The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons on the autism spectrum disorder. We envision a society where Filipinos on the spectrum become the best of their potentials -- self-reliant, independent, productive, socially-accepted citizens of an Autism-OK Philippines.

08 May 2012

Autism At The Movies

By Dang U. Koe, ASP Chair Emeritus

Ms. Dang Koe
In the early ‘90s, there was only one well-known autism movie, “Rain Man,” which is now considered a classic. Big Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman star as brothers, with the latter portraying an institutionalized man with autism.

Then in 1991, “Ipagpatawad Mo” was the first Filipino movie that tackled autism with seriousness and compassion. It was directed by Laurice Guillen and starred Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon who portray a married couple that tries to make their marriage work despite the tensions created by their first-born child who turns out to be autistic.

These days, families who want to know more about autism through movies have a wide selection to choose from.

On top of the list is the Emmy-award winning HBO movie“Temple Grandin,” a 2010 biopic starring Claire Danes.

The movie “paints a picture of a young woman's perseverance and determination while struggling with the isolating challenges of autism at a time when it was still quite unknown. The film chronicles Temple's early diagnosis; her turbulent growth and development during her school years; the enduring support she received from her mother, aunt and her science teacher; and her emergence as a woman with an innate sensitivity and understanding of animal behavior.”

A personal favorite of this author is “Ocean Heaven” which is about a terminally ill father played by Jet Li who struggles to look after his 21-year-old son who has autism. Released in 2010, its Asian setting and characters hit closer to the hearts of Filipinos.

Another favorite is “The Black Balloon,” a 2008 Australian/British AFI award-winning dramedy feature film. The teen-aged lead character tries to move in a new school but his autistic brother’s unusual antics take him on an emotional journey.

A new film starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, yet to open in the country, is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” about a nine-year-old Aspie who loses his father in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.

Accurate Description

However, as Autism Research Institute noted, “majority of (autism) movies do not give an accurate description of the underlying cause of autism and may, in fact, either label a person as autistic who, given the circumstances presented, may not be, or fail to recognize the disorder and confuse it with another neurodevelopmental disorder.”

That being said, here are some other autisMovies for your viewing.

- “Adam” (2009) is a film about a lonely man with Asperger's Syndrome who develops a relationship with his upstairs neighbor.

- From the Netherlands, “My Name is Khan” (2010) is the story of a Muslim man who has Asperger’s syndrome and is detained by authorities after 9/11 for his odd behaviors suspected as terrorist behavior. He later is helped by a therapist and begins a journey to meet US President Obama to clear his name.

- “Mozart and the Whale” in 2005 stars Josh Harnett, a love story between two savants with Asperger's syndrome whose social disparities sabotage their budding relationship.

- Sean Penn in “I am Sam” (1998) is a mentally retarded man with autistic-like features who fights for custody of his seven-year-old daughter, and in the process teaches his cold-hearted lawyer the value of love and family.

- “The Other Sister,” 1999, stars Juliette Lewis and Dianne Keaton. It is the story of a girl with many autistic traits who proves herself capable of living independently when she moves into an apartment and starts college.

- Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin are in “Mercury Rising,” 1998; a brilliant nine year-old autistic boy becomes a target for assassins after he breaks a top government code.

- “Forrest Gump” stars Tom Hanks. A 1994 Oscar best picture, it presents a comical view of the American experience from the 1940s to the 1980s as seen through the eyes of a man with some autistic traits.

- Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio topbills “What's Eating Gilbert Grape?” Gilbert has to care for his autistic brother Arnie and his obese mother, which gets in the way when love walks into his life.

- In 1991, Jodie Foster directed “Little Man Tate.” The lead character is a genius with many Aspberger's traits. It is an interesting insight into the emotions of a child with autistic traits.

- “Backstreet Dreams” (1990) stars Brooke Shields. A gangster, with apparent mafia connections, winds up taking care of his autistic son.

- Tommy Lee Jones and Kathleen Turner are in “House of Cards” (1993). A bright, young girl who exhibits many autistic characteristics, withdraws soon after her father is killed.

- “The Boy Who Could Fly,” 1996, is about an autistic boy who dreams of flying and who touches everyone he meets.

- “Snow Cake,” 2006, is a drama focused on the friendship between a high-functioning autistic woman, played by Sigourney Weaver, and a man who is traumatized after a fatal car accident.

- “Mary and Max” is a 2009 Australian clay-animated black comedy-drama film. It is a tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely, eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max, a 44-year-old, severely obese man living in New York later diagnosed with Aspergers’ Syndrome. Voice actors include Eric Bana.

Sources: Autism Research Institute, Autism Speaks, Autism Society of America, Wikipedia.

Showing of “Alyana,” the first documentary feature film on autism in the Philippines produced by MiranaMedina, can be booked through Autism Society Philippines. For inquiries, please email

Uploaded with permission

Acknowledgment Manila Bulletin: Autism At The Movies


dada BEAR said...

Kudos for compiling these movies.. will try to get my hands on all and watch them (maybe someday w/ my family since i'm abroad).. There's also a tv movie starring Shia LaBeouf titled Tru Confessions that i remember that tackles autism (i think).. Try to watch it and reveiw for yourself.. Thanks again and more power! ;)

claudinne asinas said...

there's a new movie "Every Child is Special" that tackles dyslexia and other issues. It is very nice, informative and heartwarming.

Gypsy at Home said...

here is a list that includes other movies tackling ASD:

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