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Movie Reviews and Perspective Taking

January 19, 2009

Sarah and I are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I am loving it even more the second time around. (Literature, History) She is still spending time on her movie reviews. (Writing, Film Studies) The other day, I suddenly became aware that this avocation is not just about writing and film studies. It is actually a way of exploring perspective taking. Anyone who is close to a child on the autism spectrum will know that’s big. 🙂

Last summer, I wrote to our RDI consultant about my concerns for Sarah. One of the things that loomed large was the fact that she had difficulty wrapping her mind around the fact that people have different opinions. This stands in sharp contrast to her intelligence and her maturity in other areas — that’s Asperger’s. 🙂 For example, Sarah had gotten upset because her dad didn’t like a few of the songs she had chosen to download to her i-pod. I don’t mean in a “I’m downloading skanky music and Dad’s gonna freak” kind of way. There was nothing inappropriate about the music. He just didn’t care for it.

This seems like a simple thing on the surface — people have different tastes in music. To her, it was HUGE. She wasn’t comfortable with having a different opinion from a loved one. Her usual response was “I must be wrong.”

The authors of the RDI program have noted that there is a stage in the early development of a “typical” child, in developing the capacity for experience sharing, that the child begins to accept and enjoy that people see things in different ways. I don’t know much about “typical” kids — we don’t grow those here. 😉 But it certainly makes sense. It starts with simple things. A cloud looks like a ship to me and a dragon to dad; this eventually grows to encompass appreciating different religious beliefs, philosophies and world views.

People on the autism spectrum tend to have trouble with perspective taking. Simon Baron-Cohen wrote about “Theory of Mind” — I have no doubt there are loads of scholarly articles on this subject. A young child with autism might put a toy in a cupboard. Another person, A., leaves the room, and doesn’t see the child move the toy to his toy box. A. comes back. You ask the child where A. thinks the toy is, and he answers “in the toy box.” He knows A. was gone when the toy was moved, but he doesn’t grasp that each person has different knowledge of the situation. (For more information, check out this excellent post, titled “Borat’s Cousin” on Tammy’s blog.)

This oft-cited textbookish example is not gospel, of course. I’m sure Sarah could have worked out the hidden toy dilemma when she was little. But you get the point. As adults, people on the spectrum tend to be black and white thinkers. You and I have very different beliefs about God, for example, so one of us must be wrong. It’s logical, right? Just not true. Despite my undeniable Aspergian tendencies, I’ve always been the opposite of a black and white thinker. I live in the gray. I’ve always tried to verbalize this, modeling a different way of thinking for Sarah. And I let her struggle with that; I think it’s important. I could write volumes about this, I guess, but maybe that’s a separate post — eh? Moving on …

Let’s get back to different tastes in music and movies. Sarah’s counselor has noticed that, for years, she’s been using John’s and my differences to work through some of this. “Dad likes Heavy Metal and violent video games; Mom hates that stuff.” We’re very different, yet we’ve been in love nearly all our adult lives, and she’s close to both of us.

Recently we watched a really disturbing movie called The Living and the Dead. I disliked it, but Sarah liked it. She seemed fine with that. But I guess she needed to work it through in her mind. A few days ago, she told me she’d been dissatisfied with the Living and the Dead review she’d written on her blog, but she finally figured out how to make it work. “I figured out why I liked it and you thought it sucked.”

She wrote:

Bizarre, disturbing film stars Leo Bill as James, a seriously unstable young man who lives with his parents in a sprawling English mansion. When his father, Lord Brocklebank, has to go away on business, he leaves his son with his terminally ill wife Nancy and hires a nurse to look after both of them. James, however, wants to prove to his parents that he’s capable of taking care of his mum, so he locks Nurse Mary out. With James off his meds and alone with Nancy, he begins to lose control and things fall apart.

Watching James degenerate is like watching a train wreck- it’s more sad than funny, but you can’t look away. This movie has a great premise, but it feels like Simon Rumely had to stuff one hour thirty minutes running time into a fairly small (though interesting) idea, so he added unnecessary schizophrenic dream sequences to fill the gap.

What saves “The Living and the Dead” from being a failure, though, is the study of James’ psyche. By this I don’t mean the acid trip parts. Rather, James is a fascinating, tragic (though occasionally over-the-top) character. Throughout the film, he wants to be treated as an adult, not a needy burdensome man-child. It’s painful to watch him administering to Mummy, trying to help her recover and make his dad ‘proud of him.’ Unfortunately, though well-intentioned, James is never the less deranged, and the sequence of disasters lead to a depressing finale.

This movie could have been a lot better, but it was worthwhile. I can see both why Jeremy Knox on ‘Film Threat’ called it ‘One of the best films I’ve ever seen’ and why it was disliked by much of the general public. This movie was so disturbing I may never see it again. Maybe, though, I’ll watch it sometime, as long as I have access to a lot of bright lights and laughter afterwards. I recommend it to less sensitive viewers and people who like to ‘stay off the beaten trail,’ so to speak. (Rated NR)

Granted this review is a simple enough thing, but it made some things click for me. And it gave me a tremendous feeling of hope. Does this make sense?

I’m not sure what James has been up to this weekend. Yesterday, he went to a great birthday party at Pump It Up — one of those grand bouncing, climbing, sliding kinds of places, with enough noise and motion (read “sensory overload”) to put Trishy and me into a coma for a month. 😀 He had a BLAST.

Trishy and I put together a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle. She can do stuff like that with minimal help. She and her dad worked with her Pattern Blocks, and she played with Wedgits. There’ve been the usual conversations being had, imaginative play going on, and bedtime stories being read. She seems to have gotten a handle on the rhyming thing that was challenging her last week. She’s been asking me questions this weekend like “Do Bye and Hi rhyme?” “Does Dinkle rhyme with Tinkle?

She desperately wanted to go to Reisling’s birthday party Sunday, but the Pump it Up scene was WAY too much for her motor skills and sensory system. We spent a lot of time by ourselves in the hallway while James climbed and bounced (which is his default mode anyway. That kid is like Tigger on crack.) Trishy and I invented a game that involved throwing a kooshball back and forth on the count of 3 (“1 … 2… 3… THROW!”) with little variations (“1 … 2… 3 … FOUR … Throw!) and (“1 … 2… 3… KANGAROO!”) that made her giggle. None of this prevented the inevitable meltdown at the end, though. 😀 You know I was talking about ME, not her — right?

When I got home last night, I was overloaded and tried and, well … frankly I was being a bee-yotch. I wouldn’t even let Sarah talk to me, and I was snapping at little Trishy. I saw once again, that — at 14 — Sarah is already more mature and wiser than I in many ways. Instead of getting P.O.ed at me, like teenagers are supposed to do, she saw that I was on my last nerve with Trishy, and she took Trishy upstairs and played with her for a while, giving me some time to myself. I was in awe of her!

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