The Autistic Me
A documentary looking into the lives of three autistic men (from left to right in the image above: Alex, Ollie, and Tom) and seeing how they deal as they face different stages of their journey into adulthood.
Fifteen year old Tom is the first of that three that we meet. He lives at home with quite a large family, attends a special school, and is struggling to come to terms with his autism, viewing it as a problem with his brain. He is angry and unhappy, and feels that his mother doesn’t trust him to be an adult so treats him like a child. His mother’s side of the story is that she worries he will be taken advantage of. We watch a section of Tom attending his older brother’s birthday party where we see him exhibiting a lot of anxiety, drinking a lot and generally looking quite uncomfortable. One thing I found especially jarring was the way when people were interviewed about Tom, with Tom stood beside them, they either talked about him as if he wasn’t there or were a bit patronising towards him.
We then move onto 23 year old Ollie, who talks about his special interests in drumming and history before we get a view of his house, including the visual guides he uses to remind himself what to do on a daily basis. Ollie is facing unemployment again because the temporary job he got with help from the National Autistic Society is due to run out, and he is desperate to find a permanent job.
Before we meet the final person, the documentary moves back to Tom and interviews this time revolve around Tom’s violence towards his parents, and his feelings about being treated like a child. There’s a part of me that thinks that Tom’s feelings aren’t unfounded as we are then shown his mother rooting through his room. Initially it seems like she is tidying up, as she discusses the fact that there is a disconnect between what Tom likes (she claims things like the Sooty Show) and things he thinks he should like (the kind of things his peers like). However, this tidying soon shifts to rummaging through his stuff as his mother finds a letter written to him by a girl that she takes, worried that he will run away to her address if he gets in the mood to run away again. I understand she is worried about her son and about him being taken advantage of, but she isn’t doing anything to help him feel less like she babys him.
Then we briefly meet Alex, 24, who is looking for a relationship. He lives at home with his mum, holds down a part-time job, and finds relationships and communicating difficult. He is currently pursuing online dating. He claims that he’s not “particularly fussy” about what sort of woman he dates, he just wants a relationship and someone to start a family with.
We then follow these three young men through their individual challenges with family, employment and relationships. The documentary does spend a lot more time focused on Tom than on either of the other two, but I think that’s just because he has a lot more going on and is generally having quite a difficult time with his family life. Interestingly, all three expressed attitudes which pertain towards how a man should be. Of course not all their views are particularly politically correct, which Alex being a little touchy about the idea of being gay, and Ollie feeling that cleaning jobs are not jobs for a man, but it’s interesting to see how their perceptions of what they should be are represented.
What this documentary does show is how little support there is for autistic adults, something that is highlighted on the National Autistic Society’s website as well. 15% of autistic adults are in full-time employment, and support for finding a job can be very limited depending on where you live. In terms of Tom’s problems, his school are able to offer residential school to allow him some time away from his family, to give him the space to mature, but not many families are offered this. If residential schooling isn’t an option, where else do they turn? And for Alex, he desperately wants a relationship, is there anything out there that can help him to develop his social skills?
There is a follow up to this documentary where we find out how each of them got on, so I will watch and review that too. In addition to this follow up, it would have been nice to have a second documentary where we met three autistic women. Autistic women are under-represented in documentaries on autism, and a set up like this would have been ideal as it would have provided a contrast for the way autism presents in women compared to men, which brings with it different problems.