Wretches & Jabberers – Autism Finds It's Voice
Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette travel the world to change attitudes about autism.
On Friday, April 4th at 7:00 pm, Disability Action Center will be joining Moscow Self Advocacy Leadership Network in sponsoring a showing of the Gerardine Wurzburg film “Wretches & Jabberers” at the Kenworthy Theater in Moscow. This inspiring documentary chronicles the world travels of disability rights advocates, Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette, in a bold quest to change attitudes about the intelligence and abilities of people with autism.
As recently as the 1980’s, most children and young adults with autism in the US were excluded from normal schooling. Some were placed in mental institutions. Like many children with autism, Tracy and Larry grew up unable to speak. They faced a future of social isolation in adult disability centers. When Tracy was 23 and Larry 34, their lives changed when they learned to communicate by typing. Larry notes, “nothing I did…convinced people I had an inner life until I started typing.”
In the film, Tracy and Larry take to the road to promote awareness of the hidden intelligence in those who face speech and communication challenges, connecting with others like them across the globe who struggle to find a means of expression. Tracy, Larry and their support team, Harvey Lavoy and Pascal Cheng, visit Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland, giving interviews and presentations and learning about the lives of people with autism in these countries. Viewers share in their eye-opening experiences as the men negotiate the terrain of travel, culture and new friendships on what they aptly named The World Intelligence Magnified Tour.
The first stop is Sri Lanka, where they visit old friend Chammi Rajapatirana, 35, who they have met at conferences in the US. Together, the group meets with parents of children with autism to demonstrate their communication skills, answer their urgent questions, and appeal to the parents to believe in their children’s innate intelligence. “You will be surprised how often we make wrong assumptions about ability,” Chammi tells the group.
In Japan, Tracy and Larry meet 16-year-old Naoki Higashida. Naoki is an accomplished artist who has published more than ten books of his stories and drawings but is denied access to public school. Meeting Tracy and Larry is a revelation to him. He says, “I never had a conversation like this with people that communicate the way I do.” He eagerly joins the men in presenting at a national autism conference at Tokyo University.
Their final trip is to Helsinki, Finland where they are interviewed by a Finnish filmmaker and present at the Autism Foundation Conference. Here, they meet Antti Lappalainen, 21, and Henna Laulainen, 23. Both are accomplished in their ability to communicate through typing and yet, spend their days doing meaningless chores in adult disability centers. Antti says, “Language is everything I am. Completely different than my misunderstood appearance.”
It is Antti who humorously declares the world divided into “Wretches” – those with limited speech – and “Jabberers” – those who can speak freely. He tells the group, “We poor wretches are better than jabberers. They don’t know it yet, but we will tell it to them [at the conference].” At the end of that conference, Antti strikes a more serious note, asking the audience to “dispel the darkness around us poor wretches. Take us for real people. Don’t sideline us.”
Throughout the film, Tracy, Larry and their compatriots inspire parents, educators and others with autism through their poignant narratives of personal struggle that always ring with intelligence, honor, hope and courage. Of his experience working on the film, Tracy reflects, “It has had a cathartic learning explosive effect on my life with good movement of ideas, thoughts and feelings. I was feeling less autistic and felt I had purpose in life.” Larry adds, “I get proud thoughts thinking Tracy and I can fasten our perspectives on the public’s consciousness.”
The film showing is fee, but please bring a canned food item to donate to the Moscow Food Bank.
A Film by Garardine Wurzburg
Executive Producer John P. Hussman
Produced by Douglas Biklen and Garardine Wurzburg
Directed by Garadine Wurzburg
Music by J. Ralph
Director of Photography Gary Griffen
A Production of State of the Art, Inc.