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“House Rules” by Jodi Picoult is a beautifully written novel. Once again Ms. Picoult takes on a topical situation from the judicial system and places her fictional Hunt family into the thick of it.
This novel deals with autism, a diagnosis currently made for 1 out of every 150 children being born today.
Jacob is 18, a good-looking ”A” student in high school. With all the occupational speech and sensory therapies he has received since infancy Jacob’s diagnosis has progressed from being “autistic” to “Asperger’s Syndrome.” When meeting Jacob, the author writes, one soon notices that he seldom makes eye contact, speaks in a monotone and takes every word spoken quite literally. If someone asked him to pitch a tent, for example, he would think that meant to throw the tent like a log on a wood pile.
Jacob is a sweet kid who follows all the rules. When routines are broken he can become very agitated, which is why his mother, Emma, and younger brother, Theo, who is “neurotypical,” eat only yellow foods on Wednesdays and only blue foods on Fridays. Jacob’s need for routine and order can be very demanding.
This is hard on Theo,15, who sometimes feels all the oxygen in the house is being sucked up by Jacob. The boys’ father left shortly after Theo was born.
He felt that Emma had stopped being a wife, since all of her attention and energy was being poured into Jacob’s therapy, focused on helping him learn to connect appropriately with family and friends.
Jacob has been working with a new therapist to help him understand and interpret social cues and to learn about social interactions. Jacob likes Jess, a graduate student, because she listens to him and laughs with him, not at him.
But Jacob feels uncomfortable around Jess’s boyfriend. He notices things too, like the black and blue marks on her arms.Jacob loves forensic science and likes to experiment in examining crime scenes.Since he is unusually observant he sees details that others might miss.
When Jess is found dead, there is evidence leading to Jacob, and the police are called in. From then on, “House Rules” digs into the problem of putting autistic children through the judicial system. With their literal interpretation of everything, autistic children often do not understand what is happening.
Florescent lights, gavel-pounding, touching of any kind can set off their sensory balance. Their lack of eye contact makes them look guilty.
As the author notes, in some cases the courts are having to make adaptations to accommodate the autistic. And with this large number of autistic children coming into the public educational system, this is a subject and a problem everyone should know about. “House Rules” helps by offering considerable insights into autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.