Asperger's Syndrome Takes Spotlight; Director Sought to Depict Disorder in Sensitive, Exact Way

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Though autism awareness is on the rise, it's not often understood that the disorder comes in a number of varieties; symptoms and severity range from the annoying to the debilitating.

Asperger's syndrome falls in the higher-functioning part of the spectrum. Those occupying this portion function well in terms of language and thinking skills but have very restricted interests, marked lack of social skills, and repetitive behaviors, according to the book The First Year: Autism Spectrum Disorders by Nancy D. Wiseman.

Movies and television have done little to illuminate these disorders for the public. With the exception of Dustin Hoffman's Oscar-winning turn in Rain Man, exposure to autism and its related disorders has been limited to smaller parts, such as the seldom-seen autistic offspring of corrupt policeman Vic Mackey in the FX cop drama The Shield.

Max Mayer's new movie, Adam, might help change that. The romantic comedy focuses on the budding relationship between Asperger's sufferer Adam Raki (Hugh Dancy) and his new neighbor, Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne). The two must overcome the difficulties his disorder poses if they are to truly connect with each other.

Director-writer Mayer had his own difficulties to overcome: making a movie about a sensitive topic like Asperger's without mocking those who suffer from the disorder.

There's a lot of humor in it, the playwright said of his new movie while sitting on a couch in the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown's Degrees Bar and Lounge. Hopefully, there's a lot of comedy in it. To me, that doesn't come from making fun of anybody; it comes from the interaction [between Adam and Beth]. The more truthful we could make the interaction, the more interesting the comedy was and the better it worked.

The humor in Adam springs from its realistic depiction of the kinds of communication difficulties that afflict those with Asperger's. As The First Year explains: Persons with Asperger's typically have a hard time understanding other people's nonverbal expressions and tend to interpret verbal statements literally. Combined with a lack of empathy - the ability to feel out other people's emotions - this trait makes navigating the real world difficult. …