'Autism: The Musical' Adds to the Public Discussion


Tuesday marked the television debut of Autism: The Musical, a documentary which has been making the rounds of some big-name festivals, including Tribeca and Newport. HBO will be streaming it online for free for the next week.

To be 100% honest, I never would have tuned in if my cousin’s fiancé hadn’t worked on the film. Autism has been receiving lots of press of late, most of it contentious, and the debates as to its causes are divisive and painful to listen to.

I’m glad I sat down to watch it, though, as this movie proved to be none of those things.

The documentary presented, through penetrating interviews with autistic children and their parents, a picture of the lives of these children and their families as they worked towards creating and performing a piece of musical theater. One of the children’s mothers runs a workshop called the Miracle Project, through which she attempts to provide autistic children with the opportunity to perform, and also to belong to a community.

This is all well and good, of course, but why did I feel the need to write about the film? As I said previously, many public discussions about autism are divisive. Watching this film, however, I felt that anyone who had ever felt like an outsider could identify with some of the people being interviewed. Anyone who had ever been seriously depressed, or bullied, or felt out of sync, could find a touchstone with some points of this film.

And as crude as it sounds, I felt like Autism managed to put a human face on autism, and I don’t think I’m too far off imagining that this was exactly what individuals with autism could benefit from–a society that better understands them.