You know it best – being an autism parent is no easy task. When planning routines, working on behavioral and communication skills, and preventing meltdowns are on your agenda, a movie night might be just what the doctor ordered. Movies about autism can help you through some of your most challenging days and give you the strength you need.
Sometimes, movies tell our stories when we fail to do so, and they can help us feel less lonely through many struggles that we experience. Because of that, this article will cover 10 movies about autism that you want on your “to-watch” list.
Autism and the Movie Industry
The National Library of Medicine reveals that movies are not only an excellent tool for modeling social interactions but can also be used to increase the quality of family life.
NLM’s findings are significant because they show the educational benefits of screen media for children affected by ASD in improving language, creativity, and social exchange, but also that movies are highly beneficial as a way of scheduling family time and for providing individuals on the spectrum with relief from sensory challenges.
Watching movies about autism can also make you and your family feel like you’re a part of the autism community. With movies like Temple Grandin and even the Pokémon series, you get an insight into the lives of famous individuals who were/are on the spectrum.
Download our FREE guide on the best Autism Resources for Parents
A great strength often overlooked when people hear the diagnosis of ASD is that some individuals develop fixations or special interests that could lead them to create extreme knowledge around a topic, setting them up to perhaps become an industry leader in that field. For instance, Pokémon’s Satoshi Tajiri had a fixation with video games and bugs growing up. Some think his nickname of Dr. Bug was an essential inspiration for Professor Oak’s character.
The actor and writer Dan Aykroyd also proudly states that being on the spectrum helped him create the blockbuster hit Ghostbusters. Dan attributes his obsession with law enforcement and his fixations with the supernatural to sparking his idea for the film. Dan also explains that his extensive knowledge of criminological terms propelled his success in writing the series Blue Brothers, a story of two recidivists.
Temple Grandin, an autistic individual specializing in animal husbandry, had a knack for summing it up, saying: “The world needs different kinds of minds to work together.” We recommend you put all 10 movies below on your watch list. Each film will explore how different everyone is and why there is a spectrum. Let us have fun learning and bonding in this epic movie marathon!
Spectrum on the Screen
In cinema, stories have the remarkable power to entertain and enlighten, often shedding light on the diverse experiences of individuals within our society. One captivating and increasingly important genre within this realm is that of movies about autism, which explore the challenges, triumphs, and journeys of people on the spectrum.
Rain Main (1988)
Rain Man is a groundbreaking and iconic film that has left an incredible mark on portraying autism in cinema. Released in 1988, this critically acclaimed drama directed by Barry Levinson stars Tom Cruise as Charlie Babbitt and Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, Charlie’s older brother, who is portrayed as an individual with autism.
The film tells the story of Charlie, a self-centered and materialistic young man, who discovers the existence of his estranged brother Raymond when their father passes away and leaves his substantial fortune to Raymond. Initially driven by financial motives, Charlie embarks on a road trip with Raymond, only to discover the depths of his brother’s condition and the extraordinary capabilities that accompany it.
Temple Grandin (2010)
As one of the most prominent and famous figures in the autism community, it’s a no-brainer that the movie based on Temple Grandin’s life is one of the best movies about autism. The film is based on the life of a young autistic woman who overcomes the limitations and barriers facing her due to her diagnosis.
We discover that she only learned to speak at four and how she struggled through high school. Yet she went on to graduate with a Ph.D., became an expert in her field of animal husbandry, and made great strides within the autism community.
Based on a true story, this heart-warming tale is genuinely one of overcoming diversity and is a great pick-me-up film, as you watch as Temple learns to focus on what she can do rather than on what she can’t.
Jack of the Red Hearts (2015)
Jack of the Red Hearts depicts the journey of Jack (short for Jacqueline), an orphan who cons her way into a job as a therapist and companion for an 11-year-old girl with autism to keep her sister from foster care.
As you watch Glory learn communication skills and make it into a great school, you also watch as Jack transforms and grows and learns how to communicate. Jack hides behind her lies and rebellious views of the world to keep her safe, but it is all stripped by the movie’s end when she forms a genuine connection with the family, just as Glory did with her.
It is an excellent tale of how struggling through the adversities of autism impacts and transforms not only the individuals with the diagnosis but also the family members. This is the perfect movie to watch as a family, as it has something that every family member can relate to.
Click here to find out more
Miracle Run (2004)
Miracle Run is a tear-jerker that many parents whose kids have been diagnosed with autism can relate to. The story follows Corrine Morgan-Thomas, mother of twins, who receives a diagnosis for her sons that she refuses to accept. She’s in disbelief after visiting a specialist who tells her that her sons have a neurodevelopmental disorder known as autism and will most likely spend their lives institutionalized.
We accompany Corrine on her emotional journey as she grapples with denial and disbelief. She must find the strength to persevere when her boyfriend leaves her, and her son’s school recommends their departure due to their diagnosis. Fast forward to their teenage years, and we see the boys pushed past struggling with echolalia and being mute to thriving.
