Nonverbal autism gets spotlight in new documentary

Kerry Magro

By Kerry Magro | February 3, 2021

This guest post is by Kerry Magro, a professional speaker, best-selling author and autism entertainment consultant who is on the autism spectrum. A version of this blog appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

When I heard that they were turning the best-selling book ‘The Reason I Jump’ into a full-length documentary film I was SO excited. For those who haven’t read the book, yet it was written in 2007 written from the perspective of a nonspeaking 13-year-old boy in Naoki Higashida. The book was later translated to English which made it rise in popularity even further! I gave it a read after seeing Jon Stewart mention it when he was the host of The Daily Show.

The 82-minute documentary looks at the lives of 5 autistic people’s families from four different continents with an emphasis on nonverbal autism.

This film can be important for our community for so many reasons.

First, we often don’t have an autistic nonverbal protagonist portrayed in our entertainment industry.

Growing up, I was nonverbal till 2.5, diagnosed with autism at 4, and didn’t speak in complete sentences till I was 7. While I was watching this film, I imagined how my childhood would have been different if my community had a film like The Reason I Jump as a vehicle to educate and break down barriers and stigmas around nonverbal autism. The only 2 films my community had/knew of was Rain Man and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (although Leonardo DiCaprio in an interview discussed that his character was not in fact on the autism spectrum.)

When I think about our history of entertainment projects, I can only think of a handful of documentaries that discussed nonverbal autism along with The HBO Series I was the autism entertainment consultant on in Mrs. Fletcher. Autism is a spectrum and as we have larger conversations about representation, especially in hiring disabled actors, it’s also important for us to have conversations on writing roles that reflect our community.

Second, It also gives us a platform to discuss autism across the globe which I appreciate as autism doesn’t stop in the United States. Over 70 million people worldwide have autism and having multiple international perspectives I hope will lead to even more grassroots advocacy.

Finally, I hope this encourages our society to not dismiss those with nonverbal autism as unintelligent. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I dislike functioning labels, and more often than not I hear people refer to those who are nonverbal as ‘low-functioning.’ Naoki’s book here is a testament that some autistics who are nonverbal are absolutely brilliant. If you need more evidence, research autistic adults Carly Fleischmann and Ido Kedar are also nonverbal.

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