Top 10 Videos

by Kristina Chew and Dora Raymaker

Not all communication is best served through words or speech. Images, sounds, movements, and all manner of art can convey concepts that words alone could never express. Multi-media enables us to share perspectives and gain new understanding. Five video picks each from Kristina and Dora.

Kristina’s Picks
1. Refrigerator Mothers
David Simpson, J.J. Hanley, and Gordon Quinn

Once the leading theory of what causes autism was the “refrigerator mother” theory, according to which cold, emotionally withdrawn parents, and mothers in particular, “froze out” their young children and caused them to become autistic. The self-styled early childhood expert Bruno Bettelheim popularized this theory, which is now completely discredited. Seven women whose children were diagnosed with autism in the 1960s, and blamed for this happening, are interviewed in the film, which documents the level of ignorance about autism in the not-so-recent past: One mother, who is African-American, is told that her son can’t be autistic because of his race, and a segment from The Dick Cavett Show lionizes Bettelheim as he talks about autism as the “most severe psychotic disturbance of childhood.”

2. Autism is a World
Sue Rubin, Gerardine Wurzburg

A documentary about Sue Rubin, an autistic woman who attends college in southern California and and uses an augmentative device to communicate. Rubin was 13 years old when her family learned that she could read. Selections from Rubin’s writings are read (by an actress) over scenes of Rubin in her daily life, attending college classes (with an aide), in her residence (Rubin lives in her own house, with assistance; a subplot in the film is when a long-term staff member leaves); visits to her parents’ house and with a neurologist, Dr. Margaret Bauman.

3. Steven Wiltshire Draws Rome. And Tokyo and New York

Wiltshire, who did not speak until he was 7, has a photographic memory and is shown drawing the cityscape of Rome after viewing it for a few hours from a helicopter. Wilshire draws details–rows of tiny windows, the tiny, winding streets of Rome–with the most ease: His rendition of the Colisseum is proved perfect when his pencil drawing is superimposed atop a screen shot of the real thing. While Wiltshire’s savant abilities are often exclaimed over, the reason that I return to his artwork is because his intense focus on certain phenomena has given me some insights into how my son sees the world. More of Wiltshire’s artwork can be seen on his website.

4. Children of the Stars
Alexander Haase, Rob Aspey

This documentary tells the story of Feng Jia Wei, who is 5 years old and autistic. He and his parents, Feng Lei and Hao Yue Chun, travel across China to attend an 11-week-course in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) at the Stars and Rain school to help him. After receiving instruction at the school Feng Lei asks his son:

Wo shi shei? [Who am I?]
And Feng Jia Wei says:
Baba. [Daddy.]

There’s a huge smile from Baba (Feng Lei) and a hug (and, to be honest, my own heart swells).

Children of the Stars also features Tian Hui Ping, who founded the school “Stars and Rain” in 1993 and who is the mother of an autistic child, and Feng Yun Hong, Feng Jia Wei’s teacher. The film was directed by Rob Aspey and produced by Alexander Haase.

5. Loving Lampposts and Neurotypical

These are two documentaries in the making that explore the notion of neurodiversity: Just as we speak of diversity in regard to race, ethnicity, gender, and religion, so we’re more and more understanding that there’s a diversity of minds, of ways that people think and experience and understand the world. Todd Drezner’s son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in 2007; Loving Lampposts includes interviews with autistic adults, parents of autistic children (including Jenny McCarthy), and professionals who think that autism can be “cured.” In Neurotypical, Adam Larsen draws on his family’s 20 years of experience with autistic individuals in North Carolina to explain why “normal is a cycle on a washing machine.”

Dora’s Picks
1. Reciprocity
Dr. Morton Ann Gernsbacher

It’s said that autistic people lack social or emotional reciprocity, but what exactly does “reciprocity” mean? Is it something an individual can “lack” or is it more something that is lacking in the relationship between two individuals? This accessible lecture from Dr. Gernsbacher, a prominent autism researcher and parent of an autistic child, probes into the idea of reciprocity both as a concept and as an action, and even gives some practical (perhaps surprising) information on how to improve reciprocal interaction with people on the spectrum.

Toward a Behavior of Reciprocity from Morton Ann Gernsbacher on Vimeo.

A more scholarly paper “What Does it Mean to Lack Reciprosity” addressing the same topic is also available for folks want more information, would rather read than hear, or who require captioning (there is no captioning or transcript for the video).

2. In My Language
Amanda Baggs

This is a strong statement about disability rights. It is also an invitation into a new perspective, to see autism, disability, language, and interaction through a lens rarely considered. It is also simply beautiful to the ear and the eye. Kristina and Dora had to arm wrestle over whose pick this would be. This video is fully captioned.

3. Positively Autistic
CBC News

This is a longer, straight-up news documentary produced by the CBC featuring interviews with prominent (and diverse) individuals from within the autistic self-advocacy and autism acceptance community. The video covers a number of the core issues in both autism and general disability rights, as well as noting the important point that autism is still “behind” many other disabilities in public perception. The comments on this video (read from the bottom up to get the correct sequence of replies) are also interesting in that they highlight–with at times emotion disproportionate to the actual content of the video–many of the current Controversies in Autism. Partially but not completely captioned, no transcript.

4. Autie Christmas Poem
Donna Williams

Poem (written), music, and art by Donna Williams. Who says people on the spectrum have no imagination, artistry, or sense of whimsy and humor?

5. What I Stand For…

This little video is short, profound, uplifting, and the work of a young autistic person who has little speech and clearly much communication.