If I’ve learned anything about autism since starting this blog, it’s that no two people experience it in the same way. Combine that with the the huge diversity of cultural experiences, points of view and psychologies, and you get a wonderfully varied group.
When I stumbled across The United States of Autism on Netflix, and saw that the filmmaker, Richard, was going to travel cross country to talk to various families impacted by ASD, I had high hopes.
Happily, I wasn’t disappointed! In fact, this was one of the best films about autism I’ve seen to date.
The families he spoke to came from all kinds of cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. In fact, the first two families he spoke with came to America to get proper treatment for their ASD kids. It was very interesting to get a peek at how autism is treated in other countries.
There were also American families of different racial backgrounds, as well. I hope that more black and brown (or POC, or whatever term you identify with) start to speak up more on this issue. Their input is extremely important.
There was also a Muslim family and a Mormon family, both of whom were deeply involved with their spiritual paths. In those segments, he was able to speak with an Imam and, I believe, a pastor. It’s fascinating to see just how similar some of the beliefs in those two religions are to what I’ve seen of mainstream Christianity, Judaism and many of the Pagan religions I’ve researched.
He also made an effort to include families of many different income levels, including one military family.
No Point of View Bias
One of the problems I’ve noticed with many documentaries is an obvious spin towards one strict way of looking at ASD or another. This film didn’t do that. Instead, he let each person interviewed speak their mind, without editing it to make them appear a certain way later.
Some families only wanted access to the care their loved ones needed, but not necessarily a cure, while others wanted a way to get rid of the ASD altogether. Still others started out looking at the issue one way, but changed their minds somewhere along the line. There was even one guy who identified as being cured.
The one thing that the filmmakers made sure to highlight was that all of these points of view came from a place of love. I think that’s a key point that often gets missed in the overall debate between needing a cure versus not needing one.
All Over the Spectrum
One of my favorite parts about this documentary is that he actually spoke with as many of the people on the ASD spectrum as he could. There were young children who were recently diagnosed, elementary school kids who were in the midst of treatment and adults who were doing their best to live their lives. He also spoke to the family of a young man who was living in a group facility, due to his high aggression levels, and let them talk about why they made that choice.
Not all of the folks on the spectrum were verbal, but those who could get their ideas across were given a fair chance to speak their minds, regardless of how old or young they were. They were treated as people, instead of objects for pity or inspiration, regardless of if they were high or low functioning.
He also spoke with siblings, when he could, which is something I wish more documentary makers would be willing to do.
While the primary spotlight was on the various families, he also made an effort to talk to a number of professionals involved in autism treatment, including Kenneth Brock, who co-wrote Healing the New Childhood Epidemics. (You can read my review on that here.)
He also tried to talk to the lawmakers in Washington DC. Apparently, a number of them had agreed to speak with him, but cancelled at the last minute. Personally, I find that very telling. However, he did manage to get in touch with one congressman, Dan Burton. I may not have agreed with everything Burton said, but I am very happy that someone cares enough at that level to speak out.
Finally, I liked the overall tone of the movie. While there were some sad music, it was always tinged with a sort of hope. There was no melancholy or calls to pity anyone.
The viewer could also tell Rich made a real effort to get to know the families beforehand. He wasn’t afraid to play with the kids, but also respected the boundaries so vital to comfort. Best of all, while he did his best to respect the social needs of the folks on the ASD spectrum, he still treated them with respect, no different than those who were neuronormative.
Needless to say, I was extremely impressed with this documentary. He went to a great deal of effort to get as diverse a group of people as possible, and did a fantastic job of it. I highly suggest watching this documentary to everyone, especially those who may first be embarking upon the ASD journey.
Most of all, I suggest it to those who may not be directly effected by autism. If you were to rely only on what the news outlets and some non-profits have to say, you’ll come away with a severely skewed view of the experience.
Documentaries like this one do a good job of demonstrating the fact that ASD does not effect everyone in the same way, and offers the model of respect so sorely needed in today’s world.
You can find links to listings of this documentary on their web page, in addition to numerous resources for those on the spectrum and their families. If you have Netflix, it’s currently available there, as well.