Bowen, Analysis 1

Of the range of topics that I thought that we would be covering in this class it had never occurred to me that the focus would be ASD. That said I think that it is a wonderful topic of focus and though I am not yet steeped in the literature of this course that it will be rife with interesting representations. Obviously in a field as young and as complicated as neurosciences there will be many misrepresentations of what ASD actually is and errors in how it is portrayed. While interesting I find the more compelling subject is how the characters are viewed within the story and their characterization. Having read the background for “Rain man” in Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity I now have a much better grasp of the reason why Raymond was depicted the way that he was in the film. Barry Morrow seems to be a rather amazing man who has a great deal of passion for both his fellow man and the work he does in cinema. Despite this, however, he appears to have fallen into the pitfall of portraying

Barry Morrow seems to be a rather amazing man who has a great deal of passion for both his fellow man and the work he does in cinema. Despite this, however, his film and characterization of Raymond appears to be informed by a more mysticised and less honest take on ASD. Given his interaction with the American savant Kim Peek he can be recused of this but it has lead to what I think is a very ungrounded expectation of those who have ASD, being a savant.

“Rain man” is a cultural touchstone and I think that it functions very well as a gateway into further understanding of ASD and other mental illness. For example, Dustin Hoffman does an excellent job as Raymond portraying   “Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior” an aspect of ASD as defined by the DSM- 5. Though the film won the ASD community a lot of attention and support it cannot stand on its own and we must be honest about its shortcomings.

These shortcomings being, I think, no better exemplified than how Hoffman treated the man from which he drew his inspiration, Kim Peek. As Mr. Peek’s late father attested:”I tried to call him several times, but I could never get through,’ says Mr Peek. ‘After we met him at the studios in Hollywood, when he studied Kim’s behaviour, we heard from him only once more, four or five years ago, when Kim won an award from the Christopher Reeve Foundation for helping other people with disabilities, and he sent a video lasting 30 seconds, congratulating Kim.”

I feel that we as a society must treat those that have ASD and other disabilities in the same way that we do those we define as “neurotypical”. I think this begins with having respect for what ASD is and what it isn’t, and sadly I think that “Rain man” falls tragically short of this.


Neurotribes:The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman


One thought on “Bowen, Analysis 1

  1. John Tillman

    Tillman, Response 1

    Cultural, political, and religious celebrities have made statements and speeches about how our governments, nations, and societies are judged.

    “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.”
    Pope John Paul II

    “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
    Hubert H. Humphrey

    “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”
    Mahatma Ghandi

    The way that neurotypical people judge people whose behaviors have resulted in their placement on the autism spectrum and how the spectrum has evolved is evidence that you’ve asserted correctly that “…there will be many misinterpretations of what ASD actually is…” and the complications in the fields of neurosciences. The evidence exists not only in the way Dustin Hoffman portrayed Raymond Babbitt, it can be seen in the DSM diagnostic criteria that have changed since 1952. It can be seen in the variety of ways that some members of our society have treated the neurodiverse people among us. From creating a calming room for children who need a place to go to escape the sensory stimulation of the Dollywood theme park to imprisoning an autistic woman in a kennel crate, misunderstanding of neurodiversity is still with us.
    I agree with you that Barry Morrow seems to be a passionate and compassionate soul. His friendships will Bill Sackter and Kim Peek show what a big heart he must have. I think that his intentions were honorable in the sense that he was inspired to write the script by real people, especially people with disabilities and/or extraordinary talents and not just for financial gain or personal notoriety.
    Steve Silberman, too, I think demonstrates passion and compassion in the way he presents an eloquent, if not, unbiased report on the history of autism. His description of APA’s Robert Spitzer and his quirkiness as he gathered information to add to the DSM have a sort of affectionate tongue-in-cheekiness about them.
    Daniel, I especially liked your use of the word “touchstone” to describe the social/cultural significance of “Rain Man.” It truly remains as a standard or evaluation that is as relevant today as it was in 1988. Hoffman’s portrayal in the movie may not have encompassed the most tragic symptoms of autism seen by medical experts, but I was convinced of his sincerity by Silberman’s description when the actor broke down and cried at a New York City press conference, saying that the film “‘touches something in all of us that I can’t explain. We all go through life not hugging quite as much as we’d like to. Something cuts us off…We’re always keeping a lid on our own autism.’”

    Silberman, S. (n.d.). Neurotribes: The legacy of autism and the future of neurodiversity.×799302



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