Understanding & Respectfully Representing Autism
EY’s commitment to workplace neurodiversity gave me insight into autism, which anyone can get through respectful films & TV series
In the last few months, my team and I have proudly been supporting the launch of EY’s first-ever UK Neurodiverse Centre of Excellence. The NCoE joins a number of other centres across the world to power innovation in cutting-edge technologies like AI & blockchain, pull more creativity into business, and ensure greater workplace diversity & inclusion.
More specifically, this NCoE in the UK seeks to build a safe & supportive working environment for people with cognitive differences, offering enough space for them to spread their wings and make the most of a unique talent for innovation.
At the centre, neurodivergent individuals will be given the same opportunities to shine as their neurotypical colleagues, in the process helping us accelerate our clients’ tech transformation plans and solve today’s most challenging business problems.
I couldn’t be prouder of the amazing, forward-thinking work EY is doing here — work that has opened my own mind to the exceptional potential of neurodivergent minds. Obviously not everyone has the honour of getting a special insight like this, but anyone can easily journey into the brains of these incredible humans through the mediums of film & TV.
So many movies and shows do a bad job at accurately and respectfully portraying the autistic experience. But others treat their subject matter with care, often especially where protagonists are determined to achieve great things. You can easily access some of the better mainstream titles on popular streaming sites, like Netflix’s endearing comedy-drama series Atypical and Prime Video’s gentle drama film X+Y.
But if you happen to be in London over the next week and fancy something a little different, you’re in for a real treat. The Barbican’s Autism and Cinema: An Exploration of Neurodiversity brings together a diverse and artfully-curated selection of films that demonstrate the problem of autistic representation in cinema.
According to the Barbican, some filmmakers portray autistic people “from the outside, looking in with fascination at a high-functioning or magical character who throws out of joint the ‘neurotypical’ lives of those around them,” while others strive to create cinematic work far more “reflective of autism and the experience of neurodiversity.”
The short-but-sweet season contains some superb titles, including Temple Grandin, a strikingly sweet and well-assembled 2010 biopic starring Clare Danes that reminds viewers people with autism spectrum disorder are actually real humans and not just the mere sum of their tics and stutters.
Another is Jigsaw, an immersive 1980 film bringing the audience into close contact with the structure and content of autistic school kids’ thoughts and actions.
The latter is screened alongside Illuminating the Wilderness, which (in my humble opinion) is the title that most successfully and faithfully depicts the autistic experience. This almost wordless exploratory documentary, which was shortlisted for the 2021 Turner Prize, follows a unique trip to Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands.
Some 15 Miles to the west of Loch Ness, Glen Affric is one of the most stunning and majestic parts of my home country, and it’s as close to my heart as any efforts to properly understand and portray how our neurodivergent friends tick. Project Artworks, who filmed and directed the doc, does both the geographical area and subject matter justice with its achingly beautiful, soul-stirring cinematography.
As viewers take in the Scottish wilderness in all its sweeping glory, they often hear nothing. And when they do, it’s little more than the peaceful sounds of Mother Nature going about her business — raindrops falling, leaves rustling in the wind, birds chirping. The film isn’t totally wordless though, with the occasional human voice — at times indistinct, other times less so — punctuating the gorgeous quietude.
Ultimately, the film acts as an ingenious portal into the autistic mind, bashing away at our incredibly limited and biased perspective as external observers, and instead allowing us to experience the environment in virtually the same way as the autistic people on the trip.
Illuminating the Wilderness is a breath-taking must-see, but hurry if you want to catch it at the Barbican tomorrow, Thursday 23rd Sept, as only a few tickets are still up for grabs! In the meantime, watch one of the official trailers below: