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12 December 2013

Craig Lancaster: 600 Hours of Edward

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A Gem of a Book about a person with Asperger's syndrome
Once in a while I come across a gem of a book that I will remember for a long time. It is about 600 hours in the life of 39 year old Edward Stanton who has Asperger's syndrome and lives alone in Billings, Montana. In writing  a diary for himself Edward says "This is a story of  how my life changed".

Edward lives alone because he has an obsessive-compulsive disorder which makes it difficult for him to relate to other people, especially if they don't conform with Edward's rigid and obsessive view of the world. He says "I'm developmentally disabled. But that doesn't mean I'm crazy". He has never been able to hold down a job because while he is very efficient in doing routine things in his own way, he gets angry when someone tells him to do things differently.

Edward's life revolves around a carefully constructed regime where he tracks common things in his life and does things at exactly the same time each day. This book takes us through 600 hours of Edward's life (we might think of it as 25 days but Edward prefers to see it in hours) when his self-structured life is challenged by people and events.

Every morning Edward records important data. He records the time he woke up - 7.38am which is exactly the time he woke over the last three days and for eighteen out of the last twenty and 221 times in the last year - the day of the year (the 287th day of the year because 2012 is a leap year), and the exact temperatures yesterday from the Billings Herald-Gleaner and the forecast temperatures which he will change tomorrow when the actual temperatures are known (forecasts are notoriously off base). He feels satisfied when he has completed his daily database recordings.

Edward visits his therapist at 10am sharp each Tuesday, refusing to start his therapy sessions even a minute before the appointed hour. He is supported by his rich and politically powerful father who can't relate to Edward (even getting his lawyer to write to Edward to arrange an appointment if there are any financial or other problems to discuss). Edward is frequently angry at people and things and his therapist encourages him to write complaint letters to them, but never post them. His unsent letters are all kept in green folders (because Edward prefers green) and his Father's folder is the largest of them all.

Edward's life is about to change and be challenged when a divorced mother with a young son move in across the street, he is successful in arranging his first date ever using and online dating service, and his relationship with his father is dramatically changed by an ultimate and unexpected gift.

This is a sensitive and emotional account of how a developmentally disabled person faces up to change. A lot of the book is repetitive because it records Edward's days and feelings in great detail - but that is the real story about Edward. Craig Lancaster allows us into Edward's life so that we can understand his feelings about the world. Lancaster has written a sequel, "Edward Adrift" which follows up on 600 Hours which will definitely be next on my reading list.

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