What follows is an introduction to and an insight into the mind of a boy named Henry.
There is a sign outside of Tim’s Hardware Store that says “Liquidation Sale.” Liquidation: n. the process of converting securities or commodities into cash. That is the only sign I do not recognize from the twenty-four times I’ve ridden the bus to school so far this school year. The other advertisements, slogans, and propaganda are all the same. Propaganda: n. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
No one sits next to me in my seat. Sarah says this is because I make a lot of people feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable: adj. in a state of discomfort; uneasy; conscious of stress or strain. Sarah is very smart, even through she is two years younger than me and still in the elementary school. When we were both in the elementary school, she would sit in the seat with me. I used to read the signs to Sarah when she was little and couldn’t read yet. Illiterate: adj. unable to read or write.
I remember when I couldn’t read. Back then, I would look out the bus window and see the signs, but the letters would just be shapes that didn’t mean anything. Incomprehensible: adj. impossible to understand or comprehend; unintelligible. But I like it better now that I know what all the symbols and words mean.
Words fascinate me. Every time I see a new word, I memorize its definition. Mother calls me a walking dictionary. Hyperbole: n. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally. Words make sense to me. Each word has a specific purpose and a definition that can be summoned each time it is used. Dependable: adj. capable of being depended on; worthy of trust; reliable.
People can’t be memorized the way words can. They aren’t dependable the same way. They’re like the shapes from when I was illiterate. Incomprehensible.
This assignment intimidated me far more than it probably should have. I have barely begun to interact with the autistic community, I know next to nothing – who am I to write a short story from an autist’s point of view? I went through several vastly different ideas of who I wanted my character to be, all of which I thought were sure to be terribly inaccurate. It was not until I started reading Haddon’s Curious Incident that I was really able to see how an autistic person’s thoughts could be conveyed through text. That is not to say that conveying autistic thoughts through writing is so much different than neurotypical thoughts; on the contrary, reading this book is showing me how similar thought processes can be.
The idea for this character occurred to me as I was thinking about my own childhood and how I would read all the signs through the school bus window. I have a particularly vivid memory of realizing that I could no longer look at signs and see only shapes, as my literacy effortlessly recognized every word.
I let my mind wander a bit, trying to form this idea into a person substantially different from myself. I named my character Henry, gave him a sister, Sarah, and provided him with a passion: definitions of words. I wanted to create a juxtaposition between the stability of definitions and the capriciousness of people, which I would have continued to explore in the hypothetical remainder of Henry’s story.