Autism: The Musical

Autism: The Musical

I watched the documentary Autism: The Musical during the week and it's been on my mind ever since. The film tracks the lives of several kids with autism spectrum disorders and their families over six months as they workshop and then perform a musical under the guidance of an acting coach (herself the mother of one of the children in The Miracle Project).

The capabilities these kids possess vary widely—some are highly verbal but have trouble communicating their own thoughts, others are disinclined to talk at all and/or avoid eye contact while revelling in certain subjects or activities (Henry knows everything there is to know about dinosaurs and reptiles and Adam loves the cello). The challenges these kids and their acting coach, Elaine, face are many—the kids have trouble focusing, they easily become overstimulated and seek to withdraw, and impulsive behavior causes numerous disruptions.

The film also documents the parents' struggles and concerns in guiding their children through a world that wasn't designed for them. One of the moments that hit me particularly hard was when Lexi's mother laments that she can't force society to value her daughter. Fourteen year old Lexi has the singing voice of an angel but finds it easier to mimic others' language than to answer a direct questions. “What parent says this?” Lexi's mom asks in frustration. “I hope she dies before I do.”

That's not to say that Autism: The Musical isn't hopeful. Progress is made even during the course of the film. Neal communicates with the help of a talking machine. Despite a tantrum at dress rehearsal, Adam plays his cello live. Henry, who had been withdrawing into his own world, takes up karate.

And then there's ten year old Wyatt, who, although he's in a special ed class when we're introduced to him, seems astoundingly perceptive about his condition, intelligent almost beyond his years.

Throughout the course of the movie Wyatt reveals his experiences with school bullies but also the desire to make genuine, compassionate friendships. Sitting on a swing in his backyard he remarks, “Sometimes I don't like it when kids go into their own world. You know, I do that alot but sometimes...I realize it now. You are in your world. How are you gonna make friends in your own world? You see, this is what...sometimes I don't get about kids, why do they—why do I even go in my own world? It's like, you're not talking to anybody, there's no point of it.”

In a documentary about autism, a disorder that's typically marked by communication and social interaction difficulties, the moment leaps out at you. It's impossible to imagine that anyone watching wouldn't feel a connection with Wyatt. Happily, he's continued in the Miracle Project—acting and now mentoring other children.

Watch the trailer:

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