Susan's Blog

Friday, November 30, 2007

Autism: The Musical

Sounds crazy, no?
–Tevye, “A Fiddler on the Roof”

Bad title, great movie. It sounds like it’s going to be a musical where the characters are signing about aspects of autism. It is not.

Autism: The Musical is a documentary about a theater troupe of ASD kids, “The Miracle Project,” run by Elaine, a single mom of 12-year-old Neal. There are five main characters, actors in the troupe, who are the focus of the film: Neal, Adam, Wyatt, Henry, and Lexi. We learn their stories from mostly their moms, but also their dads, in between scenes of rehearsals. We watch the process of bringing a bunch of very different ASD kids together, all different levels of ability, and see them learn not only how to be in a play, but also to listen to one another, communicate effectively, and connect with others.

The overall feel of the movie is naked honesty and riveting storytelling. Your emotions churn from sad to shocked to moved to laughing as you watch it, taking in poignant early childhood footage and then the story of a marriage breaking up, then an insensitive and expensive school advocate, or a few minutes of one child describing what it’s like to be stuck in “the retard class,” but bullied by the “regular kids.” Even the lighting is raw and natural, no one has on any stage make-up, houses are sometimes messy, but more than that, their words are unvarnished, and the conflicts both among couples and between staff and parents and among kids are unflinchingly recorded and presented to us as all part of the story.

The best thing about Autism: the Musical is the way you get to know each of the kids as a person. This, to me, is the kind of work that will change the world because it will get people beyond stereotype and dismissal, to seeing real people with a full range of talents, problems, concerns, annoyances, and delights. Where first you see perhaps an “overweight” adolescent, you come to love Lexi for her beautiful, ready smile and her Joni Mitchell singing voice, honed by echolalia and the love of imitating. You want to listen to Henry all day as he talks about his obsession, reptiles, but gradually begins to relate more to the people around him. Neal is non-verbal, apparently out of it, but then you see how he’s mischievous and funny with gestures, keyboarding, and looks he gives. Wyatt breaks your heart talking about bullies, but then he gets to act the part of a bully and it completely thrills him. Adam is the buck-toothed, cherished son of an intense, argumentative mom and in the end you are rooting for them both.

Even my much more even-keeled friend was crying and laughing all the way through. I somehow left feeling proud of myself, and proud of Nat, imagining him in the Miracle Project. I knew there would be a place for him there. He would fit right in. All of our kids, all of us would, because they were determined to welcome and work with everybody, no matter what their challenges, and find their talents. As far as I know, no one had special training of any sort, no baggage about autism, nothing but an eagerness to do this. There was only the ingredients necessary for success: enough bright and caring staff; parental input; adequate space and time; reasonable but respectable goals; an eye out for fun and pleasure. And that, my friends, is what a true learning experience is all about. That is what human interaction should be about.

As my Grandma would have said, “A beautiful picture.”


Been reading about this, thanks to you, I had no idea this was being made. Looks like it might be able to effectively each the masses with little controversy.

— added by Someone Said on Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 7:55 am

I have not seen the whole movie yet, hubby and I just watched what was on the HBO website. Both of us loved it! I loved how real it was. I loved how much those parents had come to accept their child for WHO they were. I too could listen to Henry all day…he was just so excited about reptiles..LOL. Neal held a special place in my heart. His personality came out through his eyes. I just got the sense that he is a very loving young man. I have often thought about buying it on DVD.

— added by Amy on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 9:53 pm