Ruth Christ Sullivan knew that she was not a refrigerator mother. She knew that she had treated her autistic son Joe just the same way she had treated her four other children. What's more, she knew that Joe was smart and that he needed to attend school. She contacted Bernard Rimland after reading his 1964 book Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implication for a Neural Theory of Behavior, and they were both among the co-founders of the Autism Society of America in 1965.
Sullivan had to move to Huntington, West Virginia, in order to find a school that would take Joe. She is one of the reasons public schools in the United States cannot refuse students because of their disabilities:
Ruth Sullivan was one of the chief lobbyists for Public Law 94-142 (the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA), which guaranteed a public education to all children in the United States. Before the passage of the law, individual school districts in most states were allowed to choose whether they were willing to educate a child with disabilities.
She also helped to introduce Temple Grandin to the world:
I first met Temple in the mid-1980s ...[at the] annual [ASA] conference.... Standing on the periphery of the group was a tall young woman who was obviously interested in the discussions. She seemed shy and pleasant, but mostly she just listened.... I learned her name was Temple Grandin... It wasn't until later in the week that I realized she was someone with autism....I approached her and asked if she'd be willing to speak at the next year's [ASA] conference. She agreed...The next year... Temple first addressed an [ASA] audience.... people were standing at least three deep....The audience couldn't get enough of her. Here, for the first time, was someone who could tell us from her own experience what it was like to be extremely sound sensitive ("like being tied to the rail and the train's coming")... She was asked many questions: "Why does my son do so much spinning?" "Why does he hold his hands to his ears? "Why doesn't he look at me?" She spoke from her own experience, and her insight was impressive. There were tears in more than one set of eyes that day.... Temple quickly became a much sought-after speaker in the autism community.
Ruth Sullivan was an advisor on the film Rain Main and her son Joe was one of the models for Dustin Hoffman's character in the film.
This is a picture of me reading that Temple Grandin
is receiving the Peek Award for Disability in Media.
So my head exploded this morning. Fortunately I was able to catch a picture of it.
See, somebody has created "the Peek Award for Disability in Media." It's named after Kim Peek, the man that the movie Rain Man is based on.
Here's the thing:
Kim Peek did not have autism.
Rain Man is a very nice movie made by very well-intended people. It did three very good things for people with autism: it made people aware that we exist, it taught them that we can have extraordinary skills, and it showed them that we are people who are capable of loving and being loved.
Kim Peek was a cool guy and did a lot to increase awareness of the capabilities of people who have developmental disabilities. But Raymond Babbit, the character Dustin Hoffman played so memorably, is based on someone who probably had FG Syndrome, not autism. And for all it did to convey positive attitudes about autistic people, Rain Man also conveyed a lot of misinformation.
Most people with autism do not have savant skills, and Rain Man created a perception that we do. Also, the fact that Raymond's savant skills appear to be almost magical has created a misperception of what savants are.
I have never met an autistic person who talked or acted very much like Dustin Hoffman does in that movie. But I've met a lot of people who make Judge Wapner jokes when I talk about autism. The movie made us easier to ridicule, too, and for things that aren't especially typical of us.
Anyway, I think it's a great idea to create an award to honor Kim Peek. But I think that award should be based on what the man actually did, not the way he was shown in the movie.
And it should emphasize that he did not actually have autism. That he shows what people with other developmental disabilities can do. They need heroes, too. He's not ours. We need to stop co-opting him.
Making the world's most famous autistic person the first recipient of this award continues to perpetuate the myth that Kim Peek had autism and that Rain Man is an accurate picture of actual autistic people.
Making people think that Temple Grandin and Kim Peek are the same is a bad idea. They are both people with developmental disabilities who made the world better by being the subjects of popular movies. But Dr. Grandin also made the world better by doing things herself. And that is what she should be honored for.
Is this Amazing Andy's dad? Is it weird that this movie just came out on Blu-ray?
So what did you think of Parenthood's venture into the world of adults with Aspergers? I had mixed feelings about Amazing Andy and His Wonderful World of Bugs. It was very good to see an adult with AS on the show, especially one who was capable of running his own business, and I loved the joy that little Max showed at seeing an adult who was like him.
But I wish Amazing Andy had reminded me less of Rain Man. Both the writers and actor Michael Emerson seemed to draw more inspiration from the 1988 Dustin Hoffman flick than from any actual person with Aspergers I've ever known. It wasn't bad, exactly, but it gave us what the show usually does: an NT person's view of Aspergers, not really an attempt to show what it's like form the inside.
That's too bad, because Max Burkholder, who plays resident aspie Max could relly help build empathy for kids with AS, if the writers gave him a chance. I was much more concerned about him after his meltdown than I was about his therapist. It didn't improve my opinion of either Max's uncle Crosby (annoying hippy who looks like Goofy) or Parenthood's writers that they seemed completely uninterested in the crying little boy and totally focused on the hot girl.
As an adult with autism who works with kids who have autism, the hesitancy that the bigoted Bravermans had about letting an adult like their own son perform at his birthday party hit close to home. It was realistic, and it made me sad. It would have bothered me more if I didn't already sort of dislike Max's parents because of the way they acted when his sister Haddie brought home a black boyfriend they disapproved of, supposedly for other reasons. With Adam and Kristina, it's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? every week. Still, I was glad Adam got to ask Andy, the closest possible thing to an adult version of his son, if he was happy, and Andy's reponse was worth sitting through the more condescending moments.
In this case, I was sort of glad there were so many really boring scenes about John Corbett's deadbeat dad characer, because they gave me time to zone out and process what happened in the Aspergers scenes. The ovulation subplot was creepy in a Glenn-Close-in-The-Big-Chill sort of way, but at least nobody sang.