The great takeaway from Miracle Run is the realization that while autism provides challenges, it is not a life sentence. Ultimately, Phillip and Stephen prove that individuals with autism spectrum disorders can do the same thing as everyone else.
Please Stand By (2017)
To Wendy, a fiercely independent woman with a brilliant young mind who has autism spectrum disorder, people are an indecipherable code, and the world is a perplexing place. However, in Please Stand By, we watch as this young autistic woman runs away and goes on a road trip of a lifetime to deliver her script and enter into a screenwriting competition.
Wendy wants nothing more than to connect to the world. In this film, we watch as she learns how, in a tale of self-discovery, independence, and acceptance. This is a great, witty film to watch as a family. By the end, you’ll realize that we all must go on a “road trip” to discover how we connect with the world.
Movies about Autism and Family Dynamics
Several movies about autism explore family dynamics. These films offer different perspectives on how families navigate the challenges and joys of raising a child on the spectrum.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a film based on a novel. It follows the journey of an autistic young boy who goes on a journey to find one last letter following his father’s death in the 9/11 attack.
The film showcases Oskar’s incredible ways of seeing puzzles and the world and how this gift, or his Asperger’s syndrome, leads him to connect with his father. Although autism provides limits, this film will remind you that it also provides a powerful gift and that you can still find a way of connecting.
The Other Sister (1999)
In The Other Sister, Carla Tate is the only child in the family who is on the spectrum. Following her return from a school for children with intellectual impairments, she finally comes home, only now she seeks to gain more independence.
This is a great film to watch as a family as it portrays how learning to give your child independence can be highly stressful for parents and their children. For most parents, seeing their kids go off to college and find love is a joyous moment. For Carla’s mother, however, it is a very stressful time. Carla’s boyfriend Danny also has autism, and they prove they can live a “normal” life together.
The Story of Luke (2012)
The Story of Luke is a 2012 film that delves into the dynamics of a family dealing with autism. The story revolves around Luke, a 25-year-old with autism, who has lived with his grandparents most of his life. When his grandmother passes away, Luke’s grandfather can no longer care for him, leading Luke to seek independence.
Luke’s journey to find a job and make friends becomes a heartwarming exploration of family dynamics. As he faces various challenges and forms meaningful connections, his unique perspective on the world helps his family members see life differently. Through his innocence and determination, Luke inspires those around him to embrace individuality and find hope in their family bond.
Download our FREE guide on the best Autism Resources for Parents
Animated movies are a great way for children to understand autism better. Let’s explore some animated insights that can illuminate this unique way of experiencing the world.
Lilo and Stitch (2002)
Lilo and Stitch is a story about a young Hawaiian girl’s search for a friend as she feels misunderstood by her peers and struggles to communicate and deal with her emotions. When she goes to adopt a dog, however, Lilo comes back with the galaxy’s most wanted extraterrestrial, Stitch. Through her faith, love, and unwavering belief in Ohana, Lilo teaches Stitch how to love, and together they form an unbreakable bond.
Although it is not explicitly stated that Lilo is autistic, there are small tell-tale signs that many individuals on the spectrum can relate to, and so have found great joy in watching. For you as the parent, this is a great allegory for understanding how your child may feel in the world.
Mary and Max (2009)
Mary and Max is a touching animated film about the friendship of Mary Dinkle, a young Australian girl, and Max Horowitz, an older man from New York, both living with autism.
Mary, an 8-year-old girl from Melbourne, starts a pen-pal relationship with Max, a middle-aged man with Asperger’s syndrome, after randomly picking his name from a phone book. Despite their differences and challenges, their friendship blossoms over the years.
The film explores how Mary and Max support each other through life’s difficulties, using humor and sensitivity to portray their struggles. It ultimately conveys a powerful message about acceptance, understanding, and the profound impact of human connection, transcending barriers and stereotypes.
Feeling connected is the main thread throughout these movies. It is ultimately the most significant benefit of watching movies about autism, either to feel connected in the realization that you’re not alone or to feel connected in sharing an experience.
So, why is this so important to folks and families dealing with autism spectrum disorder? Feeling disconnected and overcoming feelings of isolation is a significant factor in dealing with this disorder, both for the parents and individuals on the spectrum.
Watching movies around someone’s struggles is a great way to connect with them and remind them that “Ohana means family, and family means no one is left behind or forgotten.”
Q: Are all the actors in these movies actually autistic?
A: In some cases, actors with autism have portrayed autistic characters, but often, neurotypical actors take on these roles. It’s a topic of ongoing discussion in the film industry.
Q: How accurate are these movies in depicting autism?
A: While these films provide valuable insights, it’s important to remember that autism is a spectrum, and individual experiences vary greatly. These movies offer a general understanding but may not reflect every person’s experience with this condition.
Q: Can movies about autism help reduce stigma?
A: Yes, they can. By humanizing and empathetically portraying individuals with autism, these films reduce stigma and promote acceptance.
Q: Are there any recent movies about autism that are not on this list?
A: Many new films are being made exploring autism from different angles. This list includes some classics and notable ones, but the field is continually evolving.