8 of the Best Films about Autism

February 21, 2018

Autism spectrum disorders are a group developmental disorders with chronic symptoms that appear in childhood. They affect behavior, communication, and interaction with others, sometimes leading to social rejection. There are multiple associations fighting this rejection with awareness campaigns, often supported by books and films about autism.

In general, autism has no cure, but there are many ways to maximize the abilities of an autistic person. And the earlier you start, the easier it will be for them to learn new patterns. It’s best to start as soon as it is diagnosed.

Behavioral therapies are the most common treatment, but sometimes medication is prescribed to alleviate symptoms. Some drugs selectively inhibit serotonin re-uptake and treat anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other commonly prescribed medications are anti-seizure medications, stimulants, and in severe cases, anti-psychotics.

The social exclusion affects the family as well. Situations as normal as going shopping or for a walk can turn really unpleasant when people judge. Unfortunately some people advise the family to leave the autistic member at home or even hit them to teach them “how to behave.”

Ignorance is where this kind of advice usually comes from, but also from a lack of sensitivity. That’s why films about autism can be so helpful. Film has the capacity to draw the public in, make them feel, and help us understand other people.

“It is disrespectful to reduce the discourse on autism to the level of behavior, without taking into account the challenges faced by the person with autism to be well regulated emotionally.”

-Ros Blackburn-

8 of the best films about autism

The Unexpected Journey

Zac Efron gives life to Stephen, a teenage boy who, like his brother, has autism. His mother’s struggle to get ahead is the film’s fundamental theme. Despite how much the family is rejected at school and elsewhere, the children manage to develop many social skills, even excelling in some of them.

Stephen turns out to be an exceptional runner and his older brother, Douglas, an amazing guitarist. The two boys, along with the help of their mother, end up creating the association “Miracle Run”, specializing in research about autism spectrum disorders. 

The unexpected journey: films about autism

Rain Man

Rain Man is one of the most well-known films about autism. This film, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, earned Hoffman an Oscar for best performance. It tells the story of Charles, a young car salesman who discovers at his father’s funeral that he has a secret older brother. The brother, played by Hoffman, has autism and also got a large part of their father’s inheritance.

Charles decides to kidnap him to demand the rest of the money, but eventually warms to him. Although at first he is irritated by his behavior, gradually, through a lively road trip, he ends up knowing and loving his brother.

Rain Man: the film

The Lighthouse of the Orcas (El Faro de las Orcas)

Based on a true story, like many other films about autism, The Lighthouse of the Orcas tells the story of Lola, a courageous mother who travels 14,000 kilometers to help her son Tristan. Tristan has autism and a special connection with Orca whales. So Lola takes him to visit the coast of Patagonia in Argentina.

There they meet Beto, a park ranger who is not very happy with the visit — at first. In the end, you see that Beto and Tristan share a similar special connection to animals, especially Orcas.

Molly

This tragic comedy can’t be put into a box. It deals with the life of Molly, a woman with autism under the tutelage of her neurotic brother, Buck. The doctors inform him that an experimental operation with healthy brain cells could cure Molly, but at a high price. He gives consent and Molly’s operation turns out to be a success.

Buck begins to take her to social events: the theater, baseball games, etc. She begins a relationship with another ex-autistic. However, her autism resurfaces after a few months, when Molly’s brain starts to reject the new transplanted cells.  

Mozart and the Whale

In this case, the film is about Asperger’s Syndrome, a variant of autism. The protagonist is Donald. For support, Donald decides to create a group of people who have the same condition. It doesn’t take long for him to meet Isabelle, who he falls madly in love with. They start a relationship, though it’s not all smooth sailing.

Donald’s story is also based on real events and is quite interesting. Jerry, the real life protagonist, discovered that he had Asperger’s after seeing the film Rain Man.

Mozart and the Whale

My Name is Khan

Rizvan Khan is an Indian child with Asperger’s syndrome. He has a lot of trouble relating to other children his age, but he has an extraordinary talent for mechanics. This gift helps him lift his family out of poverty.

When his father dies, he moves to the United States to live with his brother. A professor of psychology there helps him overcome the many obstacles in his life. Not only is he rejected because of his Asperger’s, but also because of his religion — he is Muslim.

An Unexpected Friend

An Unexpected Friend is a British film based on a book called A Friend like Henry. Films about autism almost always include self-sacrificing parents. Here, Nicola’s nonstop effort to help her son Kyle is very hard on her. The stress is overwhelming and it also causes problems in her marriage. Her only support is her parents, especially her mother, Pat.

One morning, they find a dog and decide to keep it to see how Kyle reacts. He names the dog Thomas, and a very special connection forms between the dog and the child. Unfortunately, Pat’s death wreaks havoc on Kyle, whose behavior had improved markedly.

An Unexpected Friend: films about autism

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

This drama centers on Oskar Schnell, a nine-year-old boy with autism. He has a very close relationship with his father, who always encourages him to interact with others. Together they play games and do research, trying to get Oskar to learn certain skills. Unfortunately,  the father dies in the September 11th terrorist attacks, leaving Oskar in the care of his depressed mother.

A year later, he finds a hidden key in one of his father’s vases. This discovery, along with other clues, will get him to New York to find the person who knows what the key is for. Along the way, he meets people who help him overcome obstacles, like riding a subway and crossing a bridge.

These films about autism can teach us a great deal. In fact, they really are necessary if you want to understand what it’s like to have autism or have an autistic family member. Ostracism, suffering, and abandonment are recurring themes. However, so are resilience and optimism. It takes both sides of the coin to deal with a condition that may not have a cure, but can be treated.