Talk To Me was released in 2012. It was made by Vanessa Kaneshiro, and follows three families of kindergarten aged autistic children. Two of the children are still nonverbal, Andre and Emma, while one is on the high functioning end of the spectrum, Julian.
It’s only 27 minutes long, but it did a good job of introducing the unique educational and behavioral needs of children on the spectrum. It did, however, concentrate almost exclusively on the parents points of view, and although it’s narrated by one of the boy’s brothers, none of the kids were given a chance to speak their minds.
Personally, I would like to hear the siblings’ take and Julian has to say about their experiences, too. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like Emma or Andre had access to the communicative technology being used by other nonverbal folks, but I’m sure they have some insight to share as well.
What struck me the most was how different the parental attitudes were. Andre’s and Julian’s parents seem to have accepted the effects autism has on their sons, and sees the importance of living life on a day to day, rather than being trapped by future expectations. Andre’s mom in particular seems to have an empathic understanding of part of his experience, and appreciates his character fully.
Emma’s mother, however, actually stated that she feels she’s lost her daughter. When I listened to how she speaks about her little girl and watched their interactions, it’s almost as if she’s addressing a small animal or baby rather than a child. Of course there’s love there, but there’s little effort to get a deeper understanding of Emma’s personality or motives.
If that attitude doesn’t change, how will Emma develop into womanhood? How will she be able to learn how to face the world? Will she be trapped in an institution of some sort? I don’t know, and to be fair, I don’t know what sort of footage was edited out, either. For all I know, the filmmaker could have purposely highlighted those negative attitudes and didn’t include more positive scenes. This is just from a tiny slice of their lives, and I could be way off.
At the same time, I also understand that parents must go through their own coping process when their children gets a diagnosis as misunderstood and life altering as autism can be. The interviews also gave me the impression that Emma’s parents was very future oriented, and the anxiety over what will be somewhat overrode their ability to appreciate what they have now.
Julian’s and Andre’s, on the other hand, seemed more rooted in taking care of present needs. I’m sure they put a lot of thought into their sons’ futures, like most parents do, but thoughts of what might happen don’t overwhelm what’s currently going on.
Despite being so short, it does a very decent job of embracing all sorts of relevant topics, like race, class, public school budgets, increased rates of identification and family dynamics. I didn’t care for the sad music, but that seems to be a prerequisite for many documentaries on neurodiversity.
If you already know fair amount about autism, this may not be the film for you, but if you’re just getting started, it might be a helpful way to find different avenues of research.