Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rain Man - 25 Years Later

We watched the movie Rain Man the other night, hadn't seen it in years. Many of us saw this movie when it first came out in 1988, and I think it's fair to say we were both a bit shocked/ in love with the main character Raymond (Dustin Hoffman, Best Actor Academy Award). For many people, including myself, this movie was Autism 101, and even a doctor depicted in the movie admitted he had only heard about autism but never actually seen anyone with it. What made the autistic character of Raymond especially interesting was that he was an autistic savant, a condition where someone with an autistic disorder demonstrates abilities far in excess of what would be considered normal. In Raymond's case it manifested in an ability to count and do difficult mathematical calculations instantaneously in his head.

So where are we 25 years after the movie Rain Man was released? Well I think it's fair to say, the subject of autism seems to make it's way into the nightly news almost every evening. Some current statistics are saying that 1 in every 50 children has an autism spectrum disorder. If you don't have an autistic relative, chances are you have a friend who has a loved one that is affected. The days of autism being something a doctor may have only heard about but has never seen, are, unfortunately, long gone.

While I was watching the movie the other night, I couldn't help but wonder how Raymond's life would have been different if he had been raised in a loving home rather than an institution. Back then, it was commonplace to institutionalize children with disabilities, and sadly, parents were often pressured to leave them and even forget about them. ( you can read the story of Willowbrook here, but I warn you it's not for the faint of heart) I was also wondering how different Raymond might act if he had had early intervention therapies, or had attended a school that offered some inclusive settings with typically developing children.

We were joking as we watched the movie that we had to go in and check on our own little Rain Man and see what he was doing. Dylan is very good at keeping himself constructively occupied at home, usually by drawing, very similar to what the character of Raymond did in the movie.  Seriously, there were so many things the character in the movie was doing that reminded us so much of Dylan, it was pretty uncanny. I am very grateful that, 25 years later, we know so much more about autism strategies and therapies that can help provide a better quality of life for young autistic individuals and their families as well. However, as early intervention services for children have improved, services for autistic adults are still severely lacking for the most part. Let's hope that 25 years from now, we will be that much further ahead.

1 comment:

  1. That is such a good post Eileen. I remember that movie when I was a young kid and having no idea what autism was. That is how I envisioned people diagnosed as autistic.
    I agree we have come a long way, not just in services but also in recognition. Of course there is still a LONG way to go as far as treatment and prevention. However as you said, with so many people touched by it hopefully the medical field will find some answers soon.