Thesbians with a license to kill…through performance
The docudrama play Autistic License has performed for some time, making a review of the performance somewhat illogical. Instead, I’ll offer an interpretation of the significance in the growing saturation of autism in media.
For those unfamiliar with Autistic License, the play serves as a primer for newcomers seeking to learn autism while simultaneously identifying with audience members who have autistic relatives, using common struggles for autistic parents as plot devices to drive the story. I won’t spoil the end for those who have yet to watch or see the play, but if you know someone who has autism, this play will likely rub off on you.
Stacey Dinner-Levin’s first full-length play was named one of the 10 best plays of 2007 by the Pioneer Press. The play was based on the experiences of raising an autistic son, the oldest of four boys. The script was completed in 2005, prior to the breakthrough story of Jason McElwain’s 20-point performance at a high school basketball game. In other words, when the play was materialized, autism still had yet to truly saturate the mainstream audience. In what I’ll call the “Rain Man” era of autism in media (before McElwain’s story was a national headline), writers and reporters focused on introducing autism to a strange world. Autistic License reflects that, condensing the stages of an autistic child’s development to less than 90 minutes while acknowledging that results may vary.
There is a moment that forebodes the next stage of media exposure in autism: exploring the many paths of the spectrum. A scene with the mother and a psychiatrist who makes the diagnosis brings the two to a conversation about the future of the mother’s autistic child. The behavioral patterns expressed by the child (played by an adult actor) reinforce the idea that life will operate in ways uncommon to a neurotypical community. When the mother and psychiatrist depart, a lesson is told to help relatives make the most out of their child’s condition. A few years later, the exploratory stage is unfolding with contemporary autism stories. WCCO is airing an exploration piece tomorrow night; you’ll hear my thoughts after the broadcast.
In the interim, Autistic License is the most resourceful type of media created in the “Rain Man era.” Parents aren’t left to wonder what will become of their autistic kids, which can save them a lot of stress. Although media exposure in autism has since transitioned to the “McElwain era,” anyone looking to play catch-up will find this production fruitful. A college course on autism (such classes do exist) could point out the accuracy in portraying autism by comparing this play to the most famous representation before it: Rain Man. Watch the two back-to-back sometime to see how time often plays its own hand in shaping our perceptions.