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)