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  1. Majesty Apollo
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    Majesty Apollo Member

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    Creating a mentally handicapped character, any advice?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Majesty Apollo, May 5, 2009.

    Something that has always interested me in writing is how differently a scene can be viewed or played out through the eyes of someone with a mental impairment. I've written as a mentally ill character on many occasions (manic depressives, schizophrenics etc.) but I'd like to try a totally different tactic. My primary idea is to write as a character who suffers from the chromosomal defect, Down's Syndrome.
    However I have no idea how to execute the idea. I have read such things as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon, in which the protagonist suffers from Asperger's syndrome, but the technique still seems fairly unbreakable to me.

    What I'd like to know is if anyone has done something like this in the past? And if so, how did they approach it?
     
  2. sweetchaos
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    sweetchaos Contributing Member

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    I haven't done anything like that myself, but I have read a great book that is written in first person from the point of view of a mentally handicapped person. Technically he's keeping a journal. It's called Flowers for Argenon: Charley. It's a fantastic book and it might help you out a little, maybe give you a few tips and pointers. Unfortunately, that's about all the advice I can give.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
     
  4. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    S. King wrote a short story called "The End of the Whole Mess". It's in the anthology Nightmares and Dreamscapes.
     
  5. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    To add to your reading list "Of Mice and Men".

    Working with this population for many years, the best analogy I can offer is to think along the lines of an innocent child. Abstractions are difficult and common social cues are often missed.

    There was a very good documentary a while back by HBO called “Educating Peter”. If you can find it, it gives a very realistic portrayal.
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is not a great example to follow to help you write a character with Downs Syndrom. People with Downs Syndrome don't have the same problem with with social skills as those with Pervasive Developmental Disabilities (which includes autism and Asperger's), at least not in the same way or for the same reasons. I once met a boy with Downs Syndrome who fit in great with a regular classroom, had lots of friends, which is much less likely to happen with autism. Of course, the ability to do that also depends on the extent of the disability, what kind of help they get, and how accepting the community is.

    Those are factors that you're going to have to consider in the book. Some communities are fantastic. Others are not. What resourses are available to the family? Was he able to go to a regular school or did he have to go to a special school, where he may or may not have been treated well? Depending on when it's set, and how old the character is, s/he may have lived in an asylum at one point, which was a terrible place to be. Some people with these kinds of delays function almost as well as average adults. Others can do very little on their own.
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try reading Sandra Kring's Carry Me Home. The POV character is a mentally retarded youth.

    It should give you a good example and frame of reference to begin your effort.

    Terry
     
  8. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    "Everybody knows you never go full retard."
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Dude! You beat me to it!
    High five!
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a wide range of ability among Downs children/adults. They can also have physical abnormalities of the heart etc that affect their health. They can regress at puberty, at least in social skills (although didn't we all?). My cousin's son is Downs and in spite of expert care and upbringing (my cousin is a phiso, her husband a doctor) he's not very bright or easy to handle now he's eleven.
     
  11. aoibhneas
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    aoibhneas Member

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    Here are some ideas and links you may find useful:

    Down's syndrome may also co-exist with an autism spectrum disorder (high/low functioning).

    Read up on the ToM (Theory of Mind) and developmental psychology. Obligatory wikipedia link to follow:-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind

    It will get you started, if you are not already aware of the theory.

    There is a fantastic book called 'Born on a Blue Day' by Daniel Tammet, an autobiography of a man with high functioning Asperger's Syndrome. Think 'Rain Man', the movie, only Daniel's gift is far more rare and special.
    Daniel has Savant Syndrome and synesthesia. He can perform extraordinary mathematical functions in his head, learn any language inside a week and perform other tasks outside the normal range of human abilities. He sees numbers as shapes, textures, colours and they induce a strong emotional response in him (synesthesia). Working with neuroscientists, he tries to help them understand his abilities. He's a unique and courageous man by any standard. Even for someone not researching the area, I highly recommend his autobiography.
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Excellent point. I forgot about that when I posted before. When I was in school, learning about such issues, they often used the term "dual diagnosis" That means disabilities and exceptionalities tend to come in pairs. A classmate of mine went to a school for the blind, and she said that more than half of the students had a dual diagnosis.
     
