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With Documentary, PBS Looks At Life On The Spectrum


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A new documentary set to premiere on PBS takes a look at life with autism from the perspective of those with the developmental disorder.

The film, “Neurotypical,” looks at individuals with autism at different stages of life. It focuses on Violet, 4, who is struggling to communicate, a teenager named Nicholas who is shy and has trouble relating to girls and Paula, a wife and mother who received a diagnosis as an adult after reading about the condition.

The documentary addresses the challenges that all three — along with others who have autism — face in adjusting to a world designed for typically developing individuals. In candid moments, the film’s subjects share their secrets for overcoming challenging situations like making small talk.

“I began to feel a growing rebellion against what I saw as society’s double standard — either a pervasive need to make people into a rendition of something ‘normal,’ or a tendency to sensationalize the extremes of autism,” said Adam Larsen, the film’s director. “I grew determined to make a film from the viewpoint of autistics.”

“Neurotypical” will have its national broadcast debut Monday at 10 p.m. ET on the POV series on PBS.

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Comments (28 Responses)

  1. Linda says:

    Looking forward to watching this broadcast on Autism ! Just one more comment I’d like to share… When Mr. Adam Larsen commented that ” I grew determined to make a film from the viewpoint of ” autistics ” His wording made my blood boil ! I wish people would become more aware that using that word “Autistic” as an adjective to describe someone who is on the spectrum is only part of who they are…They are much much more ! Should be …A person / child WITH Autism ….Not Autistic person/child

  2. Steve says:

    @ Linda — I am Autistic. I prefer to be called Autistic. I am not ashamed to be Autistic, so I don’t need it to be put stated in an inferior postilion as if it was a defect to be ashamed of. Many Autistic Adults will tell you the same thing. Please listen to us. We are not towing Autism along behind us like a piece of luggage that comes along WITH us. Autism is pervasive. Autism is an inseparable part of me. You can not remove it from me.

    I am looking forward to this documentary because it is claiming to look at Autism from the perspective of those who are Autistic. Autistic people are speaking. It is time to listen to us.

  3. R. Larkin Taylor-Parker says:

    Linda, I am sure you mean well, but I am pleased that he called us what we like to be called. Please give autistics the dignity of deciding how to refer to ourselves. The vast majority of us who communicate in words of some kind, i.e. speech, ACC, handwriting, signing, typing, etc., call ourselves autistics or autistic people. In fifty years, we might regret this decision our community has made, but I doubt we will. We have reasons. You can read about it online. Even if it is a mistake, we want the dignity of risk. We want to decide things for ourselves. We want true success, the kind that is made meaningful by the possibility of failure. I am sure you want nothing less for your son.

  4. Clay says:

    Exactly what Steve said. I am autistic, and not a “person with autism” any more than Linda is a “person with femaleness”. WE are the ones who get to say how we are spoken of, and the vast majority of us prefer to be called autistic.

  5. K says:

    Wow, the only comment you had is about the language? The labnuage that Autistic people have self selected? Mr Larsen elected to respect our language choice, rather than lecture us about it.
    I find that the more words people put between ‘[person’ and ‘autism’, the more they believe you can be a person OR autistic, but that being both is impossible

  6. Susan says:

    Really? Trouble relating to girls-lots of teen boys do. Diagnosed as an adult woman, married with children? Really? My young adult son was diagnosed with classic autism at the age of two, 20 years ago before autism became the “disability du jour.” My son is non verbal, doesn’t understand sign language or an alternative communication device. He requires round the clock care and supervision. Anyone who meets him always comments on his gentle soul and Hollywood handsome good looks. If this movie maker truly wants to feature Autism as a Spectrum Disorder, let’s make sure he includes those individuals on the other end of the spectrum, without sensationalizing the disorder.

