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Positively Autistic cover image

Positively Autistic 2008

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Lani Selick
Director n/a
DVD, color, 21 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Autism, Disability Studies, Sociology

Date Entered: 07/08/2010

Reviewed by Wendy Highby, University of Northern Colorado

Positively Autistic challenges the medical model that views autism as a disease. It profiles four activists in the autism rights movement. The activists advocate for the self-definition of autistic people. They view autism as a difference, not a disorder. They question the efficacy of applied behavior analysis therapies. They challenge research and policy agendas that are oriented toward normalization of autistic people; instead, they champion the concept of neurodiversity. In their opinion, the problem lies not in autism, but in a society that stigmatizes and is not inclusive to all.

Three of the four activists are autistic people. Amanda Baggs makes YouTube videos explaining how she experiences autism. One of the videos, In My Language, describes her unique system of communication. She questions accepted definitions of dependence and independence. Michelle Dawson is a researcher at University of Montreal, a workplace where she experiences complementary minds working together. She questions the ethics of society’s assumption “that there is an optimal way to be human.” Ari Ne’eman is the Founding President of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. Ari challenges the status quo. He sees neurodiversity as a civil rights issue and lobbies for the inclusion of autistic people in the formulation of research and policy agendas. He states, “the problem to us is not being autistic; the problem is a society that does not provide for the right education, supports, and services to allow us to live a high quality of life.” The sole non-autistic advocate in the film is Estee Klar-Wolfond, the mother of six-year-old Adam, who has autism. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Autism Acceptance Project.

This Canadian Broadcasting Corporation presentation is a straightforward journalistic treatment of the subject. The film is essential viewing for any student of autism or disability studies. It is readily applicable to curriculum in education, health sciences, sociology, and public policy. The documentary reframes the argument, turning the medical model on its head; it is mind-opening and could be the catalyst of a lively classroom discussion. For a contrasting viewpoint, it could be paired with Sue Rubin and Gerardine Wurzburg’s Autism Is a World (2004), a documentary more in line with the pro-cure, medical model.