Autism, Culture, and Representation

After repeatedly encountering the phrase “Rain Man” in various works about autism, I’ve been hoping to see the film for a while now. At the same time, I was hesitant to see the movie that really created the autism stereotype.

Even so, I was not at all prepared for it. Not only was the representation of autism incredibly stereotypical, but the majority of the movie was just downright painful. I expected there to be some tension between the Charlie and Raymond, but I had no idea that it would last for more than an hour of the movie. I felt like I was sitting there just watching abuse.

It was one of the hardest movies to watch. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tempted to leave a movie unfinished, but I felt obligated to see it. I couldn’t see how it would ever be a “funny” movie, as was said on the back cover.

Anyways. I was especially intrigued to learn that the person who Raymond’s personality was based off (since this was somewhat based on a true story) was a person who did not have autism. It’s kind of ironic that the character who came to define autism as a form of genius was based on a person who was not autistic. What were perceptions of autism like before this movie came out?

While it was blatantly clear to me how this movie created stereotypes, I did think it was interesting that autism was portrayed in an adult. Since the predominant stereotype of autism is something only children have, I was surprised that they chose to represent autism in an adult. How did autism become stereotypically a childhood disorder?

Although it was painful to watch, Rain Man has helped set up the context I needed to better understand some of the stereotypes still prevalent today.

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