I was 21 in 1988 when I first saw the film ‘Rain Man’ at the cinema and I was blown away by the film at the time. I now try to watch it whenever I see that it is on TV, as it was the other night, making me stay up later than usual for the ending that I already know so well. It was my first exposure to autism and I was immediately intrigued by Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond Babbitt. He is such a great actor and he had clearly done a lot of research into autism, before filming as he got the body language and mannerisms just right, even down to the way he walked . His violent reaction to the loud noise of the smoke alarm or to being touched, are all now familiar to me as I have witnessed similar behaviours at Joshua’s special school. It introduced the notion that along the autistic spectrum, some have a gift for exceptional maths abilities or incredible memories, although it did , falsely at the time, make me think thatskill might apply to every autistic person. It is a brilliant, touching film that I enjoy watching over and over again and I count it amongst my favourites.
When we were initially given Joshua’s diagnosis of devastating brain damage, my husband said that he pictured Joshua being like Rain Man in his future abilities, as a means to process and understand what was happening in our lives as new parents with a baby son with brain damage. But sadly Joshua is not as able as Rain Man and he has no amazing memory or maths ability and Joshua will never ‘drive slowly on the driveway’. Joshua does not yet have the language to be able to insist on his bed by the window, nor is he able to tell the time, knowing when his favourite TV shows were about to begin.
But in many ways Joshua is more fortunate than Rain Man as he:
- Does not get stressed out by routines. He does not have the need to eat a particular dish on a certain day or else his world will end. Joshua does not need to wear certain clothes or watch the same TV show at the same time each day or else he has a meltdown. Joshua certainly has his favourite meals and his preferred DVDs and music that he watches endlessly, but the world does not end if they are not available.
- Joshua will not be institutionalised in his lifetime as Raymond Babbitt was. In the film, he was sent away to a residential facility when he accidentally scalded his little brother when his bath water was too hot. Even if one day Joshua no longer lives in our home,I am confident that facilities are much more homely nowadays and less like a prison.
- Rain Man is more caught between two worlds than Joshua is ; he is aware enough to know that as an adult he should be driving and going on dates, dancing with ladies. I do not think that Joshua has that dilemma about what he should be doing at his age, he is too busy living his best life.
- I like to think that Joshua is more happy than Rain Man, who seemed to spend much of his life stressed out. Joshua does not give the impression of being stressed in the least. He is a laid back, adaptable young man. Yesterday I did not even get my usual hug when he arrived at daycare, he rushed into the busy room to see what was going on and what he had missed.
- Perhaps Joshua does have a special skill after all; he makes people feel good, they smile when he smiles and he smiles a lot. He is such a warm, friendly personality who lights up a room when he walks into it. What an amazing talent to have!
So thank you to the makers and actors of Rain Man, it has entertained me over the years and has also given me perspective that, when I first watched it at 21, I had no idea what lay in store for me in my future.