  7. Colleen says:

    Susan, I can only imagine what it is like for you and your son. I have a grandson who was diagnosed at 2 years of age and he was non-verbal. He was immediately put into a program through the public school system for children his age diagnosed with autism. He now speaks but deals with his social boundaries, sleep, being aggressive, not feeling pain when he gets hurt, tics, not eating, sensitivity to too much sensory input and on and on. I plan on watching the television series and will decide how well it was presented after. At least the documentary places autism in the spotlight so if that creates more conversation about autism then it has done its job. I went to a state convention on autism and a woman spoke who has three sons in their twenties with various states of autism including one who is non-verbal, one who is aggressive and one that has a milder form of autism. She speaks from experience and has written many books on autism and her family experiences. She even went back to school to obtain a degree to not only help her sons but to help other families. Her name is Alyson Beytien. She has a website

  8. Carol Krawczyk says:

    This looks promising! It would be EVEN better if there were autistic people on the movie’s advisory committee, or in the movie…

  9. Rina says:

    Political correctness is a ploy to keep us from having honest discussions about real problems, issues, achievements, etc. I am an MSW and I have over 30 years of experience supporting people with disabilities (all types). Any documentary, story, news article, book, song, etc etc etc that makes us constantly reflect on how WE perceive people who are different from us is a gift if we each can shift a bit with the knowledge we gain to do otherwise is oppression by definition.

    : )

  10. Cordelia says:

    Which Monday? I assume that the film will be shown this coming Monday July 29, 2013 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS. I don’t want to miss the documentary.

  11. Linda Fisk says:

    Susan, I too have a wonderful son, at the significant needs end of the spectrum. He needs 24/7 care and supervision, is essentially non-verbal(but is learning some words again), is behavioral, has terrible sensory and cognitive issues, awful toileting issues, but is also a love and very handsome. Not to diminish the issues of the folks in the film, but I have noticed that little has been presented about individuals with significant needs and their families. There are plenty of us out here; we would be glad to share our life stories! I prefer to say that my son has autism, but autism does not have him. I’m fairly sure my son is okay with that. I respect that other folks prefer to be called autistic. Anything that brings awareness to the world of autism is a good thing, as long as it offers a balanced, accurate view.

  12. Patricia Chandler says:

    I will comment After :) I watch the documentary. Sign me: Autistic and Proud, Like X-Men/Womyn, everywhere :)

  13. Heyentah Holzman says:

    I assume the “Monday at 10 pm” refers to Monday, July 29, 2013. Is this correct?

  14. Ilene says:

    In answer to Cordelia, the documentary will be broadcast: Monday, July 29, 2013
    (you’ll have to check local listings)
    Online Streaming available from July 30, 2013 – Aug. 28, 2013

  15. Moyra says:

    Any chance of this documentary reaching South Africa?? Would love to see it. Moyra

  16. Linda Fisk says:

    Any film that brings autism awareness is commendable, as long as it is accurate. I also would love to see individuals at the low functioning end of the spectrum featured. Their families have stories to tell!
    I refer to my son as having autism,and I think he is okay with it, but I respect everyone’s opinion.

  17. Whitney says:

    I read what written on WrongPlanet. It is not going sugar coat how life is for us. I agree with Steve and some other posters. People want to sugar coat things to point of cavities. Ignorance equals deniability.

  18. Jennifer Taylor says:

    My daughter has both Epilepsy and Autism and she says she doesn’t mind being called Epileptic, Autistic or an Aspie. She says it is part of who she is and if she embraces that part of herself she hopes it will bring better awareness to others.

  19. Diana Sheeks says:

    Can not find this listed in the guide to DVR it any where and neither can my friends. Has the date/time changed?

  20. Dee says:

    Looking forward to the documentary. As some have mentioned, anything that spreads awareness and helps shed light on the spectrum of autism is helpful. I have two children on the spectrum. Its not a “diagnosis du jour.” It is what it is.

  21. Whitney says:

    It is on POV website for free to view on line

  22. Jan says:

    I love these individuals who call themselves autistic! Say they are not ashamed! They have the cognitive skills to argue! Did anyone ever see the movie “House of Cards”? Please stop speaking for the individuals who have autism really have it NOTon the ASPERGER Syndrome in which many are able to voice opinions on the subject of autism and OR other higher disorders. As a parent who has raised twins one with severe epilepsy and autism and another with severe autism and ADHD plus. I am so sick and tired of the abled individuals speaking for my children and the ones who have the greatest needs and are our most vulnerable children of the largest increase in of over a thousand percent increase and need HELP! My blood boils and I am sick of Rain Man, Temple (the best aspergers example of research and understanding) but the images higher level cognitive individuals do not represent the diagnosis of autism or autistic GET OFF THE TRAIN quit representing those who have autism. I heard a comment recently “Gee seems like everyone is saying they are on the spectrum”. It has been nearly 24 years. I helped so many and I have seen it so much get off your high horse and visit a family raising twins with real autism! No one is including you in the numbers and this is another sick way to get attention. Please hear our pleads we have a Tsunami of severe children about to hit adult services and we need our public our country to understand. If you do not understand what I am saying talk to a professional in the field or meet with our young adults hitting adult systems they cannot live on the streets without care they will die or wander. Use your brilliant brain and help them do not deceive them anymore.

