An opinion about “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time”

Keep in mind I am not a writer nor am I a professional play reviewer (I’m sure there’s an official name for that) but I needed to share my experience as an autism parent at a play about a young man with autism. Bare with me.
The Players By The Sea theater is an unassuming little building in Jax Beach. After 12 years living in Jacksonville I didn’t even know it was there until I had reason to find it. We’d been invited by a friend and fellow PTA member to see a play about a young man with autism for obvious reasons and of course we were excited to go.
The theater itself was fantastic. We felt like we had found a secret little community of people that truly love theater and we were instantly welcomed into that community when we walked in the door. The walls were decorated with art by local autistic people that was on sale to raise funds for autism organizations. As autism parents we were in our element and comfortable.

The lights went down in the theater and the first act began. The book-based play was indeed about a young man with autism and gave us a look into his world as he sees it. A great deal of creativity went into sharing the emotions of the actors with the audience. When the boy had a meltdown the stage lights would turn to red and we could feel the hell he was going through.

The first on-stage meltdown caught the audience of guard. It was violent and loud, a stark contrast from the quirky punchline filled performance we’d seen so far. It was familiar for Priscilla and I. The awkward feeling in the audience is one we know all too well. For the most part autism was well portrayed by the actor. I only took issue with his facial expressions. The character was borderline savant syndrome and extremely intelligent albeit extremely socially inept but not physically handicapped. The actor often made faces that would imply a lack of intelligence like something you’d see in person with mental retardation. This wasn’t a horrible misstep but worth mentioning.

One truly excellent portrayal was that of the parents of this young man. You could feel the stress and I grieved with them over the hardship of being an autism parent. Perhaps we connected with them so well because we have lived the life they were acting out but they did it accurately.

As I said, the play was generally lighthearted and full of small punchlines. This was where it fell off the rails for me. I don’t know if the delivery of lines was fault of the writing, the directing, the acting, or a combination of the above. Regardless, the actor fed off of the laughs from the audience and what could have been a very stoic first act was filled with chuckles and punchlines. The everyday challenges of and idiosyncrasies of autistic life was made into a joke. The main character told a story of one of his classmates who eats everything. Fun fact, the medical term for it is Pica. My daughter has Pica which is a psychological disorder that causes a person to mouth or consume inedible objects. The story continued and classmate had removed his pants and defecated on the floor then ate his own feces. The audience thought it was hilarious. Most likely because of the personal weight this particular punchline carried for me, this was the final straw.

I politely sat through the rest of the first act debating with myself whether I should take the stage at intermission before anyone could leave the tiny theater and announce my grand exit with verbal slap in the face using my best stage voice, “MY DAUGHTER HAS PUT HER OWN SHIT IN HER MOUTH, IT’S NOT FUNNY”. I decided against it. I hung my head to hide the sadness I felt from portrayal of something that’s not a joke for my family, it’s our life. I avoided making eye contact with the other 70 or so theater-goers that were having a far better time than we were.

I thanked our friend for inviting us with obvious tears in my eyes and he asked if everything was ok. I lied and said, “We have to go…you know, kids.”
Priscilla and I walked out and got in the car as the rest of the audience enjoyed their wine and ignorance at intermission.

We were sad yet empowered. We realized we had just sat in a room full of educated, progressive, liberally minded people that were relatively ignorant to autism. As advocates it confirmed that what we do is noble and necessary. As parents it confirmed that we’ve got a long ways to go making this world an aware and accepting place for our daughter.

  1. Leigh Wrote:

    I’m not sure why anyone would find eating faeces amusing in any context let alone by someone who doesn’t know there is anything wrong with doing that. It must have been an uncomfortable evening for you.

  2. Mary Wrote:

    I have not read this book or seen this play but if the book is anything like what you experienced from the play, I think it is one I will pass on. I’m in tears reading your review. It breaks my heart that a room full of people couldn’t separate entertainment from reality. For some people, families like ours, this is real life….is it still funny? I don’t think so. In the past when people I knew were going through a rough time, not knowing what to say, I would find myself saying “I cannot imagine…”. Autism has made me despise this phrase. I want to scream “try to imagine! Just try! Try to imagine it is your child that is eating their own fesces, is it still funny? Or do you want someone to step in and help and love them despite it?” I’m so sorry your date night was so sobering. You deserve time to not have to deal with the ignorance society has in regards to autism.

