Autistic young adults facing life changes invite the viewer to share in their experiences and perception, in doing so shaping the world anew. Turning the tables on misrepresentation, they establish for the viewer a series of environments, where scenes are repeated; the human ceases to be the locus; and autism is resolutely not the subject.
What kinds of moving images are possible if they originate from a neurodiverse rather than neurotypical experience?
Recent progressive attitudes within the neurodiversity community counter the popular understanding of autism as cognitive deficit or social inadequacy, looking instead to how autism may offer society ways to transcend the restrictions of existing norms. Taking inspiration from this movement, Neurocultures challenges a neurotypical cinematic form. But as we are in the habit of liking characters, let’s start with two, merely as a jumping off point…
Simmi and Robin are young adults with autism, each facing life challenges but in different settings, as they transition from home to independent living. Simmi is embarking on a university education, managing her autism amongst the significant hurdles posed by the chaotic social world of lectures and fresher’s parties. It’s an anxious time for her. Robin is non-verbal, a school leaver who recently moved to residential special needs care. All his life he’s been used to the same places and now he has to make sense of an entirely new and disorderly world.
So far so psychology. But Neurocultures starts from the bottom up. A queue. A seminar. A party. A gathering of a university campus autism society. Simmi draws our attention to the confusion she experiences over inference, body cues, facial expression and social event boundaries. She’s opening up to political activism and radically re-thinking her diagnosis. She is seeking out her ‘neurotribe.’ Alongside this, a hazardous walk through a complex set of roadways, and then to a shopping centre and all its hyper stimulation. Robin’s thing is to fixate on the intense need to see actions completed around him. A trip to the shopping mall involves dozens of interruptions, as Robin waits to see a car drive away, or for an opened door to become closed again. Robin has a close relationship with his carer Matt who’s helping him through these spaces, encouraging him to acquire new living skills. We are privy to Robin’s fascination with micro-events with their own specific boundaries, his keen attention on forms and objects, which reveal themselves as details, particularities.
As the film unfolds the entire way of describing the world around Robin and Simmi evolves. The screen offers errant gestures, stimming, looping, repeating. Humans are not posited as sovereign but figured amongst disparate elements: back of head, air-conditioner, corridor crowd, tree branch as it touches window. Backgrounds start to take the starring role, eyelines don’t always match, and the faces of our subjects, along with the people they meet, gradually cease to be the centre of the cinematic arrangement.
Inviting the viewer to share in the situations and environments they encounter, Robin and Simmi turn the tables on misrepresentations of autism. Autism ceases to be the subject and instead becomes a way of seeing differently.
Director: Steven Eastwood & The Neuroculture Collective
Producer: Elhum Shakerifar