In The Westing Game, what is Chris diagnosed with?

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In The Westing Game, Chris is diagnosed with pyramidal tract syndrome, or pyramidal tract involvement disorder. His diagnosis is given by Dr. Deere.

So, what is pyramidal tract syndrome? Let's start with some basics. We begin with the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and...

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In The Westing Game, Chris is diagnosed with pyramidal tract syndrome, or pyramidal tract involvement disorder. His diagnosis is given by Dr. Deere.

So, what is pyramidal tract syndrome? Let's start with some basics. We begin with the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and the spinal cord. The latter facilitates communication between the body and the brain through bundles of nerves coming from and going to the brain. These nerve systems are called the ascending and descending tracts of the spinal cord.

So, what we're interested in are the descending tracts of the spinal cord. These tracts allow motor signals to be sent from the brain to the lower motor neurons. The lower motor neurons control all voluntary movements in the body. The descending tracts are divided into the pyramidal tracts and extra-pyramidal tracts.

The pyramidal tracts originate in the cerebral cortex and are responsible for the voluntary control of the face and body muscles. An individual who has a pyramidal tract dysfunction often exhibits hyperreflexia (over-active reflexes) and a decrease in fine motor coordination. So, Dr. Deere is right when he diagnoses Chris with a pyramidal tract involvement disorder.

In the text, Chris exhibits all the symptoms of such a disorder. For example, he has difficulty controlling his body movements. He suffers frequent, violent spasms and convulsions. When he is distraught, his arms shoot out and twist into awkward poses. Theo, his brother, is usually able to calm Chris down by speaking gently to him.

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Although Chris's disability is never given a specific name, Denton Deere offers "pyramidal tract involvement" as a general, informal diagnosis in Chapter 5.  The pyramidal tract is the part of the nervous system that transfers motor commands.  As Chris is able, with Deere's help later in the book, to gain access to treatment which does improve his symptoms, there is a good probability that Deere is correct in his evaluation.

Chris's disease manifests itself in spasms and a general inability to control muscle movements consistently or efficiently.  When asked directly by Sydelle Pulaski in Chapter 13 if he can stand on his legs at all, Chris responds that he cannot.  Chris is confined to a wheelchair and needs virtually constant care.  Although his ability to speak clearly is compromised, his intelligence is definitely not.  Chris is an avid birdwatcher, and is quite knowledgeable in the science of ornithology, he observes and analyzes clues in "The Westing Game" better than most, and has a wonderfully positive attitude. 

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