Over 20 years have passed since we were introduced to Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of an autistic man in “Rainman”. Since then there has been little or no film portraits of Asperger’s syndrome, a complex and mysterious neurological disorder linked to autism, but that will all change this year as three upcoming films offer a broader view of autism disorder.
The first of these films, “Adam”, has already been released and has garnished significant attention, including receipt of the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for outstanding feature films focusing on science and technology. The film centers on the life of an adult male with Asperger’s syndrome and a passion for astronomy and his romance with a neighbor.
Adam is portrayed as a young man with Asperger’s who is left to defend for himself after his father dies. Adam is about life, not his disability. It uses Asperger’s as the lens that views his life. The movie is about relationships, love and family. It is now playing at the Evanston Theater on Maple Street in Evanston, Illinois.
Another film, “Mary and Max“, is currently playing in Australia and has earned over $1 million since opening last spring. The film was also screened at Sundance and follows the tale of a middle-aged New Yorker with Asperger’s syndrome and the relationship he develops with a young pen-pal in Australia.
Then next year HBO plans to release a biopic of the life of Temple Grandin, an autistic professor well-known for her work with livestock.
The films have little in common besides a character with the autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, but with debuts this summer and next year, the collective presence of three films reflects the increasing public awareness of autism. There has been a great increase in children and now adults diagnosed with autism while the reasons for the explosion diagnosis remains unclear.
Organizations such as Autism Speaks work to increase public awareness about autism spectrum disorder and to work towards a cure.