Autism: The Sequel

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Autism: The Sequel Movie Poster Image
Moving, frank docu follows musical stars into adulthood.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 40 minutes

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Positive Messages

Strong messages of empathy and acceptance are woven through this narrative; "Life is hard for everyone with or without autism," says Neal's mom Elaine, who advocates fiercely for her son to have the support and happiness he needs. Teamwork is also evident, with many participants working with coaches or other helpers who make it possible for them to live more independently. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The enormous efforts made by the people with autism featured here are clear, like when Neal, who is nonverbal, practices over and over again to be able to type; asked if it's frustrating not to be able to do it easily, he types, "Hugely." Adam is in art school, earning a degree, his parents beam "He is our hero." Parents are touchingly supportive of their kids: "These children deserve to be loved, valued, given opportunities," says Neal's mom Elaine. On the other hand, parents are painfully frank about the challenges their kids face, particularly when they die and must leave their children with paid caregivers; Lexi's mom is so fearful that her daughter might be victimized that she says, "I hope she dies before I do."  

Violence

The most violent moment pictured is when Neal yanks a smaller child to the ground and then flaps his arms, but there's frank discussion of the high suicide rates connected with autism in adults, and Wyatt's mom says there were times when her son wanted to self-harm because he was so distraught about not being typically abled. Lexi's mom and dad talk about their fears about their daughter being victimized in an institutional setting. 

Sex

Brief talk of one participant having had a girlfriend; his mom also says he wants to have a wife and family. 

Language

Language is infrequent but Henry says at one point he made the "edgiest f--king film in the world" and that he's a "weird motherf--ker." "S--t" is also heard. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One participant, who's an adult, says he's dehydrated in the morning from drinking the night before.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Autism: The Sequel is a documentary about a group of young adults with autism and their parents that was filmed 12 years after the film Autism: The Musical. Participants are very frank about the challenges they face and the struggles they undertake in trying to win more independence and live typical lives. People with autism are asked directly about their feelings and allowed to speak for themselves, as are their parent caregivers. Both groups show extraordinary empathy and teamwork, and parents demonstrate loving support, acceptance, and encouragement. That said, participants are also frank about their feelings, which can be uncomfortable, including a mother who wonders who might love her son when she's gone, parents who worry that their daughter might get victimized, and a mom who admits that she wishes that her daughter will die before her (so the mom won't have to worry she won't be cared for). There's also talk about suicide and self-harm, though there are no visuals. At one point, a boy with autism yanks a smaller child to the ground. That child is comforted, and the boy with autism is calmed down. Language is infrequent, but one interviewee says he's a "weird motherf--ker"; he also says "s--t." The same interviewee refers to being dehydrated the morning after drinking too much. Participants are treated with dignity and respect, and no one is mocked for their lack of ability. 

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What's the story?

12 years after Autism: The Musical focused in on a Los Angeles stage production written and performed by a group of children with autism, AUTISM: THE SEQUEL catches back up with the participants and their parents to find out how life is treating them as the former performers are edging into adulthood. In many ways, Henry, Adam, Lexi, Wyatt, and Neal are struggling with the same things as others their age:  the quest to be independent, the difficulties of getting through college, struggles to find loyal and like-minded friends. But as they and their parents articulate, autism still touches each of their lives in ways both minor and profound, and each must forge a separate path to happiness. 

Is it any good?

Frank and enormously moving, this update of Autism: The Musical illuminates how things have gone for the participants as they've moved into adulthood in ways both heartbreaking and impressive. Inevitably, the concerns of the parents we met in The Musical have matured along with their kids. Where they once worried about their kids fitting in, making friends, and being happy, now they struggle with how much independence to give their kids, and, more darkly, speculate on how their lives might go once their parents are gone. Lexi's parents are reassured by how well their daughter has settled into a group home for women; Adam's parents are amazed that their son is able to attend an art school and live independently in a different city; Neal's parents have accepted that their son will always need some sort of care, and so they save their money to go into a trust for him after they've gone. Still, Neal's mom Elaine has existential fears: "Who will love him when I'm gone?" she asks plaintively. 

The result is fascinating and absorbing in the way real life thoughtfully curated is. Viewers will empathize with everyone featured, though not "uplifted" in that icky way that some stories about people with disabilities can sometimes set off. When Neal, who is nonverbal, asks how he feels being part of a documentary that others will see and know part of his life, he types "I'm grateful there will be people out there who will see me as more than a charity case." As a look at the struggles of particular people who in all the important ways are really quite ordinary, Autism: The Sequel is a triumph. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the premise of this documentary: catching up with a group of people with autism as they become adults and seek more independence. Why is this period of their lives worthy of documenting? What's more interesting about this stage than if we met up with them 10 years later or 10 years earlier? How might this documentary be different if the participants were middle schoolers or adults in their 30s? 

  • Documentaries often try to capture a sliver of truth and/or real life. How likely is it that participants will talk and behave realistically if there are cameras and microphones around? How does the presence of a filmmaking crew alter real life? 

  • How do the participants in Autism: The Sequel display empathy and teamwork? Why do you think these are important character strengths

Movie details

  • In theaters: April 28, 2020
  • On DVD or streaming: April 28, 2020
  • Director: Tricia Regan
  • Studio: HBO
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Character strengths: Empathy, Teamwork
  • Run time: 40 minutes
  • MPAA rating: NR
  • Last updated: May 8, 2020

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