The basic premise of the movie seems to be about a young boy, Oskar, (who may or may not have Asperger's) who loses his father on 9/11. His father apparently played games with Oskar that challenged him intellectually and also made him improve on his social skills by talking to people.
Let's stop there for a minute...as the mother of a child with Asperger's, this is what parents do. After we get that diagnosis, or even before, we spend countless hours researching what will help our child, how we can challenge them and push them out of the box they are in. These kids don't ask to be born "in the box"...it is a neurological disorder that can affect their cognitive, linguistic, and social behaviors. No two children with Asperger's are the same so it is impossible to say how "Aspie's" should or should not act. The fact that this father intelligently challenged his son, by sending him on scavenger hunts and doing puzzles with him and referring to a mysterious "6th Borough" in New York shows that this is a boy who was understood. Obviously, this is why it hits Oskar so hard when his father dies...his father was his bridge to reality, the person who truly understood him and without his father, maybe he felt he would be stuck back in his "box."
Oskar and his mother are not quite as close...David Germain, an AP writer wrote, "Alone with his mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), with whom he's always had an awkward relationship, Oskar finds home life more strained than ever, his mom mired in her own grief."
This should not be that surprising...as many moms of kids with ANY type of special need,we usually blame ourselves first. We don't want our child to suffer, so many times the mom will just take that burden on. In reality it is NOT the mom or dad's fault, just as it is not the child's fault! And I think it's probably not THAT unusual for a spouse to be so buried in their own grief that sometimes they overlook the needs of their child...whether they have special needs or not!
But the problem with many/most of the reviews that I have read indicate that Oskar is "grating" or "excessively shrill" or "someone that you don't really want to spend two hours with." Well excuse me, but try living with a child like this! Try figuring out how to get inside a child, like Oskar's, head...so you can challenge him, instruct him, and get them to see the positive in life and not just the negative! In MY opinion, these reviewers seriously need to be educated...by spending time with kids like this!! It's not contagious, you won't catch it...but what you WILL catch is maybe some awareness! Maybe they could gain the knowledge that these are really great kids and each one has their own unique gift! Sometimes life can be a little more difficult for them...yes, they might have phobias and quirks...but don't we all to some degree? They might be socially awkward, but couldn't you also say that about shy people? And you certainly wouldn't complain about being with someone shy for two hours!
The only positive comments and reviews about this young actor (Thomas Horn) are from Autism/Special Needs websites, and they are mainly in response from the negative reviews that have been put out there. I have read a post from Autism Key that explains how most of these reviews boil down to clear discrimination of a child with Asperger's. Would these reviewers make mention if it was a child of a different race or nationality? What if they were in a wheelchair or blind? The child in this movie is but one example of what a child with Asperger's could be like.
When asked about what type of research was done in order to accurately portray someone with Asperger's , the director, Stephen Daldry (talking to indieWire), affirms that he spent time with different experts that explained Asperger's to him. He understands that every child with Asperger's/Autism is somewhere on a spectrum...and just like a rainbow, there is quite a variation on that spectrum. It is common for a child with Asperger's to have co-morbid disorders...like phobias, sensory issues, and obsessiveness. And after watching the clip (below), I feel like maybe this director had portrayed a high-functioning boy with Asperger's quite well! I don't know if I could let my child wander around the 5 Bouroughs of NYC by himself! But I can appreciate the fact that so much time and effort was spent in researching things like, the focus a child with Asperger's could have while walking down the street, the smells, the noises. All of these things are what makes up Asperger's and they are the challenges a child with Asperger's faces daily.
If by chance you would like to read some of the negative movie reviews, here are the links: The Hollywood Reporter, Coming Soon, Hit Fix, Film School Rejects, The Movie Watch, and possibly the worst, The New York Times.
I feel like it is up to us, the parents of kids with any type of special need, to call these people out...just like we would if the reviewers had used the "R" word. In order to change the ignorance, we must educate. One day or one month simply isn't enough! Not to be over-dramatic, but we must go about this as they did with women's rights or civil rights...we must insist that people with special needs are accepted and understood. We must advocate for them, and teach them how to advocate for themselves. Then maybe the next time a director or writer takes such a risk as including a person with special needs in their movie, maybe one of our own children with special needs can review it and give a non-biased view of the movie...not the movie character!
But, that's just MY opinion...