The toughest thing about being a parent is the not knowing. No matter how much you prepare, no matter what plans you make, there are things that will happen that hit you out of the blue like a freight train. It’s scary enough to realize that you’re responsible for the well-being of a little human being. It’s even more harrowing to face that task when your child has a disorder they will carry with them their entire lives.
When I learned four years ago that my son Sam had Aspergers, I put on a brave face for my wife and family. My wife and I dived into learning everything we could, from medical options to therapy methods and training exercises. I never let my wife see me get upset and I always made sure that I was nothing but positive for my son. Because when you’re dealing with autism, it’s important to be both rational and optimistic. From the beginning we believed our son would end up living a full and reasonably normal life.
But there were times when I would sit on the floor next to his bed at night and cry. Not because I was sad for him or felt sorry for myself. Although like most parents with an autistic child I couldn’t help feeling that somehow it was my fault. But I cried because I loved my son and I knew that he was going to have some tough times. There were going to be some challenges that would test him and situations where he would feel alone and lost. He could have a full life, but there were going to be some tough days getting there. And at the end of the day, I couldn’t protect him from everything.
I thought about those days a lot after watching Adam Larsen’s Neurotypical, which will be available online for streaming beginning on July 30, 2013. The documentary is an exploration of autism primarily from the point of view of those with autism. Every person with autism occupies a slightly different space on the autism spectrum and those differences mean that each person’s story is different. Neurotypical takes a look at a few of those stories and the results are a documentary that is sad and joyful and hopeful and heartbreaking.
Viewers are introduced to 14-year-old Nicholas, who seems like a perfectly normal boy from the outside. But his autism leaves him struggling with feelings of alienation that threaten to derail his life. High school senior Maddi wants a relationship, even as she wrestles with the challenges of social behavior. “Just because Temple Grandin doesn’t do it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen,” she explains, referencing perhaps the world’s best known person with autism.
The film raises the question of what it means to be “normal” and whether autism is a sign of dysfunction or just another slice of understanding the fundamentals of being human. In fact, some of the people in the film have not just come to terms with their autism, they wouldn’t want to be any other way. Wolf is a middle-aged autism advocate that has an extreme sensitivity to touch and at one point admits that “I look at neurotypical life and I’m sorry, I really don’t want to be one of you.”
For the record, my son is now eight is spending more and more of his school day in a mainstream class. He’ll be okay, but like the people in this film, what form okay will take as he grows up is still a question without a clear answer. But what is certain is that whether or not you have a family member with autism, Neurotypical is a must-watch film.