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Sep 2014 by PCI College

Bite-Sized Book Review: House Rules by Jodie Picoult

Colm Early, PCI College Lecturer reviews 'House Rules' by Jodie Picoult and says "The therapeutic work of the clinic draws on the currency of language as an important vehicle of engagement and communication with the client. Words are the stock in trade of the therapist and how we use words and language is often governed by the rules of language itself."

As a clinician, I was encouraged to read the book from the best- selling author, Jodi Picoult titled House Rules, which is an exposé of how people living with autism engage with language in their daily lives. While she writes a novel, Picoult draws on the shared experience of many parents and families that are faced with the challenging behaviour of an autistic child locked in their own world.

This fast paced and well written story is of a family with a son, Jacob, who is living with Asperger’s syndrome and the work explores how he hears the language of the other and how he interprets it. The writing enters the world of Jacob and it reflects his intense fixation and obsession with order and forensic analysis and crime scene investigations.  

In the book, Jacob is the poster boy for following rules and he sees things as either right or wrong with no mitigating circumstances.  Picoult declares that people with Asperger’s have an impaired theory of mind and they cannot put themselves into someone else’s position to imagine what the other person may be thinking or feeling.  For Jacob, his lack of empathy is a neurobiological deficit and it affects his behaviour.

The book hinges on this character of Jacob and the demise of someone close to Jacob will later implicate him and he ends up on trial.  The book clarifies that people with Asperger’s are not prone to violence since they do not have a theory of mind and they are not motivated to hurt someone and in the case of Jacob, he is not distracted by thinking about the feelings of others.

In this intriguing story, language is forensically dissected and laid bare and language itself ends up on trial. The reader is drawn into the life of Jacob’s family and how they individually and collectively cope under the same roof with their house rules and how they interpret them. While the book manages to focus on one family, the book also makes a statement that is an advancement of the theories de jour regarding Asperger’s in society today.

For me this book is a statement also about how we live with and deal with difference in ourselves as individuals and how we deal with difference in society.  This work provides insight also for the clinician and highlights the gift of patience and the value of time and energy required when responding to those living with Asperger’s, as they seek to communicate within the framework of society with our rules of language. For me, Picoult has succeeded in highlighting this important theme of difference and how the clinician can work with difference in the therapeutic space and learn that all may not be as it seems, in thought, in word and in deed.

Colm Early MIACP, MAPPI (September 2014)
PCI College Lecturer & Client Work Coordinator

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