Thursday, March 15, 2007

MTV's "True Life" Features Teens With Autism

MTV's "True Life" series features documentaries that tell the stories of young people from their point of view. Past editions of the show (see website here) have brought viewers into the lives of young people who are trying to lose weight, working to survive high school, trying to make it in Las Vegas, moving back in with Mom and Dad.

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 Autistic

About 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.”


Anonymous said...

I think MTV should do a special on auditory processing. Aduitory processing is a condition in which there is an inability to differentiate, recognize or understand sounds while both the hearing and intelligence are normal. This learning disability affects many people world wide. People with this disability face many challenges such as being accused of igorance, stupidity, or lack of interest. They also miss hear many words and jumble up sentences. Many also have trouble explaining their complex disorder to friends, family, fellow classmates, and often decide not to. This then leads to more problems. I have auditory processing and have been accused by best friend of not caring or not listening. I do care and I do listen but because of my disorder I jumble the words. Sometimes I am so close to telling my friends but fear they will see as stupid or some freak with attention disorder. And if my friends are compassionate about it, they will probably assume I have hearing problem, which I do not have. I do not need people to yell out me, I need people to repeat things and sometime talk slowly. Unforentunately,there are many people like me. It is easy to see people need to be aware of this disorder. MTV should consider doing a true life on auditory proceesing.

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Marleen said...

I wish they would do one of I Have Aspergers Disorder, I was diagnosed with Aspergers back in 2007 and so far it has affected my whole life. It is hard to live with a disorder but I try my best every day.