I have had several people reference the movie Rain Man since my son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I remember, “One minute ’till Wapner” and counting the toothpicks but I actually remember nothing else about the movie. It came out in 1988…I was 7. I can’t imagine my parents letting me watch an R rated movie at age 7 so I’m not completely sure I had seen it, in it’s entirety. The stars must have been aligned just right and God must have felt sorry for me today because my kids were watching their iPads quietly, without fighting, or screaming, or demanding something of me. I even bribed them by building a cool fort (separate ones, of course, because I’m not stupid) all in the ruse that I am a cool mom. In reality, I wanted to try and grab my phone and watch the movie. If a fort and an iPad as a babysitter make me wrong, I’m #sorrynotsorry. And let me tell you, the movie gave me all the feels. Let me explain…
Of course every single person on the autism spectrum (ASD) is completely different. That being said, Dustin Hoffman did an amazing job. The writers did their homework for the part of the autistic man, and for the part of the people he interacted with and how they treated him. Ray stopping in the middle of the street because he noticed the “Don’t Walk” sign despite traffic blaring horns to get him to move speaks to the literal, concrete nature of people with ASD. The need for rituals and the inability to change routines is well portrayed. My heart broke when Tom Cruise’s character says, “You know what I think, Ray? I think autism is a bunch of sh*t. You can’t tell me you’re not in there somewhere.”
This. This is how I feel on the days that I don’t understand my son’s irrational fears. This is how I feel on the days that he can’t focus and his brain is out of control. I know he’s in there. It’s not his fault there is a disconnect in his brain that makes things seem different. Like Charlie told the nurse, “He lives in a world of his own.”
It’s been 30 years since the movie came out and I’m not sure that much has changed. The “profound” (sarcasm font) advice from the Dr in the movie was; “His brain works different. What he does isn’t intended to be annoying. If he’s getting on your nerves, take a break.” But what about the caregivers that can’t. What about when there is no break in sight. I think trying to understand and offer individualized coping skills would be a much better care plan. The Dr followed up with, “Most autistics can’t speak or communicate.” That has to be the racial equivalent to, “Some of my best friends are black.” OY VEY
One of the main takeaways from this movie has been that people with autism have cool party tricks. The can memorize phone books and count 6 decks worth of cards to win over 80 grand at a casino. Here’s the deal; every person on the spectrum is different and they aren’t all show ponies. My son does, admittedly have some very cool abilities because his brain is wired differently. But my husband is a walking encyclopedia of random knowledge and can play a mean guitar but is 100% neurotypical. He also has beautiful blue eyes but that is neither here nor there;)
Here is what I absolutely loved about the movie. Charlie (reluctantly) learned the importance of Ray’s routine and worked that out accordingly. He knew that he had meltdowns and didn’t always know how to reciprocate feelings. But guess what? He fell in love with him anyway. Just the way he was. He tried to change him and realized that his efforts were completely in vain. He realized that Ray’s frustration was even greater than his own. He realized that he was worth it. He was the best big brother just the way he was. We could all learn from Tom Cruise (in this movie only bc he is super cray in real life). Different not less.