Autism Lessons from Alien Movies
By Trevor Pacelli
Aliens. Hollywood’s always been obsessed with them. As far back as Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon in 1902, the concept of life on other planets has been meticulously explored. Many film critics have pointed out numerous parallels between aliens and international relations, The Day the Earth Stood Still being a common example, but never pointed out a parallel that makes perfect sense: the similarities between aliens and autism.
Here are some examples:
War of the Worlds (1953)
Martians arrive with the intent of annihilating the human race. From the human’s perspective, they are here to cause chaos and mass hysteria. Think about how people looked at autism back in the 1950’s, as back then it was dismissed as the now unacceptable phrase, “mental retardation.” They too thought at the time that anyone who was mentally handicapped was a recipe for chaos in social order.
Star Wars (1977)
All the aliens speak different languages, yet can still understand each other’s words. The language barrier doesn’t help though in understanding what the other means (think of Han Solo’s exchange with Greedo). While the immediate interpretation would be other word languages, those on the spectrum possess an entirely different sense of body language and social cues that gets in the way of proper interaction from both ends of a conversation.
Six-Word Lessons for Dads with Autistic Kids, Lesson #16: They Don’t Read Other People Well.
Humans are curious about a creature from a world beyond their understanding. They go out to explore it, only to be killed one by one from the inside out by a hideous lifeform. In the same way, people at times feel somehow intrigued by autism, seeing how different it is, yet at the same time, they fear that getting too close to anyone on the spectrum will mentally destroy them from the inside out.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
He came here with a curiosity about the way people live. Yet his fear of blaring lights, loud sounds, and unexpected surprises overpowers curiosity. These are all traits to autism, especially when they’re in a place of frightening unfamiliarity.
Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome, Lesson #34: We are Socially Clumsy and Unaware.
Nobody knows what to make of these odd foreign invaders, so language interpretation becomes the means to communicate with them to see whether they’re dangerous or not. Many would also rely on interpretation of speech to understand somebody with autism, as it’s not always clear. You can read more in my autism lesson on the movie here.
So the next time you watch a movie with intelligent beings outside of Earth, such as Life, don’t just think of it as mindless entertainment. So much deeper meaning exists in sci-fi than what meets the eye.
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Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.