  :mcgonagall2: Well, not to me...

We don't know a whole lot about Thomas Jr, but Thomas Sr, for sure aren't normal! He really would have needed some serious psychological help!  :o Further, his wife doesn't seem very normal either; and while both of them had deep scars in their souls from WWII, her way of going about life doesn't seem very normal either.

Thomas Jr, then, grew up with an absent father who sent him hundreds or more of empty envelops and a somewhat peculiar mother (although we don't know how normal she was without Thomas Sr around). He tried all his life to find his missing father, even choosing to work with jewellery when he hated it, because that was what his father had done. The one letter his father did send, he marked for grammatical errors - but maybe that was his only way to handle the contact and the horrid facts within it? Still, Oskar reminds both his mother and Grandma of Thomas Jr. And seeing as we all find him peculiar.... It seems to run in the family to an extent.

At the same time... psychological trauma can't be inherited, can it? Is there anything in the short glimpses we get of the lives of Thomas Sr, Anna and her sister, the parents... back in Dresden before the bombings, that suggests he wasn't once a normal teen?  :-\

And if he was, once, a normal teen, then maybe Thomas Jr was weird because of nurture rather than nature, unless "Anna's sister" was the one who was weird back in the happy days? The way she collected letters might not have been the most rational thing to do, seeing what started it, and years later when she raises a son she collects empty envelops. Why? Is this strange enough to make us suspect Thomas Jr inherited some weird behaviour from his maternal side rather than his paternal side?

What do you think?
« Last Edit: October 05, 2014, 05:32:20 PM by Evreka »
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October 29, 2014, 07:55:37 PM
Reply #3

ss19

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When I first started the book, I thought Oskar didn't sound at all like a nine-year-old child.  Then I remembered that I've known special children who sound a lot older than they are, and aren't into the things that a typical child their age might be into.  One boy I remember very well also made a business card at a young age, like Oskar did.

I'm not an expert on ASD by any means, nor do I work with ASD children.  So I'm probably completely wrong, but based on my very limited knowledge of ASD, I don't get the impression that Oskar has it. I don't think he's socially awkward, which I think needs to be there for an ASD diagnosis, doesn't it?  He seems to relate to adults and form close bonds/relationships with many of them just fine.  It seems to me that he only has problems relating to other kids at school because he's so highly intellectual, far above the average child his age.  The boy that I knew in real life that I mentioned in my last paragraph was the same way.  He would prefer to chat with adults and could hold lively and highly intellectual conversations with them, rather than with other kids.


We don't know a whole lot about Thomas Jr, but Thomas Sr, for sure aren't normal! He really would have needed some serious psychological help!  :o Further, his wife doesn't seem very normal either; and while both of them had deep scars in their souls from WWII, her way of going about life doesn't seem very normal either.

Thomas Jr, then, grew up with an absent father who sent him hundreds or more of empty envelops and a somewhat peculiar mother (although we don't know how normal she was without Thomas Sr around). He tried all his life to find his missing father, even choosing to work with jewellery when he hated it, because that was what his father had done. The one letter his father did send, he marked for grammatical errors - but maybe that was his only way to handle the contact and the horrid facts within it? Still, Oskar reminds both his mother and Grandma of Thomas Jr. And seeing as we all find him peculiar.... It seems to run in the family to an extent.

At the same time... psychological trauma can't be inherited, can it? Is there anything in the short glimpses we get of the lives of Thomas Sr, Anna and her sister, the parents... back in Dresden before the bombings, that suggests he wasn't once a normal teen?  :-\

And if he was, once, a normal teen, then maybe Thomas Jr was weird because of nurture rather than nature, unless "Anna's sister" was the one who was weird back in the happy days? The way she collected letters might not have been the most rational thing to do, seeing what started it, and years later when she raises a son she collects empty envelops. Why? Is this strange enough to make us suspect Thomas Jr inherited some weird behaviour from his maternal side rather than his paternal side?

What do you think?

Thomas Sr's problem, it seems to me, is an inability to get over losing Anna and his unborn child.  He's still mourning for them after all these years.  His wife seems to be just a "less-than-ideal-replacement" for Anna, which only seems to make things worse for him, because whenever he sees his wife, she reminds him of Anna and at the same time reminds him that she can't compare to Anna.

And then, after he went away for 40 years, he couldn't get over "losing" (or more accurately, walking out on) his second child.  He wrote a letter to this child every day for 40 years!

