To say that I LOVED The Outsiders book and movie would be a gross understatement. I had 106 pictures of Ponyboy Curtis (cut out of my Tiger Beat Outsiders Fan Club Magazines) on my bedroom wall. As enamored as I was with Ponyboy, my two best friends were equally in love with Johnny and Dally. We may or may not have won switchblades at our local carnival (I know it was the 80's, but, who in the he** has switchblades for prizes in ring toss?) and carried them around to prove we were "tuff" like a Greaser. We dreamed of rescuing a bunch of little kids from a burning church and making headlines in our local paper, but, alas, we never got to be Greaser heroes which is probably best because even though the knife I may or may not have carried in my Jordache jeans made me feel tuff, at 13, I don't know that I would have had the courage to run into a burning church, kids or no kids.
Fast forward many, many, many years, and I am sitting at Ryan's 7th grade back to school night with Denial and Clueless sitting in the desks right next to me. When Ryan's teacher announced they would be reading The Outsiders this year, as quick as a flip of a switchblade knife, I regressed back to my middle school years. As I remembered sitting in my room reading The Outsiders for the first time, I thought, "Ryan is going to love this book. He hates to read, but, this book, these characters, are going to change all of that for him. The Greasers and the Socs are going to quickly replace Mario and Luigi.". Denial and Clueless assured me I was right and of course, those two never lead me astray.
When I asked Ryan what he thought the overall theme of the book was about he said, "a warfare between the Greasers and the Socs". Ryan understood there was a fight. He understood (spoiler alert) that someone died. He understood there was a winner and a loser, but, what Ryan did not understand was the deeper meaning of the book. He did not recognize the stereotypes placed upon each group. He did not fully comprehend the "outsiders" versus the "insiders". Ryan did not see the subtle themes woven throughout the authors words trying to convince the reader that in many ways the Socs and the Greasers were very much alike, but, it was the stereotypes placed upon the two groups that lead them to believe that they were different. The fact that both the Socs and the Greasers, felt pressure from their "gangs", felt a loyalty to their friends, and that no matter what part of town they came from, they all watched the same sunset regardless of their differences, was lost on Ryan, because in his mind, this book was about a rumble and winners and losers. The end. Move on to a less complicated book please, preferably non-fiction.
I'm not sure how much my explanation of stereotypes sunk in, since Ryan failed his Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 combined quiz. Ryan may not get the deeper meaning of The Outsiders other than "warfare", he may not understand that seeing past the stereotypes allows you to see the person, not the label, but, I do, so I will continue to be a member of Ryan's gang and lead him safely into any rumble that lies ahead.
Even though Ryan may not fully understand the stereotypes of autism, he is aware of how it feels to be an outsider. Ryan knows he is "different" and I believe there are times that Ryan wishes he was more Soc than Greaser. I hope that with the love and encouragement Ryan is surrounded by, he understand that the stereotypes of someone living with autism, can be torn apart as quickly as a Socs' Mustang by a gang of Greasers and that all of us, regardless of labels, watch the very same sunset.
As a silly 13 year old girl, in love with Ponyboy Curtis, my favorite part of The Outsiders movie was when Ponyboy recites a poem from Robert Frost called, "Nothing Gold Can Stay":
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Although it breaks my heart that Ryan "hates this stupid book", I hope that the reason Ryan finds The Outsiders book so difficult to understand is because Ryan is still "gold" and that his luster and shine never dulls due to the stereotypes and ignorance of others. The deficits autism brings to Ryan's understanding of the world, in some ways makes it difficult for him to "read between the lines", but, the blessing of such deficits also keeps Ryan free of stereotyping, it keeps him innocent and most importantly, it keeps Ryan gold...the "hardest hue to hold". We should all be so fortunate.
Autism makes understanding stereotypes, social caste systems, racism, and being an insider or an outsider difficult to comprehend. Don't get me wrong, Ryan and people living with an ASD know when they are shunned, when they are treated unfairly, and when stereotypes surround them, but, what they don't understand is why.
Ryan can be rude, curmudgeonly, and a little mean if you get in his way, change the rules, change the routine, act too silly, or talk too fast, but, Ryan would never be mean to someone because of the clothes they wear, the car they drive, the neighborhood they live in, the color of their skin, the religion they practice, who they love, or a label attached to their name. Ryan will not discriminate against anyone who eats the last donut, because it doesn't matter if you are a Soc or a Greaser, there is going to be a rumble, and if that donut happenes to be a white iced with seasonal colored icing on top, I'd put my money on gold every time.
Whether you were a member of The Outsiders Fan Club or not, whether you ever read The Outsiders book or watched The Outsiders movie, what S.E. Hinton wanted us all to know was that "even though we must sometimes except what is happening now...in the present...there is always the potential to change what it could one day be". So rub off that tarnish, remove all that build up, and do your best to shine and stay gold. If not for yourself, if not for Ryan and kids like him, well, then, "let's do if for Johnny".