Throughout history, storytelling has played an important role in the evolution of humans. Due to this importance, storytelling has always appeared in all human civilizations, including today’s society. Art and science are two methods used to convey stories to onlookers. Although they share this similarity, there is a major way in which makes both approaches of storytelling ultimately different. This is that art is seen as subjective whereas science is known to be objective. Since this leading difference exists, it has been shown that many popular art media fail to properly convey science to viewers. A media source this can be predominantly found amongst, would be that of the multi-billion dollar film industry, a leading industry known to have a profound influence on its audience. By creating films that inaccurately portray psychological disorders, the film industry creates insensitivity and ignorance towards people that may actually suffer with these real life disorders.
This paper will discuss the disorder known in the DSM-V as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), formally known as Asperger’s syndrome. It will first define the cause, symptoms, and treatment of Asperger’s syndrome. After this, the change from Asperger’s syndrome to autism spectrum disorder will be discussed. Next, it will consider the film Adam (2009) and the way in which the film portrays this disorder. More closely, analyzing some pivotal scenes that demonstrate an inadequate delineation of the disorder in comparison to its existence in reality. This paper will conclude by summarizing the information mentioned above with a final assessment on the film and why it crudely depicts this psychological disorder.
In an article written by Barnhill (2001), the author discusses Asperger’s syndrome by explaining the brief history behind the disorder, ways in which the disorder is diagnosed, and the importance of individuals gaining the appropriate diagnosis. Asperger’s syndrome is considered to be a disorder that presents during the developmental stages of adolescence. The disorder is thought to be a moderate form of autism. Some characteristics that have been found amongst individuals with Asperger’s syndrome include the inability to have back and forth conversation with others as well as impaired interpersonal skills. Misdiagnosis of AS is quite common and there is a bit of debate amongst clinicians about what the proper diagnostic measures should include. Since AS is misdiagnosed often, it isn’t uncommon for someone suffering with the disorder to go throughout their childhood years and into adulthood without any appropriate treatments that may benefit them. This is why it’s important for caregivers, doctors, and teachers to have a clear understanding of how Asperger’s syndrome presents among children.
Asperger’s syndrome was considerably new in terms of the fact it had only been recognised by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1994 (Barnhill 2001). Since AS hadn’t been recognized for long, the research was fairly limited, causing the frequent misdiagnosis mentioned previously. In the newest edition of the DSM-V, an important diagnostic guide used by many health care professionals, Asperger’s syndrome had been removed, instead being incorporated into the umbrella category of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parsloe and Babrow (2016) found that this change had sparked concern amongst many individuals who wondered if this change will cause an even higher rate of misdiagnosis. McPartland, Reichow, and Volkmar’s study (as cited in Parsloe and Babrow, 2016) used 657 individuals previously used in clinical trials for the DSM-IV and found that through re-evaluation of the participants in relation to the DSM-V criteria, 39.4 % no longer met the diagnostic criteria. This study is quite alarming in the fact that it proves the misdiagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome will continue to grow due to this change in diagnostic criteria set out by the newest DSM revision.
As background information has now been provided on Asperger’s syndrome, the discussion can be made in regards to the 2009 film Adam and how the film portrays such a disorder. The rom-com follows that of Adam Reiki, an electrical engineer in his mid 20’s who recently lost his father and Beth Buchwald, and aspiring children’s book writer who recently moved into Adam’s apartment complex. After meeting, the two are seen spending a lot of time together. One evening Beth comes to visit Adam and he invites her inside his apartment. After talking for a little on the couch, Adam brings up the previous night they shared in Central Park, asking if she was sexually excited. After Beth answers no to this question, Adam explains that he was only asking because he was and wanted to know if she felt the same. Beth, who is now feeling uncomfortable, gets up to leave when Adam stops her by blurting out that he has Asperger’s syndrome. When speaking of AS he says that when he was younger he would have thought that she was sexually excited because he was. He explains that this is called mind-blindness and that he had to learn to ask what others were thinking.
