If you’re considering a career in psychology or social work, you might be interested in movies that feature characters with autism. Not only will they help you understand the condition in general, but they’ll also prepare you for some of the emotions, reactions and stereotypes that you’ll face in the real world as you work with autistic individuals. Here are just five movies to start your studies.
1. Joyful Noise
A powerful movie about music and family, Joyful Noise follows the struggles of a small-town church choir trying to stay afloat in tough economic times. The son of the choir leader is an autistic teenager named Walter who begins to find himself after he’s recruited to play the keyboard. Initially a shy, self-contained boy who doesn’t like disruptions to his routines, he learns to embrace his innate musical talent and find joy in performing as he helps his family’s choir reach the national championships.
2. The Boy Who Could Fly
The Boy Who Could Fly is a classic film from the ’80s that can be used to examine how the public perception of autism has changed between then and now. In the movie, the main character is a girl named Milly who becomes intrigued by her autistic neighbor Eric. Both teenagers have experienced the loss of their parents, and their shared feelings of guilt, grief and longing lead them to emotionally connect despite Eric’s condition. One of the first mainstream films to feature a character with autism, The Boy Who Could Fly is a must-see for those interested in media portrayals of spectrum disorders.
3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an emotional film about a young boy with autism who loses his father on September 11th. Unable to cope with the world without a steady parental influence, Oskar embarks on a treasure hunt with one of his father’s unfinished riddles in hopes of suppressing his feelings and memories of that fateful day. All things must come to an end, however, and eventually Oskar is forced to come to terms with his father’s death and what it means for his future.
4. The Story of Luke
The Story of Luke is an uplifting tale about a 25-year-old autistic man named Luke. Having spent his life in the loving, supporting embrace of his grandparents, he’s forced to grow up quickly when his grandmother dies and he’s shipped off to live with less forgiving relatives. He doesn’t let their disdain get him down, however, and he takes his grandmother’s final advice to heart. She wanted him to have a job, a girlfriend and a normal life, and Luke is determined to make it happen.
A movie that defies expectation at every turn, Chocolate is a Thai film about a young girl with autism who learns kickboxing through her power of mimicry. Raised by a single mother in a society that doesn’t understand or accept her condition, Zen’s only real source of comfort is a television that plays old martial arts movies, and she begins to copy what she sees on the screen. This comes in handy when her mother is kidnapped. Forced to go out into the world with her new skills and unique worldview, Zen discovers her capacity for self-reliance with a combination of punches, kicks and sheer willpower.
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These are just five movies worth seeing if you’re interested in big-screen adaptations of autism. Though their stories and techniques may vary, they’re all about promoting awareness for spectrum disorders, and they can be valuable tools for anyone dreaming of a future in social work. Films that feature characters with autism are a learning opportunity for everyone.