Friday, May 16, 2008

Autism, Warts and All


Last night I met with my autism support group to have dinner and watch "Autism: The Musical." This documentary, directed by Tricia Regan, follows Elaine Hall, among many things a director of children's plays and mother of a son with autism, as she prepares a group of autistic children to create a musical and perform it onstage. The documentary appeared on HBO in April, and has received much critical praise.
As the mother of a son with autism, as well as the sister of a brother with autism, I gladly jump on the film's bandwagon because it so accurately depicts this complex disorder. In fact, from now on, if someone asks me to explain autism to them, I would say, watch "Autism: The Musical."
The documentary takes place in Los Angeles, where Elaine Hall founded the Miracle Project to enable children with autism to create and act in a musical. In the beginning of the project, Elaine tells the dubious parents that she doesn't know how it will happen, but she has faith that these kids will make a musical. As you watch the kids running around the room or sitting with their hand over their ears because the noise level, you admire how much faith Elaine and her assistants have in these kids.
As the weeks go by, the group begins to gel and you see the kids writing and acting out dialogue, singing songs and dancing. By the end, the kids begin to overcome the limitations having autism sets on them. They have greater confidence in themselves and become flexible enough in their thinking to put the project first. For example, when 8-year-old Adam is told he can't play his cello onstage, and instead of flipping out, he agrees to sing the song instead.
The kids also become friends. In one scene, Wyatt, a 10-year-old with autism, describes how kids with autism are in their own worlds, and how he wishes it wouldn't be that way. He tells one boy, Henry, that he likes him because he knows so much about dinosaurs. Elaine's son, Neal, who is mostly nonverbal, starts to use a talking machine to communicate, and tells his mom to be better listener.
The movie also accurately describes the toll having an autistic child takes on the parents. In fact, one of couples is going through a divorce during the filming. Another father admits to having a 16-month affair because his wife became so overwelmed by their son's diagnosis their marriage was neglected. Other parents express their fears about what will happen to their child when he or she grows up and they aren't around to take care of them.
These confessions by parents resonated with me. I see so much potential in my son, Ethan, but I also see his limitations, and really have no idea if he'll be able to take care of himself as an adult and make his way in the world. But when I get down, I'll rewatch "Autism: The Musical," to remind myself that everyone, no matter what their limitations, has potential and that you can never give up on them.

1 comment:

jennie said...

I am so glad that Autism is now garnering the attention it deserves. You are doing a great job with Ethan and you are a great resource for me to ask about the boy's "quirks." Thanks.