  3. celia Wrote:

    Totally understand where you are coming from. I’ve seen a few portrayals on the media of characters who are meant to be on the spectrum. The truth is that you can’t nail it down to one stereotype, and that, I feel, is what the misinformed neurorypical person dies not understand. You are absolutely right, there is still a lot of work to be done to increase awareness and change hearts. As a parent with a child on the spectrum, we are with you guys all the way . For our children 🙂

  4. AB Wrote:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this review. I struggle with OCD and an invisible chronic illness (symptoms include constant pain and exhaustion), and you have described exactly what it feels like to be in a room with people laughing at disabilities. I have heard people making snide comments about people with mental illnesses and disabilities to my face and being able to politely continue the conversation without running away is nearly impossible.

    On top of that, to have the play nail some aspects of autism and then miss others completely must have been horrible. In situations like that, you think you’re “safe” and among people who understand, only to have the jokes hit you like a ton of bricks when you aren’t expecting them.

    I will be sending this review out to my friends and family so they can read it. People should realize that even though this play was about autism, it’s always possible to miss the mark. You don’t get an automatic pass just because you included it. Thank you again for writing this.

    • I will be doing the same thing Wrote:

      I will be doing the same. I think it’s important to get the message out there.

  5. Jess Wrote:

    Thank you so much for this review, I don’t think you’re stepping out-of-line whatsoever. Having a play written to make light of an all-too-real situation is uncomfortable at best. And having an audience laugh at situations where you can easily picture Abbie in is absolutely heartbreaking. I really appreciate all you do for your family and the autism community and hope you can continue to bring awareness to these types of misportrayls/misunderstandings/lack of knowledge cases. I love you guys!!!!

  6. Hannah Wrote:

    I remember deconstructing and analyzing this book in senior school, from what I remember it was no where near funny 😐 so sorry you had to deal with ignorance

  7. Judy Wrote:

    My 1 yr old beautiful grandson is on the autism spectrum. Your vlog has been so calming for me, in an emotional storm. Thankyou for your thoughts on the play, people & life. You are well spoken, and your way of expressing your thoughts & feelings is very helpful.
    Thankyou!

  8. Tikker12 Wrote:

    I feel the need to apologize for the people at the play. I can’t imagine in any context that eating feces would be funny. People are ignorant about things and they don’t even realize the things they don’t know.

  9. Jennifer Wrote:

    As a parent of a child with Autism I can completely understand your feelings about this. I haven’t heard of this play yet but now I know to avoid it. It saddens me that people continue to show their ignorance in a setting that is supposed to demonstrate and enlighten the everyday aspects that we as parents and our children face all the time. It’s not funny, it’s not entertaining, and I am truly sorry you both experienced this. I will be sharing this with my family and friends. Thank you for speaking out. I hope this helps people learn to be more sensitive and understanding.

  10. Samantha Nick (Brayden’s Mommy) Wrote:

    While I have not seen the play nor have a read the book, Your portrayal speaks volumes. We have a severely autistic child and he has too eaten his own feces. I’m so sorry you had to sit through that. Unfortunately, severe autism is not something you see on tv. It’s not entertaining. It’s hard and an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved. This is why I have suggested the “Maas Squad” have their own tv show. We need world wide awareness. Thank you for making us feel like we are not alone “ Fathering Autism”

  11. DB Wrote:

    Reading this blog post made my hearr ache for you. I am sorry a night that was supposed to be filled with fun ended in a negative way. My brother is on the spectrum. I recently did an informational Autism Awareness Bulletin Board for my highschool. I did this board to educate my fellow classmates. My board was informational and had diagrams to help people understand. The information was posted on puzzle pieces and hung to the wall. A couple weeks later my board was torn to shreds and left on the ground. A kid had felt offended by my board because of the puzzle pieces. I was so proud of my board I wanted to send a picture to you to show that im trying to educate my generation to be more accepting and caring. Again I am so sorry the play was potrayed in a joking matter, I only wish your blog post will help others understand why the play does not represent Autism in every situation.
    DB

