Why Wretches And Jabberers Is Essential Viewing

Wretches and Jabberers.  I have written before about this documentary, but I’ve never fully explained why this movie had such a profound impact on me, on my thinking and subsequently on my family.  I will attempt to do that now.

I watched Wretches and Jabberers at the urging of my friend, Ibby last summer.  If a person’s life can be seen as a series of lights, indicating special influencers, Wretches and Jabberers was a beacon.   I knew nothing about supported typing, in fact, I’d never heard of it, so I watched in fascination as both Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher (who are mostly non-speakers and Autistic) typed with their support persons, Pascal Cheng and Harvey Lavoy.  And I wondered whether my daughter might find communicating easier if she typed, instead of being expected to speak.

Larry is a painter, lives with his sister and was institutionalized as a teenager.  He shouts out things like “Bad boy!”  Tracy hits himself in the head when frustrated and has nowhere he can call “home”.  The documentary follows Larry and Tracy as they travel the world meeting other non speaking Autistics.  Again and again the viewer is shown a mostly non speaking Autistic person who has been deemed intellectually incapable by society, only to witness their intelligence and humor break through the silence by typing on a voice activated keyboard or iPad.  And again I thought about my daughter.

It is impossible to watch the film and believe these two men are isolated cases.  One cannot view this documentary and not question one’s preconceived beliefs about intelligence. The film defies the accepted and common non Autistic assumptions about Autism and what it means to be Autistic.  And for me, anyway, it made me question everything I thought I “knew” about my daughter.  All the things I had begun to question, whispering doubts about my thinking that I was no longer able to ignore because of the blogs I was reading written by Autistic people, were now amplified.

I have been interviewing Tracy Thresher for a piece I’m working on that I intend to submit to Huffingtion Post.  In answer to my question about what it meant to him making the film he wrote, “Our film catapulted me to realize my dream of traveling the world to educate, learn and change old attitudes of discrimination toward people of varying abilities. The Larry and Tracy duo illustrates how intelligence is often worked out in a much different way.”

Later in my interview he wrote, “…my mission to show kids and their supports that putting communication to the top of their list of priorities is vitally cleansing to the mind. Releasing deep thoughts is the key to alleviating anxiety. Frustration leads the body to unproductive anger. Being able to show intelligent thought is the path to happier futures and true quality of life, leading to purpose. That is what I sought and found with typing.”

Once again I thought about my daughter and her difficulty with oral language and the frustration that causes her.

Wretches and Jabberers was like an enormous, day glo green, neon sign saying “follow me” on it.  Powerful, funny, poignant, Wretches and Jabberers is essential viewing for all human beings, not just those interested in Autism and parents of Autistic children.  It rattles our unexamined biases, our beliefs, our perceptions and everything we are being “told” about autism, our children and what is and isn’t possible.  And if you are like me, you will think about your child and the world differently as a result of watching it.

One of my all time favorite photographs of Larry Bissonnette taking Emma’s photograph in Tampa, Florida ~ April 2013  (Amy Sequenzia is in the background)

Larry takes Em's photograph

27 responses to “Why Wretches And Jabberers Is Essential Viewing

  1. I have been meaning to watch this since I first saw you mention it Ariane. I just went on hulu and started it and found out that Tracy is from my neck of the woods up in Vermont! Very excited to see the rest, thanks for the reminder!

  2. Wow! I just wrote a post a few days ago (link below) about how everyone who knows someone with autism (and just about everyone will) absolutely NEEDS to see this film. I could not agree more. Going to an IEP meeting for my son today, I wish I could make them all see it before the meeting! I would literally pay people in my kids’ life to see this documentary.
    http://hupostasis.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/competence/

  3. Könnten sie mir bitte deutsch schreiben-ist das möglich ? danke E.Kern

    Gesendet: Donnerstag, 23. Mai 2013 um 16:01 Uhr Von: "Emma’s Hope Book" <comment-reply@wordpress.com> An: neuseeland5050@gmx.de

    Betreff: [New post] Why Wretches And Jabberers Is Essential Viewing

    arianezurcher posted: "Wretches and Jabberers.  I have written before about this documentary, but I've never fully explained why this movie had such a profound impact on me, on my thinking and subsequently on my family.  I will attempt to do that now.

    I watched Wretches and "

  4. I think there must be a link in the universe that sometimes brings together diverse people who are experiencing similiar experiences. Your blog today, Emma’s post a few days ago and Amy Sequenzia article in ollibean….I feel this energy pull, this something that just feels like a clean fresh breeze after too long a winter. It’s Emma’s autism, but as she progresses in her communication and ability to process information, I sure do enjoy the ride!

  5. I just finally got to watch this outstanding film. Thanks, Ariane! What JOY!!! Larry, Tracy, and the rest, bravo on your purpose in life, and for generously inspiring so many with your intelligence and showing it in your own way. ❤

  6. I watched the film and so have some of my students who spell on letter boards to communicate. It was great for them to see that there are others on a journey to find their voice and prove to the world the intelligence inside someone with Autism. I feel that being able to teach them to communicate by spelling, is the greatest gift. Using academic instruction as the bridge to communication and tapping into the left side of the brain just makes sense. We believe in our students and that is why we started an Autism specific post-secondary option in Wisconsin. I’m glad I found your blog!

    • Oh Chris! So pleased to hear this. A good friend of mine’s son is mentored by Tracy. Tracy has literally changed this young boy’s life.
      So pleased to hear of your work!

  7. To stillerheld: Es tut mir leid, aber meine Tochter kann nicht auf Deutsch schreiben. Ich allein in meiner Familie kann das tuen (und nicht sehr gut!)

    Grosmutter Paula

  8. i will watch the documentary ASAP 🙂

  9. yes! beautiful, what a great film.

  10. Susan Thresher

    I need to correct a part of the film that every one who has watched wretches and jabberers about Tracy being homeless and no place to hang his hat is misleading. Tracy has a loving family , myself his mom, his dad and his brother. Tracy spends many weekends with us and has dinner with us every Wednesday night. Tracy left home on his own to find his independence with support. It has been a difficult journey for him and us also. We are all working hard to make his independence happen with his own place. The hope was before the film was finished a wonderful ending would have been him telling that he had accomplished what he was looking for and that was his own place to hang his hat so as of now he hangs it here with his family!

  11. The documentary was beautiful and also oddly painful for me to watch. I identify as Broader Autism Phenotype, and I have a lot of autistic friends, and I guess I “speak autistic” at this point… because so often, I could understand what the autistic people in the film were “saying” long before they actually typed it– it was obvious to me in the movements of their bodies and the tone of their vocalizations… and I was horrified to see how often those signals were misread or ignored by those around them, even their own trained aides! Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about whether it’s possible for neurotypicals to learn to read autistic body language, and if so, how that training would take place.

  12. I just finished watching and shared it on facebook. So inspiring and amazing to see what they are doing. I am happy to read Susan’s post above as I have to admit I felt sad that Tracy didn’t have a permanent place to live. Thank you again for constantly reminding all of us to view it! 🙂

  13. Lovely. I’m writing my thesis on the film. Thanks for writing this post. Estee

  14. Pingback: Lessons from #AtheismPlus | Reality Enthusiast

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