Wednesday, January 08, 2014

"Autism: The Musical": besides the actual show, a detailed look at the issue

Tricia Regan’s 2007 HBO documentary “Autism: The Musical” follows five autistic children (and then some others) over six months as they prepare a musical for public performance in a southern California school. (The film seems to be shot around Culver City and Venice, CA).  The kids are supposed to “write” the script, which is loosely about time-travel and moving about among different historical periods on one canvas, itself an interesting sci-fi concept that I have played with. In the final performance, some of the kids play various musical instruments, including cello (with a rehearsal of the theme from Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero”).  They perform in green T-shirts as a uniform, often singing in unison as a team. The effort was called the “Miracle Project Workshop”.

But the film also explores the reactions of the parents raising the kids, starting with Neal who was adopted from Russia, something not possible today.  In almost all cases, the kids suddenly lost function after starting to develop normally.

There are some sobering interviews.  One mother says that “these kids are not valued enough” by others in society.  She says that until they are valued, they won’t have the same rights as everybody else, and she specifically says that nothing will be done about mandatory vaccines.  This is an aside, but I think that medically there is probably no relation between vaccines and autism, and there are compelling public health reasons for vaccinations. The mother says that she hopes he outlives her child.

One of the boys says that he does not like it when “kids go into their own world. How are they going to make friends?”    

At least one parent is a single mother, the husband having left when the child was about eight.

The film starts out by pointing out that in 1980, only 1 child in 10,000 was diagnosed as autistic; now it is 1 in 150 (much more in boys).  But there is a question, have the diagnostic criteria changed?
A few of the children are higher functioning and said to have Asperger’s syndrome.  Some cases are so high in functioning that there is really no disability (other that what is imposed by the social demands of others).  And a few kids seem to outgrow it, as with Jmac (basketball) and Jake Barnett (university physics) as on my Books blog (March 8, 2008 and July 4, 2013)

The boy Henry (in the Stills family), originally consumed with specialize knowledge of Jurassic Park (and perhaps velociraptors) is said to have taken up karate. Wyatt as able to gradually mainstream in public schools.  Two of the teachers married. 

When I worked as a substitute teacher from 2004-2007, I sometimes found myself on special education assignments, even though I had not put that on my profile.  In a very few instances, the degree of intimacy needed was more than I was prepared for.  I punted.  My life had gone a separate course and not prepared me for this. 

The official site is here. The film was originally on cable and won some Emmy’s.
The DVD includes 35 minutes of deleted scenes. Accolades to New Video and Docurama for informing the viewer of the time taken by the scenes and the length of each scene; most rented videos don't do that.  The extra scenes show more interactions with the kids, some of it in Spanish.  There is one more vocal number. and a "Whole Children Whole Planet Expo."  Some kids are on a diary-free and gluten-free diet, which seems related to controlling autism sometimes. There is a clip on impulse control in autistic children. There is a clip on some teacher's accepting a mainstreamed student.  There is some bonding with younger instructional assistants or student teachers.  
I have two other recent "film" reviews on other blogs today.  There is a review of “The Poisoner’s Handbook” (PBS) on the TV blog January 7;  there is a review of “U.S. Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments” from the “Just the Facts Leaning Series” on my new Wordpress media blog here.
Picture: Disneyland, my trip, 2012.  

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