He needs to learn to let go and move on, I think.  How or whether that has anything to do with ASD, I have no idea.
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November 07, 2014, 06:02:22 PM
Reply #4

paint it Black

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Some bright ASD kids may not naturally excel in social situations but don't necessarily shy from them.  These kids may often enjoy the company of adults and older teens, both because they are more on their intellectual level but also because their behavior is more predictable to them (and also more supportive).  Adults are much more likely to conform to societal rules, and ASD kids feel more secure when they know what to expect from people.  In contrast, as any parent knows, kids are unpredictable!  Oskar does seem to have a few friends at school, but none that he seems to spend any time with outside of school.  It may be that he feels more comfortable with the behavior of the doorman and Mr. Black from upstairs than any of his peers.

....At the same time... psychological trauma can't be inherited, can it? Is there anything in the short glimpses we get of the lives of Thomas Sr, Anna and her sister, the parents... back in Dresden before the bombings, that suggests he wasn't once a normal teen?  :-\

And if he was, once, a normal teen, then maybe Thomas Jr was weird because of nurture rather than nature, unless "Anna's sister" was the one who was weird back in the happy days? ....

That's a good question... were Thomas Jr.'s parents normal teenagers before the traumatic day that changed both their lives?  From what I remember, Thomas Sr. seemed fairly normal, but he went completely off the deep end after losing Anna, even losing his ability to speak.  Do you think Anna's sister was maybe a bit odd, in asking if she could watch Anna and her boyfriend kiss?  Or was she just curious?  I guess we really do not have enough information on them to know if they had anything like ASD traits when they were younger.  I do think that Thomas Jr. is a bit suspect in that regard, though.  Oskar's mother does not seem to show any ASD traits to me.

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November 07, 2014, 09:11:37 PM
Reply #5

Evreka

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Thomas Sr's problem, it seems to me, is an inability to get over losing Anna and his unborn child.  He's still mourning for them after all these years.  His wife seems to be just a "less-than-ideal-replacement" for Anna, which only seems to make things worse for him, because whenever he sees his wife, she reminds him of Anna and at the same time reminds him that she can't compare to Anna.

And then, after he went away for 40 years, he couldn't get over "losing" (or more accurately, walking out on) his second child.  He wrote a letter to this child every day for 40 years!

He needs to learn to let go and move on, I think.  How or whether that has anything to do with ASD, I have no idea.


From what I remember, Thomas Sr. seemed fairly normal, but he went completely off the deep end after losing Anna, even losing his ability to speak. 
As far as I understand it he lost more than Anna and their unborn baby that day, he also lost his parents. And I suppose that he encountered numerous terrors on his way from his home to Anna's, including having to kill the animals of the zoo. I guess he got so thoroughly shocked he lost his voice by the combination of it all. And without a voice it might not have been so easy to seek out help? Also... if he lived in Dresden during WWII, he lived in Nazi Germany. And apart from all other homicides the Nazis committed, they also killed Germans with mental conditions. It might not have been possible for him to seek medical help, after the bombings, for fear of his own life?



....At the same time... psychological trauma can't be inherited, can it? Is there anything in the short glimpses we get of the lives of Thomas Sr, Anna and her sister, the parents... back in Dresden before the bombings, that suggests he wasn't once a normal teen?  :-\

And if he was, once, a normal teen, then maybe Thomas Jr was weird because of nurture rather than nature, unless "Anna's sister" was the one who was weird back in the happy days? ....
That's a good question... Do you think Anna's sister was maybe a bit odd, in asking if she could watch Anna and her boyfriend kiss?  Or was she just curious?  I guess we really do not have enough information on them to know if they had anything like ASD traits when they were younger.  I do think that Thomas Jr. is a bit suspect in that regard, though.  Oskar's mother does not seem to show any ASD traits to me.
I think her oddness is more dominant in the way she went about the weird letter that arrived in her household. Asking a huge amount of people to send her letters so she could guess the character of the person who wrote the heavily crossed out one!  :o That sure didn't seem normal to me... Spying on her sister and boyfriend might not have been the most natural thing in the world, but I wonder if there isn't quite a few younger siblings who've done such things in reality? It isn't unheard of in literature, at least.  :hmm:

As for Oskar's Mum we know so little it's hard to have any opinion at all, but in that family, I'd put the paternal side as the main risk factor for having these problems.
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