The Sunshine Boy

The Sunshine Boy (Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Iceland 2009)

There are some films that have the power to change the world, and I hope this one actually proves it.

Fridrik Thor Fridriksson directs this documentary about one woman’s journey to try and understand her autistic son’s mind. In adopting the voice of one mother’s search for answers, and help, for her son, the film introduces the wide spectrum of effects this condition can have on individuals and families, many of them heart-breaking.

What the film achieves is emphasising that autism does not mean ‘brain-damaged’. Rather, the communication channels in the individual’s brain have been cut-off, or isolated. The film shows time and again, especially with the focus on the Halo-Soma Rapid Prompting Method that remarkable strides can be made in communicating with non-verbal sufferers of autism, if new channels are created. Paraphrasing the words of Soma Mukhopadhyay, the founder of this method, we need to find ways to help the child to learn taking into account the wiring of his brain, rather than giving up on him because his brain is not wired like ours.

I don’t have the competence to describe the method here — you have to watch the film to see it at work (and do try if it comes to a theatre near you!). But there is something profoundly moving in seeing a child (age 11) whom medical practitioners and social workers have condemned to having the mental age of an infant communicate in whole sentences via an alphabet board, in his second language at that (!), in front of his parents for the first time. Even his mother, whose voice is narrated by Kate Winslet (to raise the film’s profile and maximise its visibility), did not know if he could even understand Icelandic (his first language), much less English, which he would have been exposed to intermittently.

There is something uplifting, astonishing, and yet socially damning, in hearing some of the first words of this child everyone thought might be mentally impaired uttered in full and complete sentences. ‘Can I play piano?’ was one. ‘I have been making songs since I was small’ another. Other similarly-afflicted kids are revealed to be writers, artists, stockbrokers, and not endowed just with ordinary talent, but exceptional. Just because they can’t express themselves in ways that we can understand, or accept, doesn’t mean they’re incapacitated.

How many other children, and adults, are forever condemned to be locked in the prison of their disability because we, so-called ‘normal’ people, lack the imagination to try and communicate with them? Normality, and normativism, are far too over-rated, and falling back on them uncritically is plain laziness. If there’s one thing I hope Saturn (foundation-builder in service-oriented Virgo) opposing Uranus (innovator in humanitarian Aquarius) brings, it is the courage and the imagination to look beyond old limits.

These kids, and humanity, deserve better.


7 Responses to The Sunshine Boy

  1. lucywatchthesky says:

    Interesting- I’ll definitely make a point to look for that film if and when it comes here. Have you ever heard of Dr. Temple Grandin? She actually is autistic, and was lower-functioning and non-verbal as a child. But she’s actually made huge strides in clinical understanding of autism because she’s been able to write so eloquently about the experience of it firsthand. She loved horses her entire life, and she was actually able to help develop some really revolutionary therapies for severe autism that mimicked some of the mechanisms for breaking in horses and cattle. She’s definitely proof that autism is no death sentence!

  2. HelloitsLisa says:

    There are many children (and adults) out there that have been helped by Soma Mukhopadhyay and her clinic HALO. My son for one. Although even I had bought into the fact that he didn’t know much … I have since learned my lesson! He is now in regular ed classrooms and although he is completely non-verbal and at times has trouble sitting still, using RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) he is getting A’s in his class. This whole experience has taught me many lessons … that these children/adults are GROSSLY misunderstood, and there needs to be a new way to teach our kids. I think Soma Mukhopadhyay is an amazing woman on a journey to save a LARGE group of human beings that are in desparate need of dignity and respect.

  3. hitchhiker72 says:

    Lucy – she appears in the film. She’s the one in the trailer who says she wonders what a ‘normal’ brain might be like, ‘probably really boring’!

    HelloitsLisa – thanks for sharing. Let’s hope the film gets wide distribution.

  4. Momof3 says:

    The Sunshine Boy highlights what all parents of autistic children go through – the journey to help their child. What I found moving about this film was that it found hope for Keli in utilizing Soma’s RPM method at her clinic at HALO. My son is another in a long list of children who has benefited from her tenacity and ingenious pursuit in giving our children the correct means in which to learn and grow. With RPM, our son is also mainstreamed and an honor roll student- a dream that eluded us prior to RPM. More than that, is he is now able to dream of his future, and be an active roll in making that happen. We have much to learn from Soma and especially our children. The Sunshine Boy will help further the process of getting this message out.

  5. Amy says:

    I echo Lisa’s sentiments! Soma’s RPM techinique has turned my son from a boy labeled IQ <70, severly autistic into a compassionate, articulate young man with IQ around 150, who goes to regular classes in high school, and even is in the gifted and talented program. He used to return from "school", really a glorified baby-sitting program, teaching him to wipe off cafeteria tables, extremely sad, never wanting to interact with anyone. Now he returns from school with a smile on his face, proud of his accomplishments, and wanting to attend a great college where he can major in math or theoretical physics. Now he has friends and can talk with them.

    Temple Gradin is featured in "The Sunshine Boy", and as always, makes some great points while interjecting her unique sense of humor.

    I agree with Lisa – these kids and adults with autism who are non-verbal, and therefore labeled low-functioning, are terribly misunderstood. There is nothing wrong with their intellect. They are just wired differently than the rest of us.

    I too applaud Soma and her invention of RPM. It has turned my son's life completely around. It is a better way of reaching those with autism who "fail" ABA. My son, now almost 15, "failed" ABA. Now he is not only communicating on a letter board using RPM, he is also independently using an AlphaSmart, and is now talking – speaking words with his mouth, strung together in sentences that make sense. RPM is not a trick, it is a way a reaching a person who cannot communicate otherwise, then that person can branch out into more conventional means of communication, like typing or speaking.

    "The Sunshine Boy" is very well-done. It will hopefully reach a huge audience worldwide, so that everyone will become more aware that there are ways of reaching those with autism labeled "low-functioning". RPM appears to be one of those ways to allow these individuals to realize their full potential.

  6. autismmum says:

    Thanks for sharing this, am hoping it comes to the UK soon. We’ve just started RPM with my 10 year old son (having to learn from Soma’s book) with so far, very good results. Lots of people have said working with him over the years that they think ‘there’s a lot going on in there’, hopefully RPM will be a way he can show it.

    The film looks brilliant.

  7. Keely says:

    I am dying to see this film. How did yall get a sneak peak???

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