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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Too Sane for This World review: across the autism spectrum

Too Sane for This World green light

An enlightening portrait of 12 adults from across the autistic spectrum that sheds some much needed light on a subculture that could do with some demystifying.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

April is Autism Awareness Month in the United States, but while autism is something that families and schools and pediatricians are dealing with at ever increasing rates, there isn’t much awareness of neuro-atypicalness in pop culture. Rain Man — now more than a quarter of a century old — is probably still the film that first comes to mind for “autism in pop culture,” though there have been a few recent films with protagonists whom we might suspect are on the autism spectrum, though it’s never mentioned: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, for two.

So documentarian William Davenport’s short but enlightening portrait of 12 adults from across the autistic spectrum sheds some much needed light on the topic. None of his subjects are quite as dramatically autistic as Rain Man, but many of them are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, and so tell stories of growing up in the time before autism was diagnosed except in the most extreme cases, and before Asperger’s was even identified. Yet they knew something was different about themselves from young ages: they didn’t fit in, found socializing with other kids difficult, and were often bullied for it. Here, they share their ongoing anxieties and sensitivities (such as to sounds, textures, or smells), and methods for calming themselves in stressful situations, and for dealing with the other challenges they face. But this is not a movie about disability but simply other-ability, for there are gifts that come with autism and Asperger’s, too: varied creativity from a perspective that others don’t share; an ability to work well with crafts or computers.

And while the most famous real autistic person may be engineer Temple Grandin (the made-for-TV biopic about her starring Claire Danes is probably the only other well-known mainstream film about autism), who appears here in a brief introduction to the film, the perception of autism seems to be that it primarily impact boys and men. Yet Davenport’s subjects are about evenly divided between men and women, which makes the film even more important as a peek into a subculture — and more than one person here makes it clear that that’s what they consider themselves — that could do with some demystifying and mainstreaming. I suspect that anyone who is on the spectrum or knows someone who is will find much that is comforting, familiar, and welcoming here.

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  • RogerBW

    I’m glad to see, at last, a shift away from the recent trend of medicalisation of everyone who’s not 100% extroverted all the time.

  • This is why a movie like this is important: to show that not everyone who is different needs to be “fixed”

    Still, some of the people here are well beyond “not 100% extroverted all the time.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But, I mean, I definitely am far to the introverted side of *that* spectrum, but I also definitely do not recognize myself in these people.

  • AA

    And I think that is why it is important to see the coping mechanisms of other people. Probably the greatest hurdle we all have to deal with in a practical society is forgiving others for not being totally aligned with our own thinking and thought process at any given moment in time. And hope that they do the same in return.

  • David

    ” autism is something that families and schools and pediatricians are dealing with at ever increasing rates.”

    Jenny McCarthy says it’s because we vaccinate our children. I don’t think she would lie to us.

  • I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic.

    McCarthy might not lie, but she certainly can be honestly seriously deluded.

  • David

    You’re right. I should’ve wrote, “I don’t think she could be wrong.”

    In any case autism is on the rise and no one can seem to figure out why. I think it’s at least partially because autistic people have things like internet dating and increased opportunities for romance in the modern world while in the past they might have been more isolated and less likely to marry and thus spread their genes to future generations. It’s similar to the increase in diabetics (not related to obesity). Diabetics don’t die off the way they used.

  • RogerBW

    Part of the reason for a rise in diagnosis is that, where someone might have been regarded as “a loner” or “a disruptive child”, they can now be diagnosed with ASD and given terribly expensive drugs. In some cases this makes their lives better, but an awful lot of what used to be considered normal variation in human personality has now been medicalised.

  • David

    I personally was given Ritalin at age 8 when some more parental attention probably would have been sufficient.

  • RogerBW

    In other words, a rise in cases diagnosed does not necessarily mean a rise in prevalence of the condition.

  • Tonio Kruger

    A neighbor’s son once told me that a person who had been born with a congenital heart condition like mine would not have lived too long in a certain European country — the same country that invaded Poland in 1939. Needless to say, he was not my favorite person…

  • bronxbee

    this is a recent article in Salon (as well as other sources) for a connection between increased pesticide use and autism in a portion of the population:


    remember, increased pesticide use is probably also causing bee colony collapse…

  • David

    “- the same country that invaded Poland in 1939.” Russia?

  • Tonio Kruger

    No. The other country that invaded Poland in 1939.

    Nice try, though.

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