  12. Rb Wrote:

    I agree. It’s hard to have others make light remarks and almost mockingly with what we are dealing with every day. Each family with a child on the spectrum has some thing BIG to deal with.
    Thanks for sharing. God bless you. My heart goes out to you and each one that is a parent to special needs child. Regardless what it is it’s hard

  13. Claudia Wrote:

    You’re absolutely right. I’ve got a copy of the book and I could barely get through the first few chapters. I don’t know how it ends and I don’t want to know how it ends because I’m worried he killed the dog or something, like in a John Steinbeck book. While there may be people like that, the stereotype shouldn’t be perpetuated. I tried to read it over a year ago so I can’t tell you exactly what was going though my mind at the time but when I read the overview that said something about Asperger’s I thought something along the lines of “Ok a book for me, this could be good.” Then I started to read and it was quite disappointing.

    • Claudia Wrote:

      [It was taking too long to load the whole thing and I need to go to sleep.Its split up but still in prose.] I know not everyone on the spectrum is the same but some of the stuff written was something no one would do. It was just full of quirks to make it interesting. {I’ll put the rant in brackets [you may know them as parentheses], so you can ignore it} (This is all just in reference to the numbering system of the chapters. They were prime numbers. Numbers are there to quantify, not act as a place holder for a word or phrase. So in the book the chapter titled 11 was the actually the sixth. It directly undermines the system of counting. In real world terms you would not say you had 13 sheep if you had 5 and you would not say you had a 199 inch waist if it was 46′.) The character was 15 but I was approximately 16 at the time so I thought I would understand the book and since it was first person it would be relatable but it wasn’t. It made me feel like the character had no sense what so ever, high IQ or no IQ.

  14. Shari V Wrote:

    Your reaction to the painful subject matter being treated in a light-hearted way is completely understandable. And I wasn’t there, so I cannot comment on the performance. But I am a comedian and have a lot of experience with addressing dark subjects comically. Sometimes a “joke” is the only way you can get an audience to even see something horrifying. The impulse is to reject, to turn away, to ignore. But when you disarm pain with humor, people can begin to see it. They can begin to process it. You do this often in your videos. You talk about gagging and violent meltdowns and fecal smearing. But your tone isn’t grave or sad. You are matter of fact. You and your wife smile at each other as if to say, “Wow, we really do this. Every day. And we get through it together. This is our life.” It is your tone and your positive approach to a difficult subject that keeps people coming to your channel. I’m not saying you are wrong for disliking the play. It could have been pure crap. But when done well, humor can be a tool that can be used for good.

  15. Billie Wrote:

    Im wondering if you have seen any of the trailers on youtube for this play?

  16. Claudia Wrote:

    The beta won’t let me post the whole think but I’ll just reply do the comment do keep in all together.

    You’re absolutely right. I’ve got a copy of the book and I could barely get through the first few chapters. I don’t know how it ends and I don’t want to know how it ends because I’m worried he killed the dog or something, like in a John Steinbeck book. While there may be people like that, the stereotype shouldn’t be perpetuated. I tried to read it over a year ago so I can’t tell you exactly what was going though my mind at the time but when I read the overview that said something about Asperger’s I thought something along the lines of “Ok a book for me, this could be good.” Then I started to read and it was quite disappointing.

    • Claudia Wrote:

      I know not everyone on the spectrum is the same but some of the stuff written was something no one would do. It was just full of quirks to make it interesting. {I’ll put the rant in brackets [you may know them as parentheses], so you can ignore it} (This is all just in reference to the numbering system of the chapters. They were prime numbers. Numbers are there to quantify, not act as a placeholder for a word or phrase. While chapters can be named numbers, in this book the chapter titled 11 was the actually the sixth. It directly undermines the system of counting. In real world terms you would not say you had 13 sheep if you had 5 and you would not say you had a 199 inch waist if it was 46′.) The character was 15 but I was approximately 16 at the time so I thought I would understand the book and since it was first person it would be relatable but it wasn’t. It made me feel like the character had no sense whatsoever, high IQ or no IQ.

