Of course there is no single best film about ASD—as a spectrum with a wide range of symptoms, degrees, and circumstances, it is a wide-ranging source of stories… both horrifying and heartwarming.
Every new documentary on the subject of ASD has an opportunity to provide a glimpse into the lives of those affected by the disorder, something that helps contribute to more awareness, understanding and compassion.
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Here are ten of the best documentaries shining light on ASD today.
- Best Kept Secret
So much emphasis has been placed on support for students with ASD in the public school systems over the past decades that it’s easy to gloss over the important fact that all of them will graduate and leave that system at some point. For parents and teachers who have to shepherd those students through that transition, it’s a fraught, sometimes depressing, sometimes heartwarming event.
“Best Kept Secret” follows one New Jersey special education teacher as she rushes to find options for her students to support themselves after they graduate from her class.
- Life, Animated
This Academy-award nominated documentary explores the story of Owen Suskind through a unique lens: animation. Owen, who was diagnosed with ASD at the age of three when he stopped speaking, found a route back to verbal communication through his own ASD-informed obsession: animated Disney films.
By immersing themselves in those same movies, his parents found a path to communication with Owen. As Owen regained his speech, he also found himself with a story to tell: “The Land of Lost Sidekicks,” mirroring his own path. Suskind provides the only narration to the film, which consists of live video of him and an animated version of his story.
- Sounding The Alarm
This documentary was produced by the ASD research and awareness foundation Autism Speaks and it does exactly that: provides a voice for a dozen families and individuals affected by ASD. The difficulties and costs, both financial and personal, are visited in painstaking detail and in the words of parents and caregivers themselves.
- Aspergers The Movie
Although Aspergers Syndrome has since been removed from the official diagnostic lexicon of autism spectrum disorders, that hasn’t stopped Aspies, as many call themselves, with high-functioning ASD from categorizing themselves slightly apart from others with ASD.
spergers The Movie was filmed by one of their own and consists of interviews with people of all ages who have Aspergers and speak openly about both the challenges and the advantages that come with being an Aspie.
- Autism In Love
People with autism may have difficulty communicating, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same very human impulses and needs as everyone else. Autism In Love examines how adults with ASD manage their romantic relationships, from dealing with the challenges of dating when your communication and social skills are hobbled, to finding the right person and adapting to long-term relationships.
- The Hummingbird
When a filmmaker has a child who begins to have seizures and is suspected of having ASD, the natural reaction is to pull out the camera and document the process.
The result, filmed over the course of five years, documents a mother’s journey toward making contact with a daughter who slowly disappeared behind the veil of autism.
- Kids With Cameras
If it seems natural that an adult filmmaker might document her perspective on raising her child with ASD, it may be more of a leap to ask kids with ASD to pick up cameras to become filmmakers themselves. But that’s exactly what happens in Kids With Cameras, where seven children with high-functioning ASD attend a five day film camp and learn to film, edit, and present their own movies.
- A Mother’s Courage
A high-caliber entry into the field, A Mother’s Courage follows a common journey for many parents of children with ASD. Searching for treatments, searching for answers, Margret connects with other families touched by autism and a number of experts in the field, including Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Simon Baren-Cohen.
Narrated by Kate Winslet and with a soundtrack by Sigur Rós and Björk, A Mother’s Courage is one of the slickest documentaries about ASD available today.
- The Horse Boy
The Horse Boy also features Doctors Grandin and Baren-Cohen but the journey it depicts is a wilder and more external one than that shown in A Mother’s Courage.
Instead, it follows a couple from Texas who, on discovering that their son, Rowan, seems to have his ASD symptoms abated when he comes into contact with horses, undertakes a journey to Mongolia to be among the nomadic horsemen of the high steppes and to consult the shamans who live with them. After the trip, Rowan’s worst behavioral symptoms seemed to have disappeared.
- Autism: The Musical
You read that right: it’s a documentary, all right, but it’s a documentary about a musical put on in part by five kids with autism and their parents. The Miracle Project was created to help children with autism learn to express themselves while learning to socialize with others. The technique: using the creative process found while taking part in a theatrical workshop to stage a musical.
As the kids write and rehearse their original stage production, the cameras follow them and their parents over six months, showing both strife and triumph.