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Autism in Cinema

Over the past few years, the prevalence rates of autism have become staggering, with 1 in 110 children being diagnosed with autism. There have been several movies and documentaries which have placed autism at the forefront. These movies have spread awareness and helped to inform the masses. Here is a list of some movies that have a common theme of autism. Thanks to The Internet Movie Database, we have synopses of each for you. Follow the links to learn more about these films and documentaries. Which of these movies have you watched? What did you think?

A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism (2009)
The Sunshine Boy is a moving, compassionate portrayal of a mother’s desperate quest to understand the perplexing condition that controls her son. A journey through different countries, where every stop-over opens a new path into the depths of autism – and places her son in a strikingly different perspective as it reaches the end. Read more.

Adam (2009)
Soon after moving in, Beth, a brainy, beautiful writer damaged from a past relationship encounters Adam, the handsome, but odd, fellow in the downstairs apartment whose awkwardness is perplexing. Beth and Adam’s ultimate connection leads to a tricky relationship that exemplifies something universal: truly reaching another person means bravely stretching into uncomfortable territory and the resulting shake-up can be liberating. Read more.

Autism: The Musical (2007)
Director Tricia’s Regan’s riveting documentary follows five different families, participating in The Miracle Project (a theatre program created specifically for children with special needs) as their kids write and perform their own musical production. The film is as much about the parents of autistic kids as it is about the kids themselves. How does one communicate with a child who won’t speak? What do you do when your kid only sleeps two hours per night? How do you cope with a world that has little use or compassion for kids that are so different? These are only a few of the questions that the parents must deal with, questions illustrated by a series of almost painfully honest and blunt encounters. Perhaps the most surprising of the kids profiled is Neal, the son of Elaine Hall, who founded the Miracle Project. Profoundly autistic, he hardly speaks, and is prone to violent tantrums, but when he is finally fitted with a keyboard voice box, a sweet, intelligent personality is revealed. A complete triumph! Read more.

The Black Balloon (2008)
Thomas is turning 16. His dad’s in the army and they’ve just moved to a town in New South Wales; his mom is pregnant; his older brother, Charlie, who’s autistic, has his own adolescent sexual issues. Thomas finds Charlie an embarrassment in public, so when Thomas is attracted to Jackie, a girl in his swim class, Charlie presents any number of obstacles when she drops by their house, when the three of them go for a walk, and during a family birthday dinner. Can Thomas find a way enter the world of teen romance and still be his brother’s keeper, or is Charlie’s disability going to prove more than Thomas can handle? Read more.

God’s Ears (2007)
Alexia, working in the sex industry, her perspective on men soured by her job, can’t seem to find her way out. When she encounters Noah in a restaurant, he can barely look at her, not because she’s beautiful, and she is, but because it’s simply just too painful to gaze upon a face, any face. His autism, though seen as a handicap by others, is the condition that causes him to “see” Alexia not as a sex object, but as she wishes to see herself–as good and worthy to be loved just as she is. He captures her attention and her heart. It would seem an unlikely meeting, but Worth creatively draws the parallels of human loneliness and longing that bring these two people together in an unforgettably touching story of the heart. Read more.

Mozart and the Whale (2005)
A dramatic-comedy, inspired by the lives of two people with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, whose emotional dysfunctions threaten to sabotage their budding romance. Donald is a good-natured but hapless taxi driver with a love of birds and a superhuman knack for numbers. Like many people with AS, he likes patterns and routines. But when the beautiful but complicated Isabel joins the autism support group he leads, his life – and his heart – are turned upside down. Read more.

Temple Grandin (2010)
Biopic of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who overcame the limitations imposed on her by her condition to become an expert in the field of animal husbandry. She developed an interest in cattle early in life while spending time at her Aunt and Uncle’s ranch. She did not speak until age four and had difficulty right through high school, mostly in dealing with people. Her mother was very supportive as were some of her teachers. She is noted for creating her ‘hug box’, widely recognized today as a way of relieving stress and her humane design for the treatment of cattle in processing plants, even winning an award from PETA. Today, she is a professor at Colorado State University. Read more.

Walking in the Dark : Finding the Light in Autism (2010)
In the documentary, “Walking In The Dark: Finding The Light In Autism” hope is restored. The primary purpose of this documentary is to serve as an educational tool to help parents seek those unanswered questions, find ways to network and to get involved. And, through meeting the families, find hope. You will come into their lives, their homes, and see how they live day to day. See how they cope, how they search for the best therapies and medical attention they can find for their children. And, most of all, through the eyes of their children, see the hope. Read more.

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  1. Lara P
    July 14, 2010 at 1:17 pm | #1

    What about Horse Boy?

  2. July 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm | #2

    One of the best films depicting what it’s like to have autism is “Normal People Scare Me,” a film created by a young man who has autism, Taylor Cross, and his mother Keri Bowers. The first-person perspective of the film is very valuable and informative.

  3. Katie Wright
    July 15, 2010 at 8:25 am | #3

    I would also add the incredibly moving “Beautiful Son.”

    It is a beautiful account of a family coming to grips with their young son’s autism. The film is shot in the family’s home in Hawaii and also deals with the challenge of finding resources outside of big cities.

    The parents in the film are truly inspiring.

  4. Alex Plank
    July 15, 2010 at 9:02 am | #4

    We interviewed Elaine Hall from Autism the Musical for an upcoming episode of Autism Talk TV. She’s a very interesting and inspiring woman.

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