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Chapter 3: An Inventory of Existing Representations of Spectrum Conditions . 43

3.3 Results: Film Inventory


Descriptive statistics were used to identify the changes in total production of films over time, as well as the number of films featuring characters portraying autism, AS and savantism. The genre of the film was recorded based on the IMDB category and analysed using descriptive statistics. The box office sales were determined via the websites Boxoffice mojo (www.boxofficemojo.com) and Showbiz Data (www.showbizdata.com), both of which contain international figures and general synopses of films.

3.3 Results: Film Inventory

Table 3.1: Films that met criteria of featuring a character on the autistic spectrum (n=49)


Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love 1979 A Doc TV Autism: The Musical 2007 A Doc DVD

Rain Man 1988 A savant Drama $354,000,000 Her Name is Sabine 2007 A Doc DVD

Family Pictures 1993 A Drama TV Imagination 2007 AS Drama Festival

Silence of Adultery 1994 A Drama TV Prism 2007 A Thriller DVD

Silent Fall 1994 A Thriller $3,180.674 SnowCake 2007 A Drama $1,381,665

Touch of Truth 1994 A Drama TV The Black Balloon 2007 A Drama $2,136,663

Relative Fear (The Child) 1995 A Horror DVD The Sandwich Kid 2007 A Doc DVD

Under the Piano 1995 A savant Drama TV Ben X 2008 AS Drama $2,744,414

George 1996 A savant Doc TV Dark Floors 2008 A Horror Festival

Cube 1998 A Horror Festival God’s Ears 2008 A Drama DVD

Mercury Rising 1998 A Action $91,670,000 If You Could Say It In Words 2008 AS Drama Festival

Nightworld: Lost Souls 1998 A Horror TV Mary and Max 2008 AS Anime $58,570

Spoonface Steinberg 1998 A Drama TV Treasure Diversity 2008 A Doc DVD

Molly 1999 A Drama $17,650 Adam 2009 AS Drama DVD

Bless the Child 2000 A Horror $40,443,010 Chocolate 2009 A Action $3,179

Killer Diller 2004 A savant Drama $20,795 Nobody Nowhere 2009 A Doc DVD

Midwinter Night’s Dream 2004 A Drama Festival The Daisy Chain 2009 A Horror Festival

Miracle Run (The Unexpected Journey)

2004 A Drama TV The Horse Boy 2009 A Doc DVD

Fielder’s Choice 2005 A Drama TV Burning Bright 2010 A Horror DVD

Guarding Eddy 2005 A Drama Festival Dad’s in Heaven with Nixon 2010 A Doc DVD

Magnificent 7 2005 A Drama TV Maria and I 2010 A Doc Festival

Marathon 2005 A Drama Festival My Name is Khan 2010 AS Drama $42,345,360

After Thomas 2006 A Drama TV Ocean Heaven 2010 A Drama $67,994

Mozart and the Whale 2006 AS savant Drama $84,447 Temple Grandin 2010 A Drama DVD

Normal People Scare Me 2006 A Doc DVD


52 3.3.2 Trends Over Time

As can be seen in Figure 3.1 below, there has been a substantial increase in the number of films featuring a character with ASD over the time period 1970 to 2010; thus only one film was produced during the decade 1970-1979 compared to 35 films produced during the decade 2000-2009.

Figure 3.1: Increase of films featuring a character on the spectrum

Note: six films were released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010 that met inclusion criteria.

3.3.3 Films by Genre

Over half (53%) of the 49 films were in the drama genre (26), which consists of many subclasses. Although a majority of the 26 films in this genre are found in the general drama category, six films are categorised in two drama subclasses, two films in the biographies subclass and four films in the romance subclass. The distribution of films by genre categories is depicted in Figure 3.2.

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40

1970-1979 1980-1989 1990-1999 2000-2009

Number of films per year




Figure 3.2: The genre of films featuring characters on the spectrum

3.3.4 Verification Survey Terminology used and professional opinions on teacher preparedness

A total of 22 professionals affiliated with autism-focused organisations responded to the online survey (10 Australians; 9 Canadians, 1 British and 2 Americans). Fifty-four percent of the respondents had 10+ years of experience in the field of ASD, and 57% reported they had used entertainment films in training or workshops for educational purposes.

