Recently I signed on to help as a technical consultant for a new indie film called “Jane Wants A Boyfriend.” The film is about a young New Yorker named Jane who is in her mid 20s and is trying to find a relationship. The thing that makes this difficult though is that Jane has Asperger’s. This is one of the main reasons that I wanted to get involved with this film. In 2012 I worked on the movie “Joyful Noise” to help consult regarding one of the characters who was a teenager with Asperger’s. Now this film gave me a new opportunity to consult for a new character with Asperger’s.
While the film is not set to be released until sometime in 2014, the pre-production has already begun. I’ve been watching several movies recently featuring young adults with autism, specifically “Mozart and The Whale,” “Adam” and “The Story of Luke.” A realization I’ve been coming to while watching these films and seeing Jane’s character start her journey is that we really should credit the actors and actresses for taking on these roles. Autism is not an easy thing to portray especially when it comes to young adults in transition.
Although autism can affect many individuals differently, a consistent feature I’ve seen in these films is the sensory overload that the characters deal with. This is where consulting for these films has become very tricky. While my work on “Joyful Noise” involved trying to help develop a character who was going through puberty and getting through school, Jane’s character is trying to transition to living independently and finding love. Possibly the hardest part of giving advice because of this is what they need to portray to show the sensory overload to an audience.
Because all individuals with autism are unique, I’ve told the actors that it’s important to put your own spin on it and try to make it unique. It’s important to find a few coping techniques for the characters to engage in when these overloads begin. Things such as having a stress ball, using noise cancelling headphones and listening to soothing music can be helpful in times of sensory overload. I find such techniques helpful, and such activities might be good to incorporate into character development in these films.
So if anyone is ever looking for advice on how to play a role with autism and portray those sensory difficulties, the best advice I can give to you is to take some time to get to know autistic individuals within our community. Get to know people who are in similar situations to the characters. Today there are countless young adults on the spectrum who are self-advocates and want to help people be aware of what autism is. Including us is how you make these portrayals realistic.