Chapter 9 of Silberman’s NeuroTribes revealed to me the common misconceptions that people commonly have about autism and the many ways in which mental disorders seem to dehumanize people in the eyes of society. The movie Rain Man provided many people with a basic capacity for sympathy towards those affected by ASD, but unfortunately the movie also promoted the idea that institutionalizing people with ASD was the best viable option. According to Silberman’s text, “Mutrux’s experts were adamant that few autistic people would be able to survive outside institutions” (375). I was perplexed at the idea that the character of Raymond Babbitt was based off of two separate people with ASD who were not institutionalized and were, in fact, capable of surviving outside of the institutional setting (with the support of family). Based on my personal experience, it is difficult to provide assistance to those affected sometimes, but institutionalization is not necessary for those affected by ASD to survive. My uncle has been living outside of an institution for his entire adult life and he has a secure job and his own apartment (which he shares with his cat). In the article “Autism Spectrum Disorder” a similar case is described involving a man named Paul who, with the help of family, is a successful computer software specialist living outside of an institution. Although I may be mildly irritated by the representation of people with autism as being incapable of living a non-institutionalized life, Rain Man has made a mainly positive impact on the views of society towards autism.
Rain Man brought attention to the human aspects of autism and influenced the views of society to be more sympathetic towards people with ASD. Silberman discusses this change stating that “The character of Raymond Babbitt made autism recognizable and familiar even to those who had no personal connection to the subject” (378). Several examples throughout Chapter 9 discuss how families in which a child is affected by ASD have found others to be more sympathetic to the condition. One mother wrote to Morrow describing that normally when she took her son out in public and he had a meltdown, people would believe him to be an “out-of-control child”, but after the film was released, she could more readily explain her son’s situation to people by comparing him to Raymond Babbitt (377). By humanizing those affected, Rain Man brought new understanding and attention to autism which was once diagnosed as mental retardation, but can now be more accurately diagnosed. People became aware that people with autism are not inherently less capable of intellectual pursuits, and the diagnosis of autism became more efficient (for lack of a better word). Rain Man even depicted the slightest details of interaction with people affected by ASD, mannerisms which might be slightly unusual, the discomfort with change, the strictly structured daily routines. While the film cannot possibly portray the vast spectrum of the disorder, it provides society a basis for understanding.
Frith, Uta, and Francesca Happe. Autism Spectrum Disorder. N.p.: n.p., 2005. Web. 12 Sept. 2016. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982205011036>.
Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 355-80. Print.