It was 1984 when I first heard the word "autism." While sitting in a Child Psychology class, the professor said something similar to: "Those autistic kids are nuts. The sit in a corner all day, pulling out their own hair and fingernails." The class gasped. I was intrigued.
What would cause someone to behave in such a unusual, extreme manner?
A few months later I was given the opportunity to meet an individual diagnosed with a classic form of autism. I was nervous, uncertain how to introduce myself to a young man likely bald and covered in bandages from self abuse. I turned the corner and came face-to-face with a very typical looking man. Although he used language in an unusual manner and was unsure about social norms during our talk he was, otherwise, not the caricature the professor painted during my class months earlier.
It was an important experience for me. First: even the best intentioned among us subscribe to and perpetuate stereotypes. The college professor probably saw one child with autism in his entire career, and generalized that image to an entire population. He was wrong. Second: autism contains a broad spectrum of symptoms within the disorder, and individuals are effected differently, and to various degrees by those common symptoms. Third: despite professional thought to the contrary in 1984, individuals with autism--like all other living beings--want to experience love, be happy, develop relationships and connect with people.
It's just that sometimes, folks with autism don't know how to do those things.
That's the premise of Adam. Diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger's Disorder, Adam lives a simple and routine existence in his New York City apartment. Employed, educated and mostly independent, Adam struggles heavily with recognizing and understanding the abstract social cues most of us pick up naturally. He talks too much about topics he likes, and struggles emotionally when he's around people he doesn't know well. He's handsome and interesting, however, so he catches the attention of Beth, his neighbor from one floor down.
Adam and Beth begin a friendship that turns romantic. The movie highlights the obvious struggles of two people trying to connect and develop a meaningful relationship while experiencing the world in very different ways.
Adam is an average movie, with average performances and an average plot. It's remarkable, however, in that it furthers the notion that individuals with autism are not stereotypes forever held down by their symptoms. When people surrounding them recognize the humanity and appreciate the individuality beneath the symptoms, real life can occur.