At their most thought-provoking, works of art can provide a welcome news hook for resurfacing otherwise overlooked societal issues . Such is the case with two recent autism-related documentaries that delve into thedaily lives of affected children and their families. With their releases tied to the soon-to be commencing Autism Awareness Month, these films are generating notable media buzz.
This week, publications from coast to coast featured imagesof a smiling group of kids from Autism: The Musical that premiered on HBO on Tuesday. Directed by Tricia Regan, the film shows the rehearsal process of a musical production at a collaborative theater program called The Miracle Project. Although it highlights the unexpected abilities of an often misunderstood population, Autism: The Musical isn’t all sweet and cuddly.
“It exposes you to a story that is not feel-good at all, but instead is full of stress and frustration and despair. It’s the story of what it’s like to be the parent of a child with autism or any other serious disability, a tale that deserves to be told even if it is difficult to watch,” Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times wrote.
Lauren Thierry’s film, Autism Every Day, has thus far earned less press–most likely because its screening date is not until next week and the host network, The Sundance Channel, is slightly less mainstream. Thephilosophical approach, however, is similar to Autism: The Musical. Living life with a disability can be upsetting, exhausting and isolating.
Roundups of the two films in the L.A Times and Newsweek used the opportunity to gather overall insight into the condition, and a recent NPR piece focused on a specialized school for autistic children. The disorder is making headlines again.
Alison Singer , spokesperson for Autism Speaks that funded the production of Autism Every Day, said that increased publicity can draw attention to the scope of autism: One in 150 children is diagnosed with the illness today.
“With that level of prevalence, everyone now is probably going to know someone whose life is affected by autism. And we want to create a more compassionate and caring community,” she said. “So often families are telling us that instead of offering compassion and understanding if their child is behaving inappropriately in a supermarket or having a meltdown, families are greeted with scorn and disdain. We want people to understand that autism is a developmental disability and not the result of bad parenting.”
Last year The New York Times called autism Hollywood’s “disorder du jour,” and the visibility of these documentaries might show that there is still more we need to know.