Grit, Analysis One

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. <;.

Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 355-80. Print.


2 thoughts on “Grit, Analysis One

  1. Trevor Sundelius

    I also came to similar conclusions to what you’ve brought up here. In Silberman, he mentions how institutions in the past followed similar principals to modern-day prisons. Mentioning how “inmates” could occasionally be released for “parole” for short periods of time, were paid between $.50 to $1.50 a day for intensive, back-breaking work and living conditions were poor at best.

    I am in agreement that the stigma of those diagnosed with ASD being better-off in institutions is inaccurate and unrealistic. Society has been trained to be increasing impatient, and it shows when some people interact with people of whom are a part of the spectrum. My neighbor has an Autistic teenager living at home and while there are occasional stirs and noticeable interactions at their home, for the majority of the time their home is peaceful and her son is very kind and shy.

    I believe that when we ended in “Rain Man” the mood shifted, even if just a little. Once it was realized that his Autism could be looked at in a different light, albeit a manipulative one, it still helped to lessen the attitude that the movie was originally conveying. The “little things” he remembered turned out to be very important at times and useful, proving that he wasn’t just a warm body taking up space.

    Autism awareness is at an all-time high, and while society is still not as tolerant or informed as it should be, non-profits like “Autism Speaks” is certainly a reason for the current focus. Most of us either know someone or are related to someone either with ASD, or someone with a friend or family member with it. In order to make sure these people are treated equally and do not suffer from a lot of the negative stereotypes and prejudice, people first need to be aware of, then understand the problem on a societal level before we sure true, progressive change.


  2. Haley

    I will third this sentiment. I think that this idea to institutionalize individuals with ASD follows the same pattern that other mental disabilities has been handled. As a society we are always made uncomfortable by what is different or unrecognizable. If we can’t relate to something, it makes us uncomfortable, just as much as not understanding something. It is no different with those with a diagnosis like ASD. The easier option was to send that person off to a place where trained professionals would be be paid to “deal” with them. However, as Silberman highlights with Bill, individuals with ASD can be highly functional and carry on with jobs and “normal” lives.

    I think for the time, Rain Man did its best to show how ASD doesn’t need fixing. What I loved about the film is that it wasn’t Raymond who had to change or learn anything, but rather his brother who had to step away from his ego for a moment to become human again. He had to learn sympathy in order to coexist with his brother. Raymond wasn’t the problem, his brother was. I think that one of the things that people don’t understand is that ASD isn’t something to greive or cope with. A person with ASD has to cope and navigate their life in a particular way, and the help of others may or may not be necessary, but for those “others”, it shouldn’t be seen as a burden. The comment above mine mentions Autism Speaks, which I thought was such a great resource for the longest time. However, it goes against what I have just said. If certain individuals with ASD can live on their own and hold jobs and communicate, why doesn’t Autism Speaks have a single person with ASD on their executive board?( There was one man with ASD who worked with them but quit. He offers up in a blog that the organization never listened to his input. Further, about 44% of their funds goes to the science of autism prevention; finding a way to test fetuses for the autism gene a consequently ending with the abortion of those children. People with ASD are people, not societal burdens, and deserve room to live like anyone else with the help they need.
    In combination, (I think the point has been made but I’ll make it again) Autism has never been more spoken about and it all had to start somewhere. I do think that beyond Rain Man, many other film names should come to mind. American entertainment has a long history of poorly representing different groups of people. Being an LGBTQIA* member I am aware of this first hand and I think people with ASD are even more less frequently mentioned or represented. It shouldn’t start and end with Rain Man and I don’t think I am the only person to have mentioned this or share this point of view.



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