      • Claudia Wrote:

        I know you read every comment, and I watched every video of yours in the span of a week despite it being exam season but what I’m trying to say is I know you’re eager to find an accurate representation for an Autistic spectrum condition (ASC is the term in the UK and ASD is a condition of its own) in the media (fictional) and I found one. It is the main character form the Japanese drama Boku no Aruku Michi. I’m not saying you have to watch it but it is a serious piece that may even bring tears to your eyes. His story actually taught me a lot about myself and the accuracy will astonish you. If you do watch it try doing the exercise the psychiatrist gives at the start. I can’t go into details about the little things without spoilers.

        • Claudia Wrote:

          A non fiction book that I whole heartedly recommend is fall down 7 times get up 8. There is a parents perspective at the start, if you’re interested. I would send it to you but you would probably want a new copy so you could keep it. It taught me that literacy can be the key to the non-verbal person’s heart. The book is a kind of sequel but the other one is like 10 years old and I only own that one.
          If you read this, cheers. (Thanks in UK slang)
          PS.
          If there are any repeats its because The first bit I posted went missing.

  17. Shannon Wrote:

    Please continue to educate, advocate and give others the privilege of peeking into your family’s lives. You’re leaving your mark on the world. An important mark. I’m sorry that you experienced this, I can only imagine how you felt…but please, continue to share these stories with others. Acceptance is a learned behavior and you are helping so many, help others, learn to accept and embrace the autism community! Thank you for you! 🙂

  18. Hanna Wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this experience. I am horrified that anyone in the audience would be amused by the constant struggles of children with disabilities and their families. I read the book not long ago and it is a sad book, there are a few scenes to chuckle about but nothing more. The episode with the child eating its feces is very short and described almost emotionless. I would recommend the book at any time. It is a good read and I have to admit that I blame your experience at least partly on how it was adapted for stage even though I were not there.

  19. Sarah Wrote:

    Omg! The sound of this is very disturbing to me. That people would take joy in some one else’s struggles. As a parent myself of a child with autism , I find the people’s reactions in the threare to this angering . I can totally understand why you would leave during intermission and want to say and do that , I may have gone as far as asking for my money back if the money doesnt/didn’t go for charity for autism not sure if it did or not. It took a lot of strength to hold back and not want to chew people out I am sure. You are a stronger person then I am . I know if it was me there that’s what I would want to do and then cry as well. I pray that the world will become more aware of the symptoms and struggles that the autism community and mental health community goes thru and they think of their family , friends and other loved ones and how this would make them feel. 1 in 68 the numbers are increasing .

  20. Laura Wrote:

    Hi to your beautiful family.
    i watch your vlogs and saw where you told us about this play and i could see the pain in both your eyes which made me feel sad so had to come and read your blog. i am from the UK and my lil boy ( 4yrs old) is just like your abbie.
    I dont know how you could stand it sitting through something like that. it must have broke your hearts. i’d have been out ragged, i am one off those mums like yourselves that cant stand ignorance especially when it comes to our children. I see ignorance often unfortunatly, people stare, point, laugh because they are ignorant and dont take the time to learn. what you all do with vlogs and educating people and empowering autism parents is amazing. keep it up!! i have learn alot from you, i have sort comfort from your vlogs and i am greatful for your vlogs. keep up the good work and much love to your family xxx

  21. Jackie Wrote:

    Thank you for this review, Asa. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a play I’ve always been interested in seeing. I think I still would give it a chance, if I got the opportunity, just so I could evaluate the show for myself.

    I am sorry that this production left you feeling very bothered and upset, and I sincerely hope it’s only due to poor, misguided choices made by that particular company. I’m sure that either way, the people behind that production did have their hearts in the right place. I hope that this experience doesn’t turn you away from wanting to see productions depicting autism, or any other disability, ever again.

    I am glad that we live in a world where the struggles of everyday people, especially those with a disability or mental illness, can be displayed on a theatre stage, even when they miss the mark. It’s a vast improvement that such themes are even allowed to be shown.

    But, I will agree that much more work needs to be done. So I thank you for contributing to this work. God bless you and your family, Asa. You are doing His work.

  22. Jackie Wrote:

    Thank you for posting this. I’m sorry you had yo go through that, and I believe you made the right decision. It was a huge eye-opener to how much more advocating must be done. Thank you.

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