Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s riveting documentary A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism leaps into the mysteries surrounding the disorder, tracing the efforts of Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, a mother in Iceland, to seek treatment for her severely autistic son, Keli. While the title is accurate, the film is less a portrait of her than an inquiry into the origins and nature of autism and therapies for it.Amid growing awareness of Asperger’s syndrome and the spectrum of autism in general,
Narrated by Kate Winslet, whose voice fluidly substitutes for Ms. Ericsdottir’s, Courage offers poignant accounts from parents confronting the syndrome, diagnosed to some degree, according to the film, in 1 out of 150 children a year, with four boys affected to every girl. One expert interviewed is Temple Grandin, the autistic author and animal scientist (and subject of an HBO film), who offers a plain-spoken eloquence.
Among the insights here is that the disorder reflects not an inability to perceive the world, but a sensitivity to it — through heightened hearing, say — often resulting in the faulty processing of simultaneous information. Repetitious gestures help to soothe overstimulated nerves.
At HALO (Helping Autism Through Learning and Outreach), a nonprofit organization in Austin, Ericsdottir meets with Soma Mukhopadhyay, creator of the Rapid Prompting Method, an educational technique. Mukhopadhyay is unflagging with Keli and manages a semblance of a breakthrough.
There is no pat resolution here, but the sight of a mother finally able to connect with her child across autism’s chasm is more than stirring.