The United States of Autism Is a Well-Meaning Documentary That May Do More Harm Than Good


The United States of Autism is an example of a well-meaning documentary that may do more harm than good. The father of a teenager “on the spectrum,” Richard Everts sets out on a cross-country trip, meeting 20 people also with autism, mostly children, and their families. The film’s great contribution is its brief profiles of these people from all walks of life and various racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. We see children of different ages affected in varying degrees. We see them play, see their mothers cry, and witness frustration and joy. We also see much of Everts, perhaps too much, as he inserts his personal but unrelated rejection-and-reunion saga with his father. Very little about the autism spectrum or its therapies is explained, so many discussions are mystifying. Intriguing topics come up—medical issues, policy issues, philosophical issues—that are never explored. Worse, Everts allows in the vaccines-as-cause controversy through his interviews without balancing it in any way. The science is no longer out on that; the connection has been debunked. That Everts doesn’t even present a scientist’s view, even though he interviews a scientist, is journalistic malpractice. Weird sideshows, like a motivational speaker who claims to be cured of autism and a doctor who connects diet and allergies to autism, add to the muddle.