3 myths about autism dispelled by new movie, Guang

3 myths about autism dispelled by new movie, Guang
Kyo Chen as Wen Guang
PHOTO: MM2 Entertainment

An estimated one per cent of Singapore's population are affected by autism.

Doesn't sound like much?

Considering Singapore's population is over 5 million, that would mean our country has at least 50,000 individuals with autism - with an estimated 200 new cases diagnosed annually.

Despite the considerable numbers, and the fact that the prevalence of autism is increasing globally, it's still not a topic that gets much discussion.

Hence, it's rather refreshing that the award-winning film, Guang, actively offers a close examination on someone who is autistic and the relationship they have with the people around them.

Guang is the inspirational story of Wen Guang, an autistic young man with a prodigous talent for music, who struggles to integrate in a society that discriminates against him.

This is the debut feature film of Malaysian filmmaker Quek Shio Chuan, and is based on his real life experiences with his autistic brother.

While the film may have taken some creative licence in its portrayal of an autistic individual, they did dispel three of the common myths about autism.

Individuals with autism avoid social contact

Wen Guang with Sue AnnPhoto: MM2 Entertainment

Being uncomfortable or displaying ineptitude in social interactions (which autistic individuals experience at varying degrees) shouldn't be conflated with actively avoiding social interaction.

While social dysfunction is a core aspect of those on the autism spectrum, its effects vary - from avoiding any sort of personal interaction to monopolising conversations on a single topic that only the speaker relates to.

In the film, Wen Guang (the lead character) actually enjoys the company of his brother's friends and even forges a close friendship with kindergarten teacher, Sue Ann.

Individuals with autism cannot talk

Wen Guang filling Sue Ann in on the missing cups in his collectionPhoto: MM2 Entertainment

There are autistic individuals who may never develop functional language (also known as nonverbal autism), but studies have shown that some do eventually develop speech later in life.

"Up to 90 per cent of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) do learn to speak, at different levels," said Mr Dino Trakakis, director of the Autism Recovery Network in Singapore. 

For Wen Guang, he doesn't shy away from passionately explaining the type of sound he's looking for when asked about his hobby of collecting different kinds of glass cups.

In fact, one also needs to realise that communication isn't just defined by talking and those on the spectrum might express themselves through a combination of words, gestures and argumentative communication.

Individuals with autism do not have feelings and are unable to show affection

Wen Guang being reprimanded by his brotherPhoto: MM2 Entertainment

We've seen this stereotypical characterisation of autism in pop culture - mostly in the form of traits such as being cold, unfeeling and lacking empathy. However, this is untrue as autistic individuals have trouble regulating emotions as opposed to lacking any.

According to the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), the "differences in sensory processing and social understanding" results in displays of affection that "may appear different from typical people".

Individuals with autism do experience the full gamut of human emotions.

This is evident when Wen Guang reacts accordingly to the various stimuli - from being reprimanded by his brother, to having his collection of cups destroyed and most importantly, when he manages to complete it again and finishes his musical performance.

Iconic autistic characters in pop culture

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    Incidentally, Guang isn't the first to provide a platform in pop culture that shines a spotlight on autism. Here is a list of other notable characters that you may have heard of. Photo: MM2 Entertainment

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    Although the film perpetuates a myth about autistic individuals (only an estimated 10 per cent may possess special abilities in fields like music, art or mathematics), it was credited with exponentially raising public awareness for the condition due to Dustin Hoffman's incredibly authentic and sensitive portrayal of the character. Photo: Facebook / Rain Man

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    In one of his most iconic roles, Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump - a slow-witted but kind-hearted man. Interestingly, Forrest was never explicitly revealed to be autistic (only shown to possess a low IQ), but there are signs and evidence that allude to it - from his obsessive behaviour, ignorance of social norms and cues, to his hyperactivity. Photo: Facebook / Forrest Gump

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    Perhaps most of us would be more familiar with the American remake of the show, but for the uninitiated, it was actually based on a South Korean television series. The series revolves around autistic savant Park Shi-on, who possesses eidetic memory and keen spatial skills, and the conflict he faces from his peers and patients due to his atypical mental and emotional condition. Photo: Facebook / Good Doctor - Green Scalpel

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    The sarcastic, witty and socially awkward physicist has endeared himself to audiences for a decade. Played masterfully by Jim Parsons, Sheldon has not been categorically revealed to be autistic but displayed traits that are consistent with Asperger syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Photo: Facebook / The Big Bang Theory

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    Local actor Elvin Ng tackled one of his most memorable roles in the Chinese drama Breakout. In the show, he plays a highly intelligent autistic boy who loved to eat chocolates but at specific timings and was well-loved for his innocence. Photo: Facebook / Elvin Ng

Autism is a challenging condition for everyone - both the individual and their caretakers. In fact, experts agree that due to the complexity of the condition, there is still more research that needs to be done.

So, the next time you encounter an individual on the spectrum, it would be helpful to exercise a little more understanding. After all, those who are taking care of them are struggling to do so everyday.

Guang will be screened at the following cinemas from today (March 14) onwards at: All Cathay Cineplexes outlets, GV VivoCity, GV Tiong Bahru, GV Yishun and EagleWings Cinematics at King Albert Park.

In addition, $1 from every movie ticket sold at Cathay Cineplexes, GV and EagleWings Cinematics will be donated to the Community Chest.

bryanlim@asiaone.com

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