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The Speed of Dark

A friend sent me this book after I told him I’d been enjoying some books on autism lately. I’ve read most of Temple Grandin’s books and I also enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime, even though I thought I might not. As you probably know, autism is more of a spectrum disorder and peopel who have it can range from the severely disabled to only the moderately impaired. Many people, myself included, have some autistic traits. It’s always interesting for me to read books with characters who freak out about the feeling of a chair or tight clothing on their skin, or who shut down when the noise or business level around them gets to a certain level, or who get calm through repetetive noises and actions. I’m not saying I’m autistic, but I am saying that I can sympathize and empathize with the challenges they face.

This story, set in the not too distant future is about a group of high functioning autists who are emplyed by a company who gets a special tax break for having them on staff. They get certain accomodations [gym where they can bounce to relieve stress, their own cafeteria, the right to drive a car which is unusual in this future world] and are prized for their pattern recognition abilities which is what they are employyed to do, catch patterns in streams of data that cross their screen regularly. A new boss comes in and tries to make them all “go normal” with experimental brain surgery. I thought this book was going to be a lot like Flowers for Algernon, but most of the book is about the main character, Lou -- who is probably someone with Aspberger’s-type autism -- thinking about what it might be like to have a normal brain, and interacting both with normal people and his other autistic friends. The author, who won an award for this book, really gets into what it must be like to live inside an autistic brain. Much of the story is told in the first person and, unlike The Curious Incident book, the narrator interacts with other autistics which gives a really interesting perspective on their behavior and actions as well as his own.