  13. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Interesting. I've never tried to write from the POV of a char with Asperger's. I wouldn't know how to write that way - Random Hall has a lot of people with Asperger's, and many of them are my friends, so I wouldn't know what things are different. I've met enough self-satisfied asshats to know that Asperger's or non-Aspergers doesn't matter a whit as to whether or not you're a good person. Although social situations will be harder for the former group.

    For Down's Syndrome - I recall a great short story about a woman with Down's and her kitten. Darned if I can remember the title. But the nice thing was that the woman was portrayed as reasonably friendly, careful in her work, and just a little slow. Remember, if it's from her POV, she probably considers herself to work at the "normal" pace, but that others are "faster." She probably has a loose idea of some people as "rude" or "mean" or "childish", and may be aware that other people react differently to her because of the way she looks. She may be smart enough to have done research on her condition, and may have come to terms with having a shorter average lifespan - or she may challenge herself to do her best with the time she has. Etc.

    Autism would be harder to portray - social cues are the main thing that would be different, I'd guess, unless you wanted to make them a savant. I've asked some of my friends to help me in writing savants (aliens, in this case, just very very smart ones) and that has been helpful, but I don't know how many of the people on this site have the resources I do. (I can just ask friends, since the college I go to has some really bright people in attendence.)

    Good luck with your MC.
     
  14. Mebo
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    Mebo New Member

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    HAHA!

    The thing though, even though it's meant to just be funny, it is actually true information.. (in my opinion)
     
  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    To protray people with autism and aspergers, it goes way beyond social cues. It's about language delays, interpreting the world around them in ways that no person without a PDD can, an inability to handle change (especially one they aren't in chare of), OCD. They also have a "logic" that would make any vulcan's head spin.
     
  16. daturaonfire
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    daturaonfire Senior Member

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    "Something that has always interested me in writing is how differently a scene can be viewed or played out through the eyes of someone with a mental impairment. "

    Since you're interested in depicting things from the POV of a mentally challenged person, have you considered interviewing people with disabilites? It would be a great way to get a feel for the caedence of their speech, and their ideas about how the world works.

    I don't know if it'll help any, but I have a brother with mild autism. Not quite the same thing, but for what it's worth: he's very sociable, very friendly. He specializes in one area--cars--and has a stunning accurately memory for the history of racing. If you let him, he'll literally talk all day about Nascar and all the different racing federations.

    His speech itself is remarkably good, but he has gaps in his knowledge, so sometimes he'll substitute a totally random word for the one he actually means. Usually you can tell from the context what he meant. Other times if you mention something he doesn't know about, he'll ask, "Oh, like _____?"

    I hope some of this helps a little bit. :-D
     
  17. Lyssa
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    Lyssa Member

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    I've never tried this before, although it would be interesting.

    Well, you know they often compare mentally handicapped people by saying things like, "He's got the mind of a 4 year old." or something like that.

    Maybe you could decide what "age" his brain is at and then just try and remember how the world looked to you at that age. Watch kids that age and see.

    I don't know if this will help, but it's what I would do.
     
  18. Diviance
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    Diviance Member

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    How about actually talking to several people who have down's syndrome and the people that live with them? Nothing can be more informative then first hand experiences and accounts. Also it gives you the advantage of asking them for help when you're stuck, you cant ask the guy in the TV allot.
     
  19. design007
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    I actually had the priviledge of working with developmentally challenged young adults in the 80s for Goodwill Industries and they, like all of us, fall along the spectrum of behavior and intelligence. A Down Syndrom individual is different than someone who is mentally retarded, at least in my opinion. Dcoin has it right. I would add that in addition to the innocense, there is a clarity that just floors me. There's no artifice to them. If they are hurt, they say so and they feel it intensely. If they are happy, they are fully happy and not guilt-ridden about the appropriateness of showing it. This can make for awkward times, but also very enriching moments. For example: I found a job for a young man, we'll call Edgar, bagging groceries at a supermarket. He caught on quickly that his "disability" afforded him some opportunities. If he was curteous, he got a tip. Now, he had no way of reckoning that this didn't always work, but he was bold enough to test it one day. I got a call that Edgar was holding a woman's groceries hostage. He was running around the parking lot with her grocery cart yelling: "No money, no groceries". The poor woman was beside herself. She had always given Edgar a tip, but this day, she didn't have the change. Needless to say, he lost that job. But it was a learning experience for me. Edgar did eventually go on to win the Goodwill employee of the month. True story!
     

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