    One of my twins lives at home the other was abused and has been shuffled and it got worse this is with attorneys and advocates bottom line we are far from ready for a transition to fail and they are failing all over the US listen we are not ready to help them it cost money! It will take the focus of AIDES …no research money….number one developmental disability…..what will it take? if you can argue and dialogue do you have autism as stated on at least a million websites? If you can navigate the word “autism” and google it. If your soul and heart is in the right place please be careful of the consequences of what you think you know. If you disagree seek information do not blame the messenger. I do live the hardest life you can imagine ….and I am only a human caregiver at this age of my life and theirs.

  23. DA says:

    I checked my online guide, and I didn’t see a listing for this. Did it air on Monday? I’m glad its available online.

  24. TurboQueenofEvrythnginIL says:

    Attention ALL documentary filmmakers!! Despite the collection of years of accumulative firm data from educational agencies/sources, “autistic” adults are in serious jeopardy. The shameful disparate shortage of quality adult programs with trained personnel efficiently prepared to receive transitioning “autistics” designed for them to be safe, develop and thrive by working towards independence is wide spread with severe future consequences in store for our communities and the nation. For autistics this detriment can result in loss of skills, learned helplessness, and severe challengeing behavior especially self-injurious and aggression; for their already stretched thin families, pain and excruciating fear of the future to cope with daily—feelings of failure and guilt.
    This may be the greatest civil rights issue of our time, because very specific and long term proven best practice to accomplish positive outcome for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) individuals in areas of independence and global development with the objective of treating autism is “Applied Behavioral Analysis” (ABA). ABA also happens to be acutely labor intensive and extremely expensive thus attainable mostly exclusively in program entirety only by the wealthy. Failure of equal opportunity access to ABA is an injustice. Is it then criminal, when prognosis for an individual with ASD has been compromised and they are remanded to a severely low functioning life experience as a result of this injustice?

    Sounds like the guts and gore of a great documentary film to me!

  25. Patricia Chandler says:

    This documentary was AUsome! Many heartfelt Thanks to a gifted young man, Adam Larsen, his family and friends, all the supporters and sponsors, PBS POV and of course, the Cast of Autistic Stars, who have shown a bright beautiful light on Autism Today! Hooray :-D

    This documentary is only the Beginning! We are talking about an entire Spectrum of Beings who were Virtually, Invisible, until NOW! Just Wait and See as All of Us Emerge, at all Abled Levels; Violet CAN SPEAK! And beautifully; Mainstream Civilization has just been Led to Believe, for Millions of Years, there’s a wRight and a Wrong Way to Develop, Learn, Intuit, and Communicate, and well, that’s just Stupid! :-D
    I Am Autistic, Born, and if I had the Chance to be born, again, I’d want to be Born just as I Am….. Autistic and Proud ….. PatriciaX :D

  26. Becca says:

    I watched this film online (it’s available on the PBS website until Aug. 28th, I believe) and promptly purchased a copy for my personal library. To say I love this film is a vast understatement. While I sympathize with those who have and are caregivers for those with more severe forms of autism, I think the higher-functioning spectrumites (like myself) have been overlooked entirely for far too long. I applaud Adam Larsen for making this film and bringing this segment of the population to light. I particularly resonated with Wolf – he just made me smile and nod my head in absolute agreement. Good job, great film!

  27. Paula C. Durbin-Westby says:

    I hate being in this documentary. I do not see any of the posts I have tried to make to this site appear here. I am not attacking the filmmaker. I am not posting a link. I AM screen capturing this in case once again my comments do not go through. You can find what I do think about the film on my blog, which has my name on it. The title is This Is Who I Am. This Is What. I Do. OK. Screen-captured and ready to post to my blog if Disability Scoop does not let my comment through again. Why silence someone who is actually in the film?!

  28. Paula C. Durbin-Westby says:

    I completely dislike being in this film. It does not portray me in any way that actually is about me. It is *not* my “point of view.” If you would like to know why, please go to my blog, which you can find really easily.

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