Chapter 229 opens with Christopher explaining a dream he sometimes has as a daydream and sometimes has at night. He says that in the dream nearly everyone on the earth is dead because they have caught something like a computer virus. People catch it because of the meaning of something an infected person says and the meaning of what they do with their faces when they say it. People with the virus just sit on the sofa and do nothing and eventually die, though in some versions of the dream they crash their cars or walk into the sea and drown.
And eventually the people left in the world are the people like Christopher, who don’t look at other people’s faces, and don’t know what basic emoticons mean. In this dream, Christopher would have his dream life. No one would talk to him or touch him or ask him a question. He wouldn’t have to go anywhere, and he could eat just what he wanted to and do what he wanted to (like play computer games or rub a coin over the ripple shapes on the surface of the radiator).
He could go into other people’s houses and play detective, go into shops and take things he wanted, like pink biscuits or Mango Smoothies or computer games or books or videos.
He could drive a car to the beach, driving into the sea and enjoying the water coming up over his shoes with a musical rhythm. He would put on dry clothes, make himself a favorite drink, watch a video about the solar system, play computer games, and go to bed.
The dream is finished and he is happy.
I think Christopher’s dream gives us insight into his perception of his condition/autism. In his dream, people catch a virus as a result of the meaning of something an infected person says and their facial expressions as they say it! It must seem very odd to Christopher that people can interpret a variety of meanings across situations, and can express and interpret information through facial expressions. It is so much more normal to him to be like he is, and so, the only people left in the world are indeed like him.
I thought it was interesting that he alluded to not knowing what those basic emoticons meant! He thought he would be happier not looking at other people’s faces (where such a wealth of information is located), not touching others (where we derive such basic human satisfaction), and not talking with other or being asked questions (our basic ideas of human interaction). He talked about enjoying some sensory experiences like driving, eating, walking on the beach, feeling the water, enjoying its rhythm in the sea, drinking, and playing computer games. Those are things that give him joy. And he also derives joy from getting to do whatever he wants to do. In that he is like everyone else. We all usually think we derive joy from doing what pleases us.
The next morning the reality of having Christopher back in her life sinks in. “Mother” has to call in to receive “compassionate leave” so that she can stay home with him. After a run to the store to get some essentials, Christopher ends up laying down on the floor and screaming, and the two had to go home in a taxi. Back at home, he tells his mom that he HAS to go back to Swindon to take his maths A level. He doesn’t want to see his father there, but he HAS to take the tests. Later that evening he felt afraid of Mr Shears, so he walked outside and down the street. Lost in his own world exploring the area at night, he heard his mother’s frustrated, worried voice running down the road after him.
So they settle into a better flow, wherein Christopher stays in the house during the day if his mom has to go out. She has lost her temporary job, Christopher’s dad is threatening to take her to court, and Christopher continues to insist that he must get back to Swindon to take his maths A level. After Mother tells Christopher that she has called the headmistress in Swindon and told them he would take his tests next year, he screams. The pain in his chest hurt so much it was hard to breathe.
Mother and Mr Shears argued, and Christopher listened to white noise on his radio with the volume up high. It seemed to hurt so much that it masked the other hurts that filled him. After Mr Shears left for work the following day, Mother packed up his car and the two drove to Swindon. With Father at work, Christopher went up to his room and played Minesweeper. When Father returned there was a lot of arguing that Christopher blocked out by banging bongo drums. His chest hurt again and he was tired.
Father gave the two of them some space. Christopher had a hard time transitioning to the idea that he would not be able to take his maths A level. He couldn’t eat or sleep and his chest continued to hurt. Christopher explained, “I don’t like it when I put things in my timetable and I have to take them out again because when I do that it makes me feel sick.” He ended taking the test and passing it.
Mother rented a single room in a house so they could live there, but he had to stay at his father’s house every day before Mother got back from work. He gradually began to trust his father and to talk with him. He made goals to take A-level further maths the next year, and in two years’ time, take A-level physics, and then go on to university.
Christopher wanted to become a scientist. He was empowered to do this by looking at his accomplishments. He had solved the mystery of “Who killed Wellington?” found his mother, was brave, and wrote a book. He was sure he could do anything.
We watched Christopher mature and grow. One thing that stands out to me is the anxiety he experienced and how it translated into physical pain. How many students we work with are feeling pain due to anxiety? Another screaming fact is that parenting these children is ROUGH. Mother thought she just didn’t have the ability and patience to deal with Christopher, and look who found her. There is no “easy way out,” and you can’t lie your way out. Nobody can love that child like his biological parents, and they are really the best people to raise him, even if they can’t do it together. It can be an overwhelming task, and we as therapists need to be empathetic as we deal with the families of our challenging students.