Asperger’s on the big screen

By Marc Settle

BBC News, Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme

The challenges faced by people who have Asperger’s syndrome have been in the news recently, highlighted by the case of the computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

He is facing extradition to the United States, but campaigners say his condition, a form of autism, means he should not be sent there.

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Adam – the new film portrays a man with Asperger’s syndrome

Now there is a new Hollywood film featuring a leading character with Asperger’s. 

Adam tells the tale of a young man who meets and falls in love with the woman in the flat upstairs.

Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme asked Robyn Steward to review the film for the show. Robyn has Asperger’s syndrome herself. She has also had personal relationships with other people who have the condition – and with those who do not.

I work as a self-employed trainer, teaching professionals about Asperger’s syndrome and mentoring young people with the condition in the hope that they won’t have to go through some of the same difficulties that I have experienced.

This week I saw a film called Adam.

In particular one incident in the film conveyed really well the emotional complexities of living with the condition.

Thinking it will be less stressful for him, Adam’s girlfriend Beth arranges to meet her parents and pretends to Adam they have accidentally bumped into them on a night out.

When he learns the truth he shouts she’s a liar and he hates her and starts pulling things off a cabinet. At the time Adam probably did hate her and she did lie.

An accurate reflection

People with autism often struggle to understand other people’s thoughts, feelings and motivations and in Adam’s black and white world, Beth has broken the rules. Everyone with Asperger’s is different but the condition often affects the way information moves around your brain, which impacts on sensory processing, social skills, and our ability to communicate with others. It can also cause you to be not so emotionally aware.

It is great that the film has avoided the stereotypical Hollywood ending

Robyn Steward

Throughout society whether it be teachers, police, employers or families there is a lack of knowledge of autism.

People react in all sorts of ways and I think Adam accurately reflects this through a series of incidents which demonstrate the daily challenges, misunderstandings and confusion that can arise from living with this complex condition.

Most notable of these is when Adam is waiting outside a school for Beth, who is a teacher, to come out of work. A policeman asks him what he’s doing and Adam responds in a literal Asperger’s way that he’s “watching the children”.

I was also struck by Adam’s panic attack and inability to move when he is told he has to leave the house he has lived in all his life due to his father’s death.

Many adults with autism rely on their family, due to a lack of support and when their parents die they can get a bit lost.