March 30, 2011
This Friday night in New York a documentary film will be airing called Wretches and Jabberers (I know, it sounds like something that would have been broadcast on PBS twenty years ago). Despite its strange title, the movie is actually focused on a subject that, to my intense delight, is becoming more and more mainstream in the press. Its protagonists are Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette of Vermont, and the film documents the struggles and triumphs of two adults with autism who remain all or mostly non-verbal, yet still have a great deal to communicate to the world.
And yes, if I had a life, I’d schlep in to see it.
Directed by Academy Award Winner Gerardine Wurzburg, the film follows both men on a tour of Sri Lanka, Japan, and Finland, as they speak with both “everyday folk” and Buddhist monks in an attempt to change peoples’ opinions regarding disability, intelligence, and modes of communication. Bissonnette possesses some facility with traditional language, Thresher does not. Both struggled in school and within their communities, but had whole worlds opened up to them with the creation of augmentative devices.
Yes, there’s a theme here. My fingers are crossed Justin’s iPad may one day lead to a similar success for him. Let’s just say my toes are crossed too.
When recently asked at a conference by the mother of an eleven-year-old girl with autism what advice the men had to give her, Thresher replied, “That is easy. Believe in their intelligence, presume competence, and most of all don’t sideline them. Make sure they live a life with dignity, having a purpose in life.” That quote particularly resonated with me because my son, although non-verbal, possesses a fierce intelligence, one that might have gone unnoticed twenty, or perhaps even ten years ago. I shudder to envision the trials and tribulations these men must have encountered in childhood, living in a world not yet equipped to celebrate them. I shudder to think if I’d had my son at a “normal” age, this might have been his fate as well.
The director’s motivation for creating the film was to “challenge the general public’s perception about people with different abilities”. She considers this mission to be “both a human rights and civil rights issue”. Through their own accomplishments and Wurzburg’s “voice”, Thresher and Bissonnette have since successfully challenged these presumptions, as the two men formally regarded as “social outcasts” now are popular speakers at workshops and conferences. They have already altered the landscape of disability, simply with their presence.
And to Tracy Thresher, Larry Bissonnette, and Gerardine Wurzburg, a most heartfelt “bravo” for sharing and facilitating a story the world still needs to hear.
Wretches and Jabberers, for those of you who are not NY locals, will be playing at local AMC theatres nationwide on Saturday, April 2nd, World Autism Day.
For more information regarding the film:
Larry Bissonnette: http://www.myclassiclifefilm.com/