As the rate of autism continues to rise, pop culture is taking notice. Several popular television shows have included characters in recent years who are either formally diagnosed, or who share many characteristics with people who are on the autism spectrum.
Movies such as Adam and Dear John also portrayed the challenges of living and loving with autism. Now, two plays, one in Rochester, NY, and one in Chicago, are following suit.
On the Spectrum, a play by Ken LaZebnik (Touched by an Angel, Star Trek: Enterprise, A Prairie Home Companion), is currently running at Rochester’s Bread and Water Theatre. J.R. Teeter, artistic director explains,
“Everyone knows someone who has autism or is ‘on the spectrum,’ whether diagnosed or not. And yet there are not many plays and very few TV shows that deal with autism in a realistic manner.”
On the Spectrum is a love story about Cormac and Iris, two individuals with varying degrees of autism who meet online and start a relationship. Cormac is a law student who received intensive early intervention and therapy, while Iris, who has profound communication issues, did not. Through the course of the story, both characters must come to terms with their feelings about autism, as well as their feelings for each other.
“They come together and both realize they’re sick of being labeled. It’s a love story that asks something different from our audience.”
On the Spectrum premiered in 2011 at the Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN, where it was awarded a Steinberg Citation from the American Theatre Critics Association, honoring it as one of the three best plays produced outside New York that year. It was also produced by the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. The current cast includes Aubrey Eaton and Amanda Foreman.
Joint Attention is a new play that explores the pitfalls of autism and one family’s dedication and determination to help a loved one with the diagnosis. It was written by Pat Curtis, a former special education teacher and school psychologist from the Chicago area. Curtis says,
“One of my responsibilities as a school psychologist was to evaluate preschoolers with special needs, and to make recommendations for their educational programming. I always said the only task I hated in a job I otherwise loved was telling parents that their three year-old was autistic. Witnessing that level of heartbreak was a profoundly disturbing experience, and certainly contributed to my motivation for writing this play.”
“Frantic parents trying to help their autistic child is a story that begged to be told. “There is no one braver or in bigger trouble than parents dealing with autism.”
Joint Attention previews at the Berger Park Coach House Theatre October 24-25 at 7:30pm. The opening performance is on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 4:00pm. It runs from October 26 – November 16. It is directed by Jason Paul Smith, Artistic Director Three Cat Productions, and stars Catherine Dildilian, Nick Strauss, Molly Bunder, and Valerie Gorman.