Difficulty communicating and social isolation have come to be seen as hallmarks of Asperger Syndrome (AS), and while many with AS display average or above average intelligence, they face obstacles in their daily life with peers. At no time is this loneliness and isolation more heightened than when beginning the already complicated emotional and physical transition into adolescence and adulthood. While Asperger Syndrome has become a more commonly known and understood condition, many teens embarking on their middle, high school, and college years require help in understanding their disability and need support to build self-esteem and develop self-advocacy skills.
It was with this group of adolescents and young adults in mind that The Asperger’s Difference: A film for and about young people with AS was conceived and executed. “The idea for the film came to me 5 years ago when I was starting to see increased numbers of children with Asperger Syndrome reach their young adult years,” says Center for Spectrum Services Program Director and co-founder, Jamey Wolff. “This is a time when they have the growing ability to understand what AS is and began to learn to advocate for themselves.” Since individuals with AS are generally visual learners and respond well to visual content in videos and films, it was surprising that there have been few films about AS expressly created for this population.
For more than 30 years, The Children's Annex which has recently changed it's name to the Center for Spectrum Services, a not-for-profit center, has specialized in education, evaluation and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Two New York State approved day school programs serve students throughout the Hudson Valley at campuses in Kingston and Ellenville, New York.
The Center for Spectrum Services also provides diagnostic evaluations for Autism Spectrum Disorders for people of all ages, consultations and trainings to schools and agencies on best practices, and groups for children and teens focusing on social skills and self-advocacy.
Jamey Wolff worked in collaboration with Dr. Jane Nofer, Clinical Director for The Center for Spectrum Services and a nationally known expert on Asperger Syndrome to establish the film’s guiding principles and write the script. The film, presented in documentary style, spotlights young people with AS as they talk about their experiences, challenges, and hopes for the future. The content is designed to help young people with AS understand their diagnosis, the positive aspects that accompany it, as well as think about when to disclose their diagnosis to others. Finally, the film seeks to build self-esteem and help viewers to understand they are not alone.
The resulting 30 minute film, The Asperger’s Difference, stars three young people with Asperger’s as they navigate the waters of their daily life and articulate their experiences to the target audience. Annie, a middle school student, Noah, a high school student, and Jeffrey, a college student, represent a range of ages and circumstances but share many of the common challenges and strengths of individuals living with AS.
The film is presented as a series of visual chapters. This format allows its stars to address typical difficulties such as struggles with social and communication skills, controlling thoughts and behaviors, and experiencing sensory sensitivity. The viewer easily identifies with 13 year old Annie, who speaks convincingly of the pain and isolation experienced as the result of bullying and teasing which leaves her feeling like “the odd one out.” 16 year old Noah shares the frustration caused by his need for perfection as he shows us the reminder sign posted in his room reading “Perfection and procrastination are the enemy.” Jeffrey,an 18 year old college freshman helps the audience to understand the challenges faced in dalily conversation which he refers to as "foot in mouth syndrome."
And yet, these remarkable young people also provide a window into the often overlooked strengths that can accompany Asperger’s Syndrome. Individuals with AS often have heightened language and memory skills which are manifested in Noah’s exemplary academic performance. The sensory sensitivity which can prove so challenging, also lends Annie musical talents and perfect pitch. The intense concentration that requires Jeffrey to employ an egg timer to limit his computer use conversely provides him the focus to compose poetry. Each of these young people bring a poise, self-awareness and sense of humor which help the audience to see the full picture of what it means to live with AS.
The final chapter of The Asperger’s Difference is designed to help young adults with AS to develop self-advocacy by thinking about when to share their diagnosis with others. Viewers are invited to consider aspects of disclosure, such as the length and nature of a relationship and the outcomes which may occur.
The Asperger’s Difference can be watched by individuals with AS alone, in classrooms, with clinicians, or family groups in its entirety, or discretely by stopping and starting chapters with the support of an instructor or therapist. The film, presented in a documentary format, has value for peers, siblings and others who are touched by autism. The accompanying discussion guide is intended to allow the viewer to personalize the information and experiences seen in the film. As many individuals with AS are strong visual learners, the film also plays to this learning style through its graphic design, presented clearly and employing a series of Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) ©1981-2008 Mayer-Johnson, LLC.
The film is scheduled to be released this fall. A trailer for the film was recently shown at the New York State Regional Forum on Autism Awareness and generated considerable excitement in New York’s autism community. Jamey Wolff credits the generous support of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, The Hudson Foundation for Youth Health, Inc. and The Michael & Murtrude Hancouski Foundation for their support in the production of The Asperger’s Difference.
Several regional screenings of the film are planned for the fall. For more information about the film screening schedule and purchasing The Asperger’s Difference with its accompanying resource guide, call The Center for Spectrum Services at 845-336-2616.