The mind-blindness theory in regards to autism spectrum disorder is a term that was created by Baron-Cohon to describe his hypothesis that the failure to read minds is exclusive to ASD (as cited in Dinishak and Akhtar, 2013). However, Dinishak and Akhar (2013) found that this term can influence how people view ASD. In their paper, they use an example of Robinson, a man with Asperger’s syndrome, who spoke of a time when he had been told of a person being killed and smiled in response. His neighbor took this as an improper reaction, but Robinson goes on to say that this way only because his neighbor wasn’t able to understand what was running through his mind at the time (Dinishak and Akhar, 2013) .This case is an example of how people thought as neurotypical (NT) can actually display mind-blindness towards individuals with ASD.
In the scene of Adam (2009) previously mentioned, the fact that Adam being the individual with Asperger’s syndrome, uses the term mind-blindness in describing his behaviour exemplifies the way in which Asperger’s syndrome is inaccurately portrayed. Mind-blindness carries negative undertones and by using such a term, the film is contributing to stereotypes created against people with ASD. Dinishak and Akhar (2013) state that instead of viewing people with autism spectrum disorders as being “blind” to what NT’s see, individuals should consider them as seeing differently. By using this information, it can be concluded that the director of the film lacks proper knowledge in Asperger’s syndrome.
Throughout Adam (2009), Asperger’s syndrome is reflected upon how the media continues to view the disorder in a negative way. The film adds to the stigma that savant abilities are exclusive to autism spectrum disorders. This is shown by the way in which Adam seems to carry a special interest in space throughout the whole film. One scene in particular that highlights this would be when Adam is seen sitting on a park bench with his friend Harlan while trying to discuss recent space related developments. Harlan responds by telling him to “Speak English… lunch time is for guy talk” (Adam 2009).
This misconception continues to be seen amongst the media. Tang and Bie (2016) show this through a study they conducted in China. Their 10 year study analyzed the stigma of autism as it was portrayed amongst 5 major Chinese newspapers. As a result of their study, they came to a key finding that people with ASD are most often depicted as savants. According to Draaisma (as cited in Tang and Bie, 2016), “Compared to the clinical reality of autism, the relatively high percentage of savant stories in the media is believed to bias public understanding of autism and to reinforce the social stereotype of autistic persons as savants (Draaisma,2009,p.12).
The last scene to discuss in the inaccurate portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome in the film comes when Beth asks Lyra, the nurse at the school she is working at, if she knows about Asperger’s syndrome. After Lyra gives Beth some information on Asperger’s syndrome, Beth then goes on to say that this means that someone with this disorder isn’t prime relationship material with which Lyra responds by saying not really. This scene again plays into society’s ignorance of the disorder by implying that people with ASD aren’t capable of carrying out romantic relationships.
This claim has been disproven in a study followed out by Strunz, Schermuck, Ballerstein, Ahlers, Dziobek, and Roepke (2017) who aimed to inspect relationship satisfaction and experience in ASD individuals. Their results proved that a large mass of adults with ASD are experienced when it comes to intimate relationships. 44% of the subjects were in current relationships while 29% had confirmed having previous relationships. To conclude, they were able to confirm that individuals with ASD are interested in carrying out relationships.
Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that widely affects the life of many individuals. Research on Asperger’s syndrome may be limited due to its relatively new nature causing high rates of misdiagnosis. However, as autism spectrum disorders gain more popularity hopefully proper treatments will also become more prominent. Since the media has a strong influence on the way people view others with developmental disorders, it is easy for stigmas to continue if proper education isn’t addressed. In the film Adam (2009), the director fails to accurately represent Asperger’s syndrome, furthering the creation of stereotypes and negative connotations. This is done by using words such as mind-blindness in regards to ASD, Adam being portrayed as a savant, and lastly by the way in which Adam is seen as being incapable of carrying out a romantic relationship.
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