Five documentaries for parents of autistic children

These projects are inspiring and educating at the same time

Autism-based movies and documentaries to watch right now. Autism-based movies and documentaries to watch right now.

As a society, we often observe how autistic children are stereotypically singled out for lacking imagination and empathy. The fact that they are so much more than what their diagnosis and their external behaviour might convey often gets missed. It is imperative that as guides, guardians, parents, clinicians and researchers, we possess sufficient empathy and kindness when interacting with autistic children. Because, as experts say, it is not they who need fixing, but the society's rigid and inflexible expectations that need to be overhauled. 

On April 1, Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, a renowned medical journal, published a research paper titled, 'Evidence based kindness and empathy for autistic children'. Families, said the paper, are leading the way in identifying relationship-based approaches to establish the sense of safety so vital for autistic children and young people to thrive in their own ways. 

It is essential for parents to understand that stricter and harder parenting approaches to control autistic children's behaviour, will only make things worse. What children need, said researchers in the paper, is unconditional love and kindness, not control. Parents and professionals must tweak their behaviour in order to tackle their child's challenging behaviour with curiosity and compassion, peace and hope. 

Here are five films based on parents' relationship with their autistic children which are a must-watch, especially if you're a parent of a child with special needs. 

1. DAD- a film about autism and fatherhood (2018)

This is a very interesting documentary from five years ago. It immediately came to my mind the moment I thought of films on the subject of autism and how parents are meant to deal with their children with special needs. This is a short documentary in which twelve fathers from Australia share their experiences of navigating the world of parenting and autism. Each one of them has interesting anecdotes to share and it is absorbing to watch how parents in different geographies deal with the same challenges in different ways.  

2 Uljhan (2024)

Unlike traditional portrayals in media and film, which often highlight exceptional skills in areas like music, art, mathematics, or memory among individuals with autism, this documentary provides a nuanced exploration of the diverse spectrum of challenges experienced by people with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The narrative is peppered with interviews, personal anecdotes, and expert insights as the storyline aims to highlight the everyday-ness of specially-abled children rather than burdening them with societal expectations that require them to be "extraordinarily skilled," "ingenious," "talented" and so on. 

The documentary elucidates the reality that while some individuals with autism may indeed possess savant abilities, such skills are not universal nor defining for the entire spectrum. Drawing upon real-life examples and research findings, the film emphasizes the importance of recognizing the individuality and unique strengths of each person with autism, rather than succumbing to stereotypes or assumptions,' reads the description of the film, made jointly by  Jindal Institute of Behavioural Sciences (JIBS) in collaboration with The Wire. 

3. Decoding Autism (2022)

This twelve-minute film on decoding autism provides a peek into the lives of caregivers and families who form the fulcrum around which the life of a person with special needs revolves. What is it to be special? How does one define 'different?' Here is a film that sends the message home - being autistic is not a tragedy. Rather, it is a way of being, part of human neurodiversity and not a disorder. But being autistic also results in mental and physical ill health, and pushes one to try and exist within society's rigid and inflexible expectations and struggle to find support within health care, education, and social systems that fail to understand autistic people's needs. 

4. Mozart and the Whale 

This film delves into the world of neurodiversity through the perspectives of two autistic individuals, Donald and Isabel. The film explores the universal need for acceptance, unconditional love and kindness. This film is engrossing, touching and moving to the extent that one is bound to think about it long after it's over. 

5. 'My Son, Pankaj' (2014)

Here's a short documentary film that traces the journey of a mother of an autistic child. With a runtime of 19 minutes, made by Nishtha Shailajan the film is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It makes you root for both, the mother and the son in a way that moves you to tears and think of their journey long after the end credits begin to roll. The mother here in this documentary is clear about one thing - "our children do not need fixing or a cure, but rather recognition, acceptance, and support for their way of being."

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