Watching Adam

Ever since the movie Adam came out on DVD, I’ve debated watching it. I was curious but skeptical. I wondered how realistic it could be, or how stereotypical, how formulaic, or how Hollywoodized. I feared that it might be contrived, either an Apergerized, Rainman-esque “autistic-people-are-savants” portrayal, or a glossy “people-with-Asperger’s-are-quirky-but-they’re-just-like-everyone-else” feel-good portrayal. And, having watched it last night, I must say that there were a few implausible things I noted, but I could have been wrong about them. After all, Nigel does not have Asperger’s. Some areas of his development have differed from the characteristics of AS. But these days, there are plenty of similarities.

In any case, this is not a review of Adam. This is a post about what happened when I decided to watch it. With Nigel. Yes, I took a leap. I’ve been taking a lot of them lately, trusting that I’m doing the right thing. When I rented it, it was with the intention of watching it alone, but given Nigel’s interest in relationships, I thought it might be good for him to see the film, and then we could discuss it and how it relates to him.

And discuss it we did. My son said so many profound things that I was constantly choking on my emotional reactions, trying not to let him see how his words affected me. With the movie, he took it all in. At times, such as when the two main characters were in bed together, he would avert his eyes, and I told him that it was a PG-13 movie, and I didn’t think we needed to be concerned about things going too far on film. Nigel said, “It’s not that. I’m just afraid that he’s going to do or say the wrong thing and mess it up.” And I died inside, thinking of all the times in my son’s everyday life that he must feel that way about himself.

Nigel noticed what difficulty Adam had in a restaurant, and that prompted a discussion about Nigel’s own sensory issues. He remembered how hard it was for him to go into public restrooms because of the air hand driers. “They were like screaming banshees,” he said. And I pointed out that he learned how to filter that sound. “Yeah. They’re still loud, but I can handle them. It seems like Adam couldn’t handle the sounds in the restaurant,” Nigel said, and I could hear some self-confidence (or was it relief?) in his voice that he had progressed to a point where he could handle being in a restaurant. And, Nigel was quick to point out, he’s an extrovert who wants to do social things, whereas Adam is definitely an introvert and experiences much anxiety about doing those things. Nigel may share the lack of social skills, but at least he is motivated to be social, and this made him feel good about himself. He also commented on a scene in which Adam becomes angry and does not deal with it well, raising his voice and throwing things. Nigel said that sometimes anger feels like “a nuclear bomb going off” and “it’s so hard to control it.” But he also realized that he is learning to control it, and that, at fifteen, he is doing a better job of it than Adam.

A couple of areas really seemed to hit home with Nigel. One was the focused talking about “specialist subjects.” For Adam, it was telescope facts and local theater history. For Nigel, it’s a range of all his favorite movies, military history, and his favorite authors (Jules Verne and H.G. Wells). In this area, he is much like Adam—not realizing when he’s going on too long or noticing that he’s monologuing and the person is bored. Nigel believes that he’s got this area under control because, in his social skills class, he’s learned to ask the person if he should continue talking about something. “And if they say ‘yes,’ I do.” But he doesn’t have the awareness to realize when he’s been talking too long and the other person is just being polite.

Also, Nigel totally identified with the big picture social issues. “Normal people usually don’t get different people,” he’d say. Of course, many times I’ve said to him that different people are normal too, but that doesn’t seem to make sense to him. However, toward the end of the movie, he did say, “Eventually, people learn to understand people like . . . us.” I wasn’t sure if he hesitated because he was trying to remember Adam’s name, or if he was processing the fact that he identified with him. It’s been very hard for him in the past, although recently he’s felt better about it.

Overall, I’m glad I watched Adam with Nigel. It’s true that seeing some of the behavior on film was hard for him, but I think that makes him more aware of it. If he knows what the challenges are, he can face them armed with that knowledge. In addition to that, seeing this movie prompted a discussion about the importance of jobs, and that if you get tired of doing your job after just two hours, you can’t say, “I’m done” and then leave. “I have to stay at the job so that I get the paycheck and can support myself,” Nigel said. Halle-freakin-luiah! This understanding is a long time in coming. A long time. For years, he’d say that when he grew up he wanted to be an inventor of time machines and didn’t want to do any other job because it would bore him. I would suggest to him that he might need to do another job while he was inventing the time machine so that he would have money to pay for his food, etc., and this concept was completely lost on him. I don’t know what it was about watching Adam that changed his thinking, but it did, and I’m very glad. I think both of us are a little more optimistic about his future now. And that’s saying a lot about a movie I wasn’t sure I wanted to see in the first place.

23 thoughts on “Watching Adam

  1. osh

    Evan and I watched it together…it seems you and Nigel had a much better discussion than we did…we mostly exchanged knowingly laughs and then I cried after Evan left my room.

  2. Kate

    That’s great, I haven’t seen it. Do you think either the Temple Grandin movie – which I thought was absolutely wonderful – or Mozart and the Whale, which to my memory was okay, would produce similar effects?

    Also, Normal People Scare me is a documetary of ASD people made by a 15 yr old AS teenager, 90 min long which was also quite good if I remember. I don’t remember it well though. He might relate to that.


  3. AUNTastasia

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I remember seeing a trailer of this a while ago and thinking it could potentially be really aggravating. That makes me so happy that Nigel was able to understand and discuss it on a deep level. I’m now excited to watch it myself!

