Tuesday, April 20, 2010

WHAT Shows Documentary on Autistic Child

Strange how The Horse Boy lingers in the mind. Sven and I saw the film Saturday night. The heroes are an autistic boy and his father. The father convinces his wife to take four-year-old Rowan to Mongolia in the hope the experience will miraculously help their autistic son. Rowan throws four-hour temper tantrums. His mother is ready to try anything. One part of the cure will be horseback riding, since the boy has demonstrated an unusual affinity with animals. The other part involves meeting as many shamans as exist in this extreme country, and there seem to be quite a few. Sven and I had seen images of a similar landscape before in Nikita Mikhalkov’s Urga – no trees, hilly steppe extending as far as the eye can see – but here the barrenness echoes Rowan’s condition, making this modern tragedy resonate to a greater extent that it would have back home in Texas. (The horse photo was taken by my friend Julian Olivas, in Alaska.)

The documentary also features psychiatrists and autism researchers, who offer comments from time to time. I’m not going to give away the ending but suffice it to say The Horse Boy does not leave you indifferent. This is perhaps because 1 in 110 children, and 1 in 70 boys are afflicted with autism, according to Autism Speaks. Researchers are trying to figure out why. One of the doctors in the documentary mentions a possible predisposition in genes that environmental factors switch on, which would explain why there’s more autism in today’s polluted world. I had always wondered whether these dreadful statistics related only to cases in the USA, and, a CBS report April 17 answered that question for me: apparently they do. In America, cases of autism have skyrocketed 600% in the last 20 years!!!

Kudos to WHAT director Jeff Zinn for bringing documentaries like The Horse Boy, as well as foreign and independent films, to Wellfleet’s Julie Harris Stage over the winter. These films allow Cape Codders to escape to other worlds. Don’t miss the remaining shows this April, including Coco Before Channel with Audrey Tautou April 22 & 25, which Sven and I can recommend.

Had you heard of The Horse Boy? Do you worry about autism? Do you have any theories on what may be causing it? If you live abroad, is the number of autistic children in your country also increasing?