Among the standouts at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year was a film by writer/director Max Mayer called Adam, which was honored with the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for outstanding feature film focusing on science and technology. It's the story of a young man named Adam (played by Hugh Dancy) suffering from Asperger's syndrome, who falls in love with his new neighbor, a "neurotypical" young woman named Rose.

The film has been praised for its sensitive portrayal of an AS man, who is highly intelligent and articulate and obsessed with astronomy, yet struggles with even simple social interactions. Adam is fairly "high-functioning," in that he successfully holds down a job. But the death of his father and the loss of his job cause a crisis -- right when he is falling in love.

Here's what the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has to say about Asperger's syndrome:

 

Children with AS want to know everything about their topic of interest and their conversations with others will be about little else. Their expertise, high level of vocabulary, and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors. Other characteristics of AS include repetitive routines or rituals; peculiarities in speech and language; socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers; problems with non-verbal communication; and clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements. Children with AS are isolated because of their poor social skills and narrow interests. They may approach other people, but make normal conversation impossible by inappropriate or eccentric behavior, or by wanting only to talk about their singular interest.

 

Jonathan Kauffman, who founded Disability Works (a consulting agency in Manhattan) served as technical advisor to the film. "Adam is about life, not his disability," Kauffman told The New York Times. "It uses his Asperger's as the lens that colors his life, not the central focal point. The illness is not separate from the person." (Kauffman was born with cerebral palsy.)

It's common to joke about scientists and engineers being socially awkward: haha! They must suffer from Asperger's syndrome! It's refreshing to see the topic treated believably and with respect. Certainly the Sloan Prize jury members felt that way: "Adam will help the rest of the world look at Asperger's with a new realistic light," genetics professor Raymond Gesteland (University of Utah) told the Times. It certainly softened the hardened heart of at least one reviewer.

 

 

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