Asperger’s Are Us
Asperger’s Are Us is described as a coming of age documentary and is the directorial debut of Alex Lehmann.
It is an inspiring and entertaining film about four friends diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which means that they are on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.
The quartet, formed of Noah Britton, Michael Ingemi, Ethan Finlan and Jack Hanke, first met a decade earlier at a summer camp for teenagers with Asperger’s where their close friendship coalesced around their mentor Noah, who was older and working at the camp to support others with his condition.
The four found a shared interest in humour and performing and out of this arose the comedy show that shares the title of the film.
This documentary follows them as they prepare to stage their last public show before their young adult lives take them in different directions.
Netflix acquired the worldwide rights to screen Asperger’s Are Us in March 2016.
Asperger’s Are Us begins by introducing us to the four friends, providing some background on each man in turn, and highlighting their individual characteristics.
The four friends
The young man who perhaps features most in the film calls himself New Michael (he calls his father Old Michael) rather than his given name of Aaron.
The film gives a sense of the struggles that New Michael’s parents have had throughout his childhood and adolescence as they are interviewed several times.
Noah, the oldest man of the troupe and originally mentor to the others, is very engaging as he provides a somewhat droll commentary and continues to be the apparent motivator for the group.
Jack is introduced within his family home as he contemplates leaving home in the USA to go to Oxford University in the UK, where he has been awarded a prestigious scholarship for a year. His family outline that Jack doesn’t like to be touched and Jack appears slightly lost as his father attempts to ruffle his hair playfully.
Lastly, the quietest member of the quartet is Ethan who admits to having a pronounced interest in trains.
Preparing for their final performance
The film is structured as a timeline that records the troupe’s progress as they prepare for the final theatre performance of their comedy show. The hazard of rehearsing with a condition that impairs focus is well portrayed and yet their commitment to their material is very apparent.
The humour tends to favour word play and is often dry, deadpan and absurd. Very little of the actual show features, but there is enough to demonstrate the nature of their humour and how it relates to their unique relationship with the world.
The film even captures some members of the audience walking out during the show, demonstrating that the humour isn’t to everyone’s taste. However, the powerful bond that the four friends share is palpable and this is touchingly displayed in the film.
It also has a particularly satisfying conclusion by providing a brief summary of how the men’s lives have developed more than a year after this final performance together.
Relevance to the Field of Mental Health
This is a feel good film about friendship and the therapeutic power of creativity in four young men who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s.
It is especially interesting that they have found a social connection through humour and the collective purpose of performance. As those on the autistic spectrum, including with Asperger syndrome, characteristically struggle to use or understand facial expressions, tone of voice, abstract concepts and jokes and sarcasm, the development of a comedy routine becomes all the more impressive and interesting.
The film provides an excellent educational resource for broadening understanding about Asperger syndrome and viewing it could usefully be combined with browsing the following resources.
The website of The National Autistic Society has some very helpful information on Asperger syndrome and a very good short video titled ‘What is autism’.
There is also a useful factsheet at the Royal College of Psychiatrists website with information for parents and carers about Autism and Asperger syndrome.
Most of all, I recommend this film for its ability to portray its subjects without pity or negativity about their disability despite showing some of the challenges that they face. It seems that this is just what the four friends would wish.
They are quoted as saying that their show is not an autism awareness campaign but a pure comedy act designed to entertain. What a fun way to start the year!
More information about Asperger’s Are Us, can be found at IMDB, as can a short trailer.