“Loving Lampposts” is a documentary about autism, specifically about attitudes towards autism, and the neurodiversity movement. It includes commentary about various therapies for autism, and interviews with some of the central personalities of the autism world, while telling the personal stories of both autistic adults and parents of autistic children. In some ways it tries to cover too much ground, brushing lightly over some central issues and debates. But in as far as it sets out to introduce you to the neurodiversity movement, it succeeds.
After watching it I do have a much better understanding of the neurodiversity movement and their attitude towards autism. I was not convinced though that the movement is in the best interests of autistic people, and found some of their examples and arguments quite weak, but there was plenty to seriously think about. I was interested to see the disability versus difference debate about attitudes towards autism, rephrased as disability and difference within each autistic person, which strikes me as a much stronger version of the neurodiversity view than the one I’d previously encountered.
There were many times during watching it that my husband and I would stop the film to talk about what we’d just seen. Sometimes that was to say we agreed or disagreed with what was just said, and discuss it further, but there were also those wonderful moments when I had to stop it and say “that’s just like watching our son”. Autism varies so much, that it was quite special to see another child so very similar to our own in speech and behaviour. I could smile in recognition and understanding, and got that “we are not alone” feeling which is always so reassuring and comforting.
I also found it particularly interesting, and also rather upsetting, to see and hear directly from autistic adults. Upsetting, because it reminds me of the life-long challenges my son faces, and that he’s always going to need extra help and support, and it worries me whether society and other family members will be willing and able to provide that to him. I understand these challenges at an intellectual level, but to see it in other people, really brings it home.
There are extended interviews included on the DVD, which were worth watching for a number of reasons. There was extra information and expansion of ideas in those interviews, but there was also more footage of conversations with adults with autism, which changed the perception I had received of them through the film proper. It did in fact strengthen my view that autism is much more disability than it is mere difference (which is just to say, they face more challenges and need more support than someone who doesn’t have autism. Never forgetting of course the broadness of the spectrum, and the different ways and severity with which autism impacts on an individual’s life.)
Perhaps the most beautiful part of the film to me, is the very start, with the little boy and his lampposts. It brought me to tears the first time I saw that segment online, and it still lifts my heart the twice I’ve watched it on the DVD. It always reminds me of my son’s passionate love for clocks and clock towers, but beyond that it is also such a beautiful image of the innocence and specialness (for lack of a better word) of autistic children. So I’m going to end my review by sharing it with you too: