Hank Ketcham, the creator of Dennis the Menace, modelled the cartoon character after his own son, who had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD (original piece I wrote here).
What about Anne of Green Gables? Did she have FASD? I recently discovered an article, Leave Anne alone? published in Maclean’s magazine (June 2010) reporting on an essay “Too Heedless and Impulsive: Re-reading Anne of Green Gables through a Clinical Approach,” in which Helen Hoy (retired English professor at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada) suggests that Anne had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Helen herself is a mother of an adopted daughter with FASD. In the Maclean’s article she states, “Anne’s challenging behaviours kept ringing bells for me.” The article goes on to state: “she (Hoy) wants to use Anne as a bridge to create greater tolerance toward a condition that afflicts at least one per cent of Canadians.”
How does Hoy draw her conclusion? She points to a variety of indicators used to assess FASD, such as:
- excess of focus, impulsivity
- excessive talkative nature
- wild imagination or unrealistic ideas
- difficulty understanding cause and effect (not learning from mistakes, not connecting one action to the end result)
- overly friendly and trusting nature
- scrawny baby, with small face (there are some physical characteristics that are common with some people but most do not have any)
- verbally expressive but not verbally receptive (meaning she can talk like she understands something but when questioned you find out she really doesn’t retain information or recall correctly)
Picture from Anne of Green Gables, Blue Water Comics
Hoy does note that while most people with FASD will require lifelong support in their lives, Anne does achieve some significant milestones of independence. This is a work of fiction however.
Interesting conclusions. Just as I wasn’t a fan of Dennis the Menace, I was not a fan of Anne of Green Gables. Even when I went to PEI one summer, I did not visit the museum or buy any Anne related souvenirs. But I did adopt a daughter who has FASD. And I do see so many of the similarities between her behaviours and those of Dennis and Anne.
I tried to find the original essay written by Hoy, but could not. I don’t know what the reaction of people were when her essay came out. I certainly don’t remember reading anything about it five years ago.
I do like the idea though that despite all the “negative” traits (which really are the daily challenges faced by people who have the damaged brains of FASD) Dennis and Anne could be role models to show that despite challenges there are many positive traits and we must focus on the good in people.
Although my daughter presents challenges and difficulties, she is one of the kindest and purest people I know. She sees the good in people and is the first to forgive and forget when someone hurts her. She is funny. Despite not being able to remember what she reads, she can recite lines verbatim from movies and television. Despite not knowing how to organize her room, she can organize her Pokémon card collection and tell you exactly where each card is in the binder. She may talk my ear off some days , but that skill would make her an excellent deejay or sales person. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. We need to look past the things that a person cannot do, and focus on what he or she can do.
Whether or not Lucy Maud Montgomery knew anything about FASD, perhaps she knew someone who had FASD (without knowing they had FASD) and wrote about her observations. I like the idea Hoy uses to take a well known character and use her to educate people about a disability that is still very unknown or unrecognized in our world.
Information on FASD Is available on the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada .