Portrayal of autism in movies and television

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Chad from World of Jenks

Think of a movie or show that portrays autism.

Maybe you thought of the MTV show “World of Jenks,” or maybe you thought Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.”

Since autism can be shown on such a wide spectrum, it can be difficult to portray. The shows and movies I have seen have all shown a high-functioning autistic. While I do appreciate how much the disorder is being shown, I would like to see a portrayal of someone who is severely autistic, but I digress.

Whenever I watch shows or movies that feature autism, I look for how accurately the disorder is illustrated to the audience. I want people to know that autism can be a challenge, but it has it bright moments. World of Jenks does that well. I want people to see that it’s not this horrible disease/epidemic some groups have made it out to be.

I have watched bits and pieces of Rain Man and I find it to a decent portrayal of the autism spectrum. While Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond Babbit, is a savant, he still exhibits similarities with my brother.

VARIOUS OSCAR WINNERS RETROSPECTIVE- 1930 TO 1987One similarity is the schedule. Brian needs to have a schedule to tell him everything that’s going to happen during the day. If he does not have anything on his schedule he will get anxious. Raymond parallels this when he constantly reminds his brother about, “Judge Wapner three o’clock. Judge Wapner in ten minutes.”

A similarity I found between Raymond and Chad from World of Jenks is their need for their specific items. In Rain Man, Raymond wouldn’t wear underwear unless they were his. In my years with Brian I have come to realize that having the same items keeps him calm. It’s like his schedule. The constant item is always there and never fails to do its job. In season one from World of Jenks, Chad forgot to bring his camera when he and Jenks went out. Chad’s personality shifted almost immediately. Jenks told Chad he could borrow his camera, but Chad said, “This one’s nice, but it’s not my camera.”

A week or two ago one of my friends told me about a movie called “The Story of Luke.” I looked into the movie, watched a few clips and really liked what I saw. The director portrayed Luke as an adult with high-functioning autism, but was able to illustrate some of the common symptoms of the disorder. The clip below is a small piece of the film I found accurate.

In this clip, you can see some of the common symptoms of autism.

-Walking through the office, Luke covered his ears because of the noise. Autistic people have heightened senses and can be overwhelmed with sounds, visuals and smells very easily. You can tell Luke is overwhelmed by the look on his face.

-Luke’s supervisor, Zack, told Luke to use figures of speech and irony. This is very difficult for autistic people to do. They are black and white thinkers. Whatever you say to them, they will take in a literal context.

-Finally, autistic people can be very blunt. When Zack asked a question Luke obviously did not know the answer to, Luke responded, “No, how would I know that?”

Autistic people can be tough to illustrate because the spectrum is so wide, but looking through these clips as well as the trailer, I think the film got most of the disorder correct.

H/T to my friend Bert for telling me about “The Story of Luke.”

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One thought on “Portrayal of autism in movies and television

  1. Would like to be Bruce from Finding Nemo

    Great article Tom! I also have seen the movie Rain Man. It is a great movie. I can watch it over and over again. I have not seen the The Story of Luke but I will look for it and make sure I see it. I’m not sure if you have seen the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I was an awesome movie that starred Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie is based around Gilbert Grape and how he is the head of the family. His mother is obese and hasn’ left the house in years because her husband killed himself. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the part as the autisic brother. I thought it was a great movie. That is another one I would see again and again. Another movie that I saw that I believe has another actor portraying an adult with autism is I Am Sam which stars Sean Penn who is the father of a child who doesn’t have autism or any learning disabilities. He shows how he tries to care for his daughter but is unable to because of his autism. Another movie I can watch again and again. I would recommend these two movies as a must see.

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