On July 29, 2013, PBS premiered the documentary Neurotypical. Neurotypical is a documentary from the viewpoint of autistic individuals that explores their daily lives, thoughts and feelings, as well as their opinion on the normal, or “neurotypical,” world. The film is rare, as it is not only poignant and revealing, but also remarkable and sometimes even comical.
The film reveals the wide spectrum of autism and the creative adaptions autistic people use to “pass” in normal society. It often shows a humorous light on what defines those who are normal and brings attention to the subject of neurodiversity, which is an important and complicated civil rights issue in the twenty-first century. Those with autism have rarely ever been heard like the individuals in this film.
Neurotypical was filmed mainly in North Carolina and Virginia and visits the lives of a little girl named Violet, a teenager named Nicholas, an adult named Paula who was diagnosed with autism as an adult after she read an article regarding it, a young adult named Katie, another adult named John, and a few more individuals. The interviews in this documentary are eye-opening, especially in one interview where autism advocate Wolf states that romance is impossible as it involves too much innuendo and hinting, which are the types of non-verbal cues and body language those with autism have a hard time reading. However, a high school senior with autism named Maddi dreams of having a relationship and believes it is completely possible. John, in his thirties, is also a good example that relationships can happen, as he has found two tricks to make friends–to say someone’s name as often as possible, since a “person’s own name is their favorite word in the whole wide world,” and to repeat the last three or four words of whatever the person says. “It works like magic,” John declares. “They’ll go on for hours, and they will talk about you as if you were the greatest thing next to the iPhone.” As a result of using these two tricks, John has gained the reputation of being a good listener and thus has done pretty well romantically.
The documentary raises the important central questions of what is “neurotypical” for the human mind, and should the vast and varied aspects of autism be looked upon as signs of dysfunction or insights into a broader understanding of what it is to be human? As a result of the film’s explorations of these questions and of the validity of human perception, Neurotypical is one of the only documentaries of its kind.
The full documentary can be watched online at PBS.org from now until August 28, 2013.