The episode scheduled to show March 18 is called "True Life: I'm Autistic" and it features profiles of three teens with different profiles, all on the autism spectrum. Author and advocate Valerie Paradiz has posted background information on the show which features her 16-year-old son Elijah Wapner, who has Asperger's and has worked as stand-up comedian in New York City. In this piece written a year ago during the filming of the show, Ms. Paradiz explains that she hopes the show will give her son -- whom viewers can see and especially hear during his own voiceover narration -- the chance to speak for himself to a world that doesn't understand autism spectrum disorders. In this article on her website, Valerie Paradiz explains more about the show and publishes a description of the True Life episode from its producers. It's short and to the point, written for a mainstream audience who has heard something about autism but knows very little or nothing: Here it is:
True Life: I’m AutisticAbout 1.5 million Americans are believed to have some type of autism, a developmental disability that impairs a person's social interaction and communication skills. Because of recent news stories about the rate of autism diagnosis rising to 1 in 150 births, this disorder has captured the media’s attention.
Yet to most us, autism is still mysterious, and we tend to keep people with autism at arm’s length. Few of us understand what autism really means, and even fewer know what it’s like to live with.
In this episode of True Life, we get up close and personal with three young people with autism. Each is affected by autism in a unique way (autism is considered a “spectrum disorder” that affects individuals differently and with varying severity). Yet they’re all capable of amazing things.
Jeremy, 17, has autism so severe, he can’t speak, make appropriate facial expressions or make gestures. Because he has so much difficulty communicating, he’s never had any friends his own age. Now he’s learning to use a portable machine that speaks the words he types, and he’s reaching out to peers at his high school. He’s even decided to host a party at his house for the first time in his life. Can Jeremy break through and make friends at his high school?
Jonathan, 19, is an autistic savant – someone who has both a severe disability and an extraordinary talent, like a math or music skill. In Jon’s case, he creates astonishing charcoal drawing and paintings without ever having taken lessons. Lately, though, Jonathan’s been having sudden, mysterious outbursts that are derailing his life and creative ability. Because of his autism, he can’t articulate what’s happening when he has these outbursts. His parents have tried every test and medication imaginable, but nothing has worked. Can Jonathan and his parents stop these outbursts so he can get back to his art?
Elijah, 16, has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning type of autism that can be nearly invisible to people who don’t know about autism spectrum disorders. Asperger’s affects his ability to process speech and non-verbal social cues, but to most people, Elijah would simply appear quirky. His goal is to become a comedian, but he also wants to hide his autism from people who wouldn’t be sensitive to it. Now he’s going to a comedy festival in Las Vegas, where he’s being pressured to make jokes about autism in his act. Will Elijah find the courage to reveal himself onstage?
Their autism sets them apart. But can they reach through their disability and connect with the world? Find out on “True Life: I’m Autistic.”