Posts Tagged ‘Wretches and Jabberers’

‘Wretches and Jabberers’ autism documentary one of the best movies of 2011

January 11, 2012

A groundbreaking documentary helped debunk myths in 2011 and showed that even – especially – non-verbal people with autism have a lot to say.  On the movie review site www.rottentomatoes.com, 82 percent of reviewers and 91 percent of the pubic liked the movie.

I included an excerpt of my article about the movie in my wrap up of autism articles from 2011 on Examiner.com. Excerpts and the link to the article are below.

‘Wretches and Jabberers’ documentary opens April 1 for Autism Awareness Month

Wretches and Jabberers: And Stories from the Road is a powerful, moving documentary that follows two men with autism as they travel the world, visiting friends with autism and changing attitudes about disabilities along the way.

Many people with autism have extremely limited verbal skills or no speech whatsoever.  It has long been assumed by the general public, and even by many parents, educators, and caretakers that scant speech equals low intelligence.

In Wretches and Jabberers, the movie’s protagonists dispel this myth.  The two men and the four friends they visit show the world that they are in fact exceedingly intelligent, eloquent in their writings, and charmingly funny.  Like Helen Keller before them, the “wretches” in the movie are pioneers, blazing trails for others to follow.  The message of the movie is to show the world that there are others like them who are vastly underestimated and whose potential is untapped.  It is a message of hope.

The central figures in the film are all either non-verbal or possess limited speech, and they also struggle with many of the sensory and motor issues common to others with autism.  What is unique about the stars of this movie, however, is that all of them communicate by typing.  They type on keyboards that speak the words and show the text they type.  The microphone picks up the tapping of the typing, which can be a time consuming process.  But it’s well worth the wait to find out what they say.

In his Wretches and Jabberers blog, Tracy Thresher, one of the stars of the film, exhorts people with autism to keep their heads held high even when they struggle:

“I would like to let everyone know that things do not always meet your expectations. The important thing is to keep plugging along. The world is a tough place and change comes slowly when we are dealing with discrimination that is so entrenched. There are those times when you may struggle and feel down. I know that feeling very well. I have had to push very hard to make change in my life. There have been many heartaches along the way. I have often thought things would remain terrible. The best advice I can give is to keep your chin up and tell everyone your story.”

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‘Wretches and Jabberers’ documentary playing in 40 cities in April for Autism Awareness Month

April 3, 2011

Wretches and Jabberers: And Stories from the Road is a powerful, moving documentary that follows two men with autism as they travel the world, visiting friends with autism and changing attitudes about disabilities along the way.

The potentially groundbreaking film opens in 40 cities in April to commemorate National Autism Awareness Month.

Many people with autism have extremely limited verbal skills or no speech whatsoever.  It has long been assumed by the general public, and even by many parents, educators, and caretakers that scant speech equals low intelligence.

In Wretches and Jabberers, the movie’s protagonists dispel this myth.  The two men and the four friends they visit show the world that they are in fact exceedingly intelligent, eloquent in their writings, and charmingly funny.  Like Helen Keller before them, the “wretches” in the movie are pioneers, blazing trails for others to follow.  The message of the movie is to show the world that there are others like them who are vastly underestimated and whose potential is untapped.  It is a message of hope.

The film follows Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonnette, 52, both from Vermont, as they travel to Sri Lanka, Japan, and Finland to visit friends during their globetrotting tour who, like them, type independently to communicate.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Gerardine Wurzburg directed the feature documentary.

Thresher, Bissonnette, and the friends they visit can all type independently.  But they first learned to communicate using supported typing (click here for an article about that technique).

The soundtrack was written by J. Ralph, with songs performed by a star-studded group of artists including Judy Collins, Ben Harper, Scarlett Johansson, Nic Jones, Norah Jones, Carly Simon, Stephen Stills, and Bob Weir.

Click here to read the rest of my Wretches and Jabberers article on Examiner.com.

Wretches and Jabberers: Best movie of 2011?

November 6, 2010

I just got back from a screening of Wretches and Jabberers at the ICDL conference in Tysons Corner, Virginia and the movie was excellent.   It follows Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette, two men with autism who communicate by typing, as they travel to visit their peers in Sri Lanka, Japan, and Finland. (Full disclosure – I’ve known Chammi Rajapatirana, one of the people with autism who Larry and Tracy visit in the movie, for a long time).

The movie shows that non-verbal or minimally verbal people with autism are extremely intelligent, funny, and full of emotion. Tracy, Larry, and Chammi didn’t learn to type until they were adults.  Tracy and Larry can read some of the words as they type them.  It makes you wonder how many people are overlooked, underestimated and living in isolation because of their lack of verbal ability.

