Friday, February 3, 2017

‘Mockingbird’ by Kathryn Erskine

Caitlin, an 11-year-old girl, is struggling to understand and deal with her older brother Devon’s death in a school shooting — an event that staggered her entire community.

When she discovers the concept of “closure,” Caitlin decides to pursue it for herself, her family and community.

Caitlin is autistic and, as a reader on the spectrum, I could relate to Caitlin’s difficulty understanding social situations.

Like Caitlin, I had no friends when I was going to school and could imagine that her struggles when interacting with peers, could easily have been my own.

I found this to be a moving story that, because of its subject, would be best suited for readers mature enough to process the subject of school shootings.

Aspects of Caitlin’s portrayal lend themselves to discussion especially among an autistic readership. As a girl with an Asperger’s-syndrome diagnosis, Caitlin is labeled “high-functioning” by a counselor. She resists suggestions of commonality between herself and another autistic schoolmate, who is assumed more severely-impacted.

Labeling of people as “high” or “low” functioning is controversial in the autistic community. I recommend reading Bec Oakley’s excellent “The Problem with Functioning Labels” for a summation of the issues involved (

Briefly, labeling sets expectations (either “high” or “low”) and assumes that people occupy clear-cut positions along the autism continuum.

Labels can interfere with recognition of a person’s potential if they are assumed to be “low” functioning, while a person perceived as “high” functioning may be denied understanding or support because their challenges are presumed to be non-existent or trivial.

Possible themes for exploration among an autistic readership include the reader’s thoughts and feelings about the usefulness of function-labeling, and how much or how little the reader believes he/she has in common with other people on the spectrum.

Mockingbird by by Kathryn Erskine was awarded the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was a 2011 honoree for the Golden Kite Award.

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