How people with disabilities can transform your life

215px-Rain_Man_posterI’ve been going to a lot of movies lately, watching everything from dramas to science fiction to  stories of historical events and even tales of the mystical and fantasy. But I have to admit that I am particularly moved by films that inspire me, and I haven’t seen a movie that does that in quite some time.

One such motion picture that fit the bill for me (and goes along with the theme of National Autism Awareness Month) was Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. This 1988 film is about a man (Raymond Babbitt played by Dustin Hoffman) who is both autistic and a savant.

Tom Cruise plays Hoffman’s brother Charlie Babbitt, who does not know he has a brother until after their father’s death. The father’s will leaves almost the entire estate to Raymond, who has lived in an institution since he was a child. The movie is mostly about Charlie’s attempt to get a share of the money.

Focus on autism

Charlie also uses Raymond’s skills at card counting to win money at casinos in Las Vegas. The film is partially accurate in its portrayal of autism. Raymond is a creature of habit, demanding fish sticks on a certain night every week and insisting on watching the Jeopardy game show every day when it comes on television.

He also exhibits rocking behavior and does not establish eye contact with others — both symptoms of autism.

But as experts point out, not all who have autism exhibit the characteristics Raymond has. There are many manifestations of autism and those who have it can land anywhere on the broad autism spectrum.

Rain Man was important because it shed light on the subject of autism at a time when it wasn’t a widely discussed human condition. It was also important because it showed how people with disabilities – even severe ones — can have a powerful impact on others.

People like Raymond have much to offer

In the case of this film, Charlie starts out trying to use his brother to get money. After many adventures together, Charlie learns to love and accept his brother and transforms from a user to a caretaker.

This is the message that I find so inspiring in Rain Man. It is the same message I learned from my Uncle Melrose, who had an intellectual disability. I found that if I spent time with him and honored his needs – even though they didn’t match my own – that the rewards would be a sense of peace and the knowledge of his unconditional love.

The bottom line is this: People who have disabilities can have a transformative effect on those around them. It’s just up to those of us around them to pay attention and learn the lessons they can teach us.