All 22 professionals used the term ASD in their workplace, 20 used Autism and Asperger Syndrome, 18 used high-functioning and low functioning and 11 used mild, moderate and severe. In response to their understanding of the term ASD:

11 participants said the spectrum of autism, including Asperger Syndrome; two said the spectrum of autism, excluding Asperger Syndrome; eight said all diagnoses under the Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) umbrella; and one said other (autism, AS, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)).

Nineteen participants responded to the question, “How accurate do you think the newly qualified teachers’ understanding of the following is?” To respond to the question the participants were provided with a list of items (e.g., Autism; the triad of impairments; the common characteristics of the spectrum) and four possible

0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20

Drama Horror/Thriller Action Animation Documentary

Autism Asperger Savant

Number of films


responses (accurate, limited, inaccurate, and I don’t know). The professionals indicated that they believe teachers have limited understanding of autism (68%), AS (63.2%), and common characteristics (57.9%). At the same time, 57.9% of the professionals surveyed indicated they believe teachers have an inaccurate understanding of savant diagnosis (Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3: Professional assessment of newly qualified teacher understanding by topic

In response to the question, ‘How prepared do you think the newly qualified teacher is to work with students with ASD?’, none of the professionals felt that newly qualified teachers were ‘very prepared’. A large majority (89.4%) of respondents felt that teachers were either underprepared or unprepared to work with students with ASD (Figure 3.4). One professional specifically commented that, “I think the information they receive at the university is very dated and limited.”

0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14

Accurate Limited Inaccurate I don't know

Number of participants



Figure 3.4: Professional opinion on preparedness of newly qualified teachers by topic

In response to the question, ‘What is the most likely source of the average teacher’s ‘idea’ of ASD’?”, most professionals felt that training and workshops were the primary source followed by news media and personal contact.

Approximately half of the participants (53%) (n=10) thought entertainment media was a likely source (Figure 3.5).

Figure 3.5: Professional opinion about the likely source of information about ASD for teachers 0

2 4 6 8 10 12 14

Very Prepared Adequately Prepared Underprepared Unprepared

0 5 10 15 20

News Media Personal Contact Training/Workshops/Seminars Entertainment Media

Number of participants Source of information Number of participants

56 Professional opinions of films featuring characters on the autism spectrum

Nineteen of the 22 respondents provided answers to the film specific questions.

A majority of the 49 films had not been viewed by the respondents. However, the participants indicated that they were aware of films which they had not seen but contended contained character portrayals of autism or AS. The top five films identified from a list of films that portrayed autism or AS were: Temple Grandin (n=18); Rainman (n=17); I am Sam (n=17); The Black Balloon (n=12);

and Snowcake (n=9). The most viewed films the respondents identified in descending order were: Rainman (n=17); I am Sam (n=13); The Black Balloon (n=9); Snowcake (n=6); Adam (n=6); Mozart and the Whale (n=6); Mercury Rising (n=5); and Mary and Max (n=5).

The most frequently named film for portraying the best or most accurate representation of Asperger Syndrome was Adam (n=3), followed by Temple Grandin (n=2), and Ben X and Napoleon Dynamite (n=1 for each film). Temple Grandin was mentioned as the best film for both autism and Asperger Syndrome (39% of those that had seen it), while Rainman and Mercury Rising were mentioned as the worst films for both autism and Asperger Syndrome.

Seventeen respondents answered the question ‘What is the best or most accurate representation of autism?’. Temple Grandin was the highest rated with seven respondents naming it; two respondents named documentaries (Wretches and Jabberers; Autism the Musical) as creating the best or most accurate representations of autism. In terms of the representations of autism and Asperger Syndrome in media other than film, two respondents named the television show Parenthood and one named Big Bang Theory as creating good representations of Asperger Syndrome. No television shows were mentioned as providing good representations of autism.



Ten respondents9 answered the question ‘What is the poorest or most inaccurate representation of autism?’ in film. Some respondents named more than one film. Seven respondents (47% of those that had seen it) listed Rainman as the poorest representation of autism; this negative rating was most often attributed to the prevalence of the savant diagnosis. For example, one respondent stated,

“it makes it seem like ASD is a super power and that is not a good representation of the spectrum”. Change of Habit and Mercury Rising were also mentioned as depicting poor representations of autism. Moreover, one respondent named The Black Balloon as the worst representation, stating, “doesn’t use visuals” as the reason.