Mockingbird – Autism Spectrum

Mockingbird, is an exceptional middle grade book by Kathryn Erskine, about 10-year-old Caitlin, whose older  brother, Devon, was killed in a shooting at the middle school.   Caitlin knows her brother is dead.  What she doesn’t understand is how she’s supposed to feel about Devon’s death.   Caitlin has Asperger’s Syndrome, and feeling emotion doesn’t register.  Her world is very black and white.   Grey is not comprehensible, and colors only run together and blur her vision.    She sees her father, family, friends, and teachers expressing grief and emotion.  For Caitlin, it is simply THE DAY OUR LIFE FELL APART.  Yes, she misses her relationship with Devon, but to translate that into an emotion is beyond her.  She turns often to her best friend, a dictionary, where she can look up words to understand reactions and  the world around her.   Everyone wants to help her find closure.  The very word “closure” escapes Caitlin.

Support comes from a school counselor who encourages Caitlin to make new friends, an art teacher who helps Caitlin to explore her feelings through her wonderful drawings, and in a first grader, who desperately needs a big sister because he’s suffered a loss.

But, it is Caitlin who one day realizes what closure really means for her family.  She sets out to enlist her reluctant father’s support on a very important project.   In doing so, she not only finds closure for herself and her father, but for the entire community that is struggling to recover.  Caitlin also learns that the world isn’t so black and white, and she can let in a world full of color.

Erskine really does an impressive job of getting into Caitlin’s mind and behavior.  She  gives young readers a very convincing portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome.  My hope is that Mockingbird is required reading in 5th grade and middle school, so that children have an understanding that everyone is special in a unique way.  Her book has found a home on my book shelf!

Erskine’s book won the National Book Award. She wrote this story in the aftermath of 33 people who were shot at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007.   She wanted to understand how her community and  families, especially those with special-needs children, dealt with such a violent tragedy.   She found herself walking into a fragile world, because she “strongly believed in early intervention, whatever the disability.” 

Note:  Asperger’s Syndrome falls under the high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders.  The U.S. Autism and Asperger’s Association will hold its 2011 World Conference and Expo in Seattle, Oct. 27-30.  For more information click on the highlighted site.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved