After reading Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" I went to Wikipedia's entry for the book. The 9-year-old narrator Oskar is described there as "possibly autistic (at the very least he shows some signs of Asperger's Syndrome)". What the? While I read the novel I never thought he might be autistic. He's so not autistic!
So I Googled the novel's title and Oskar along with the word "autistic" and found many book reviews and references where he received an autism or Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis from several commentators. Again, what the? Oskar is often compared to Mark Haddon's autistic protagonist in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time", a book I haven't read. But for the purpose of "diagnosing" Oskar that doesn't matter. I may not be familiar with the famous fictional autistic boy, but I do know a real autistic kid from, well, incredibly close (and when he was a little baby he was also extremely loud).
First of all, not every child who is extremely intelligent and takes an interest in sciences is an autistic savant. We neurotypicals have our fair share of geniuses. Secondly, Oskar doesn't show any anxiety about meeting new people, going to places he has never seen before and entering into new situations. In fact, he is very friendly to strangers (maybe even too much).
Some people cite Oskar's rules as evidence of his autism. He doesn't use public transportation, elevators and bridges. Considering the fact that his father was killed in a terrorist attack that is a perfectly normal reaction. Besides, Oskar is willing to break the rules when he must. There is one eccentricity - Oskar's insistence on wearing only white clothes - that I cannot explain, but it in itself is not enough to make a case for an autism spectrum disorder.
People also say Oskar has difficulty expressing his feelings. After the trauma he has gone through, wouldn't most normal children, or even adults, have trouble expressing themselves?
I haven't seen anyone write about Oskar's grandfather being autistic - but if anyone in this novel has the condition, it is Grandpa. He doesn't speak. He expresses himself in writing. If he's autistic and autism is genetic, maybe it makes more sense that Oskar is indeed autistic. But even this old "empty Schell" of a man is not autistic. He loses the ability to speak when he is in his 20's or early 30's, and though it is suggested it is a psychological problem and not a physical one, I have a hard time believing an autistic adult would regress at that age. The guy experienced the horrors of the Dresden bombings during World War II. That's enough of a trauma to render anyone speechless (though he lost his speech gradually).
Anyway, do you agree? Have I missed any points? Do you think Jonathan Safran Foer meant for Oskar to be autistic? Your comments are welcome.