The movie passed the bathroom test.  That’s when you have to go but you wait until the movie is over because you don’t want to miss even a minute of it.

Filmmaker Gerardine Wurzburg, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Autism is a World, may just win one for this movie.

The documentary comes out in the spring of 2011 and the soundtrack will be released in January.  The incredible list of musical talent includes Norah Jones, Carly Simon, Ben Harper, Stephen Stills, and Bob Weir.  My favorite song was by Stills, with solid rhythm and bass guitars behind his distinctive voice, which was played when Tracy and Larry were in Vermont in between globetrotting trips.

EASE: Educate, Advocate, Support, Empower Foundation helps people with autism in Sri Lanka

October 28, 2010

Chammi (right) plays Connect 4 with teachers and a student at the EASE Foundation in Sri Lanka.

EASE: Educate, Advocate, Support, Empower

My friend Chammi Rajapatirana and his parents moved to Sri Lanka four years ago to start the EASE: Educate, Advocate, Support, Empower (EASE) Foundation devoted to providing facilitated communication (FC) and alternative and augmentative communication training for people with speech impairments. The Rajapatiranas started a small learning center that students with disabilities attend for free. Students are first taught to point to objects with the goal of eventually typing without physical support.

Chammi recently attended the premiere of the documentary Wretches & Jabberers: And Stories from the Road, in Burlington Vermont. The movie, directed by Oscar winner and twice Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Gerardine Wurzburg, who also directed Autism is a World, stars FC users Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher as they travel to visit other people who use supported typing in Finland, Japan, and Sri Lanka, where they visited Chammi.  See the trailer here.

One of the young students at the EASE Foundation.

See a video of Chammi typing independently. For an article about FC on Examiner.com, click here.

Facilitated Communication (FC): the controversy is over. FC is a valid communication method for some people with autism.

October 10, 2010

 


An example of a facilitated communication letter board. Photo by Mike Frandsen.

 

Facilitated communication, or supported typing, has been a godsend for people with autism and other disabilities who are non-verbal or have limited speech, because it enables them to communicate. Here’s an in depth article about FC on Examiner.com.

Many people with autism, who were formerly thought of as retarded, have learned to type independently after first learning to communicate through FC. Those people include Chammi Rajapatirana, Sue Rubin, and Jamie Burke.  Burke learned to speak the words as he types them.

Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher are other FC users who learned to speak the words as they type them.  Their story is told in an upcoming documentary, Wretches and Jabberers.  Here’s a video of Chammi typing independently.

FC is controversial because some studies have concluded that in certain cases the facilitator has led the FC user to letters and words. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to do FC, and if facilitators don’t do the technique correctly, that shouldn’t invalidate the entire method of communication.  The Institute on Communication and Inclusion at Syracuse University, the national leader in FC, has published training standards.

Many people with autism who have learned to communicate through FC have described the ability to communicate as something that makes life worth living, and they liken it to being freed from prison.

Candidates for FC include those who can understand but don’t have verbal communication, and those who need a steadying hand to help them avoid tremor, impulsivity, or help them feel their bodies.

FC can include the facilitator’s hand on the typist’s hand, or on his or her shoulder, back, or even leg.  The role of emotion is important in FC to encourage the FC user, and studies fail to take those intangible factors into consideration.  The facilitator also provides the FC user with verbal feedback.

Many people with autism also have movement difficulties.  For example, most people would assume that if you ask a person to get up off the couch, and the person doesn’t, then either he must not understand you or he is being non-compliant.  But in fact, movement disorders such as apraxia may prevent someone from responding, even though he or she may want to.

The bottom line is that a lack of speech does not equate to a lack of intelligence.

I’ve played Chammi in Boggle about 50 times.  He’s won about 35 of them, and I’m pretty good with words.  The modified form of the game involves pointing to adjacent letters in columns and rows to make words.  A friend of mine, a Cal-Berkeley grad who also has an MBA, split two games against Chammi yesterday.  (Another friend of mine, a Duke grad who is also a lawyer, has beaten Chammi in a few close games)

The strongest case for FC can be summarized in this way:

1.  Many people, formerly called profoundly retarded because of a lack of speech and other difficulties, learned to communicate through FC.

2.  Many of those people who first learned to communicate through FC later learned to type independently. (Some of them learned to speak the words as they type them).

3.  They would not have learned to type independently had they not first learned through FC.

Yet, most of the medical establishment doesn’t approve of FC, meaning that they would rather have these people not communicate at all rather than through FC.  For some people, FC is their only hope of communicating.  Imagine how many people are living lives of isolation, who are intelligent yet presumed to be retarded, and who are not given a chance to communicate.

Click here for the article on Examiner.com.