A recent Freedom Care blog explored the complex world of autism and, in particular, Asperger syndrome. In this blog and the next, we want to look at the links between drama and autism. Today we look at how autism is portrayed in drama, particularly films, and next time we will look at how drama can be used as a vehicle to help individuals and families with complex needs arising from conditions such as autism.

When thinking about this topic, one film that comes immediately to mind is Mercury Rising. In this film, FBI Agent Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis) is assigned to protect a 9-year-old autistic savant named Simon Lynch (Miko John Hughes) who has deciphered a Top Secret code and is endangered as a result. The situation is then complicated by the fact that nobody at the FBI believes Simon is in any danger, and Jeffries is soon framed by the NSA as a kidnapper. Miko Hughes was coached as he prepared for his role as Simon Lynch by the Head of Pediatric Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, who not only served as the advisor to this film, but also exposed Hughes to actual autistic children to help him understand the complex health needs involved in his role as Simon.

A recent research paper – “Awareness with Accuracy: An Analysis of the Representation of Autism in Film and Television” by LaCreanna S. Young in 2012 – explored the portrayal of autism in several different films including Mercury Rising. The behaviour of autistic characters in the films were compared with common myths about autism as presented by the Autism Research Institute. According to the Autism Research Institute, there are fifteen common myths of autism. In this piece of research, only five are analysed. These five myths are as follows:

1. Individuals with autism never make eye contact.

2. Individuals with autism are unable to verbally communicate.

3. Autistic individuals are unable to show and respond to affection.

4. Autistic individuals do not smile.

5. Autistic individuals are not perceptive to cues from other individuals.

During the research, autistic characters were labelled as dispelling or reinforcing the five myths analysed. Whilst the films did make substantial efforts to represent autism accurately, this study found that each medium relied upon many of the Autism Research Institute’s myths as well as modern myths created by society.

In Mercury Rising, the research found that the concept of autistic people not making eye contact was reinforced.   Simon had to be coached to look someone in his or her eyes. That is the reason that his character reinforced this Autism Research Institute’s myth in 60 percent of his scenes. On the other hand, Simon’s expected autistic trait of not being perceptive to clues was substantially refuted. See table below.


Freedom-Care-tableAlthough Simon’s ability to decrypt the government’s code enabled him to be classified as a savant, his autism characteristics still reflected classic autism. One reason for this was Simon’s poor verbal communication skills. During the film, Simon only verbalised two complete sentences. These sentences were: “Mommy, Simon is home” and “You are a stranger.” Simon’s use of these two sentences repetitively, and sometimes inappropriately, depicted his position on the low-functioning autism spectrum. For example, in the scene that featured Simon returning home following his parents’ murder, he stated “Mommy, Simon is home” upon entering the door. As illustrated in his introduction, Simon’s routine for entering his home consisted of him ringing the doorbell repeatedly, stating “Mommy, Simon is home,” and then continuing to the kitchen for hot chocolate. This use of, and dependency on, routines is a common sign of autism.

At Freedom Care we are pleased to be able to offer specialist care services to individuals on any part of the autistic spectrum. If you need help with – or person-centered care for – a relative or friend who is struggling with any form of autism, get in touch with us today to see how we may be able to help dispel some of the myths and build on the positives to make possibility an actuality in their life.


Awareness with Accuracy: An Analysis of the Representation of Autism in Film and Television  LaCreanna S. Young    2012   http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1267&context=gs_rp



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