  4. Jen

    It’s been on my to-watch list for a while now…I’ve heard good things about it.

    One of my daughters wants to watch the Temple Grandin movie this week, which should be interesting. I loved it, but I’m guessing that there are going to be a few trouble spots for her in the movie. It should be interesting!

  5. jess

    wow, sounds like a pretty powerful conversation starter.

    i’m always ‘afraid’ of this stuff too. the temple grandin movie has been sitting on my dvr for what – 2 weeks now? oy.

  6. AmyLK

    It sounds like you had a wonderful opportinuty with Nigel! And it does feel wonderful when they “get it” and we can actually see the improvements they have made. Son recently annouced that he doesn’t want his aid moving to the 6th grade with him. Its been my goal all along that he would be able to be without the aid by high school but He decided to move it up. Now for the meetings with the school to do what is necessary to make this happen!

  7. Lex Savko

    What’s really encouraging about this experience is that Nigel sees both the similarities and the differences with him and Adam. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I think it’s wonderful that Nigel can differentiate between Adam’s personality as being introverted and his own as being extroverted. This desire he has to be social and want to do social things may also serve as a motivating factor where the subject of jobs is concerned. That he understands the connection between job and paycheck as far as supporting himself is great. Understanding how saving a little cash to use for social activities will only increase his desire. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the near future, he expresses an interest in getting a summer job! If he does, that might be a wonderful opportunity for social growth in itself.

  8. Carrie

    “It’s not that. I’m just afraid that he’s going to do or say the wrong thing and mess it up.” And I died inside, thinking of all the times in my son’s everyday life that he must feel that way about himself.”

    Oh, wow.

    And yes, Halle-freakin’luia to a job and all things understood about retaining said job!

  9. Anonymom

    “It’s not that. I’m just afraid that he’s going to do or say the wrong thing and mess it up.” And I died inside, thinking of all the times in my son’s everyday life that he must feel that way about himself.”
    I am a weepy mama tonight. Suppose it never ends. i had forgotten about this movie-now I think I will look for it at Redbox and watch it with Elmer.

  10. Kim

    I have this movie on my netflix list and haven’t pulled it to the top…I’ve been waiting, and for many of the reasons you mentioned you were hesitant to watch it.

    I can just picture you two watching it and imagine what you felt like! It sounds like the connections he made were wonderful! The desire to be social – love it!

  11. Carrie N

    We’re going to see this now. Thanks. I’m so often amazed (and hopeful) after reading your posts. I hope to be where you are one day.

  12. Nicki

    I’ve never seen that movie! I will have to watch it. I’m glad it wasn’t as stereotypical of Rain Man.
    Have you watched the new series of Parenthood yet? Remember the weird little boy in the Parenthood movie, the one who was always crying and didn’t like baseball? They have a similar character in the TV show,,, but in the first episode he gets diagnosed with Aspergers!

  13. Johanna

    Ooh. Now I really want to see this film. It was amazing reading Nigel’s reactions and comments. The film is too old for my son as yet, but it will certainly be put on the list of “resources” for discussions about relationships for later years.

    I too liked A LOT Nigel’s insight about having to do a job to get a paycheck, boring or not.

    Thank-you for the post it was really good read and informative as usual.

  14. Michelle

    Wow Tanya!

    This is great. How brave of you
    to watch the movie together. That is a sign of confidence the two of you can handle anything that comes up.

    You are such a wonderful mom. Glad it went well.

  15. Paulene Angela

    Tanya thanks so much for yet another wonderful post.

    I’ve not heard of this movie. Big thanks to Nigel for giving us some great insight.

  16. rhemashope

    I think it’s amazing the relationship that you and Nigel have… and that you could actually watch this movie together and discuss it. No small thing! I know you know.

  17. Jazzygal

    Wow Tanya…how insightful. And what a great idea it was to watch this movie with Nigel. The things you learnt about his thoughts that you may not have otherwise learnt! Good move. Glad it worked out.

    It’s amovie I’ve been meaning to watch too and will do so soon! xx Jazzy

  18. M

    for me, it just hits way too close to home. not just the AS, but the fact that he is trying to navigate a romantic interaction. i just know that every second, no matter how accurate or objective, will be torture. i saw a preview and just cringed…i can feel all of my pre-loathings all geared up, ready to unload. even though i would be rejecting it precisely because it’s too close, too centered on current issues.

    so. me. cant’ deal with it. watching “billy the kid” was one of the more emotionally draining experiences of 2009, i can’t get myself to go through something even more similar to…well, stuff. something.

    i’m just relieved that he’s finding frameworks for viewing himself, ways of stepping back, looking at his self…the fact that he could watch a movie and just analyze it, sort through it, find moments that were meaningful to him…that’s wonderful. nigel has that intense resilience going on, quite nice.

  19. Macrina

    If you could find a way to send that to the producer/director/person in charge of the movie I bet they’d be flattered and touched.

  20. Karen Weaver

    I love that Nigel is so self-aware. I have two boys with Aspergers. My youngest who is 11 would totally get the nuances of this movie and be able to apply it to himself. My 15 year-old would be stuck on “I want a girlfriend! That’s NOT FAIR!”

    Just discovered your blog through a mutual blogger friend M- Incipient Turvy.

    Really enjoying your posts!

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