Are Movies Such As 'Rain Man' Accurate Depictions of Autism?

Dr. Loveland answers the question: 'Autism Depictions In Movies, Books?'

ByABC News
October 15, 2008, 10:23 AM

Oct. 23, 2008 -- Question: Are movies such as "Rain Man" accurate depictions of someone who has autism?

Answer: Media depictions of people with autism, such as the movie "Rain Man," may be an accurate depiction of some people with autism. However, it's very important to recognize that people with autism are not all alike. In fact, they can vary widely across a spectrum of disorder. They may have differences in the amount of language that they have. They vary in their level of intellectual functioning. And they can vary widely in their degree of autistic symptoms.

The individual depicted in "Rain Man," for example, had what we called savant skills. These are special skills that allow a person to do unusual cognitive feats -- in his case, calculating. Most individuals with autism cannot do this.

Thus, we would expect that people with autism will show different characteristics across a spectrum of disability. They also change as they develop. It's important to recognize that people with autism are a very broad and diverse population.