Adult Autistics Discuss 'Intelligent Lives'

Naieer in art class
Michael Cnudde, Specialist Communications and Resource Development, Autism Ontario

~ 3 minute read 

Intelligent Lives is a 2018 American documentary that tells the story of three young adults with intellectual disabilities, Micah, Naomie, and Naieer, while also focusing on the history of the American disability rights movement.

Members of Autism Ontario’s adult media panel recently assembled to review and discuss this documentary and how it treats people with developmental disabilities like autism and how it also treats self-advocates. Self-Advocates Courtney Weaver, who is a freelance writer, and David Moloney, CIBC Mutual Fund Indexer and member of Autism Ontario’s Board of Directors, participated.  

“My first impression was that it was a good refresher of certain concepts, but it may have only scratched the surface a little bit in terms of the history that was explored,” said Courtney.  She wishes that the film elaborated more upon the lives of the individuals featured in the film instead of the historical background. “The section where Micah was receiving support around maintaining his legal right to decision making and the process of him going on a date was interesting, and the documentary team clearly made choices about what was shown to emphasize their point.” 

“There is such a dearth of information about the capability of people with disabilities,” said David. “The overview was quick, but okay. I found that the view of people with disabilities went kind of toward the negative in some parts, but it highlighted where we have come as a society over time. I found there were times where things were a little too down.” 

Much of the early part of the film dealt with how IQ tests were misused, not only against people with disabilities, but also against people from different cultural backgrounds. “The documentary elaborates on a part of North American history, and about present-day abuse and ableism that is not often talked about,” said Courtney.  

Discussing the people whom the documentary portrayed, the consensus was that while the approach was fair, it did not cover as much as it could have. “Naomie seemed supported but I worry about her wage amount – what is a liveable wage in the US where she lives, and what are her expenses?” asked David.  “Does she require additional benefits or earnings to offset the costs of living with a disability in her community, and to avoid living in poverty?” Considering the film, he adds, “...It would be good to see a Canadian perspective like this.” 

The film mirrored some of their own lived experiences

Courtney and David also talked about how the film mirrored some of their own lived experiences. Courtney noted that some of the experiences of the people in the film were similar to those of her younger sister and her parents. Her sister didn’t go the academic route, took special-ed classes and had co-op placement in places such as grocery stores. “There was a more verbal-based test for her to figure out what accommodations may be needed to support her in each workplace,” said Courtney, “but that test did not encapsulate what she needed, truly. My parents felt her capabilities and talents were not captured with this approach, and she her potential was not met.” 

David recalls his own experience while in high school. In his senior year, he took advanced English. The teacher who would assign reading work at the end of each class and would test on it the next morning, went on leave mid-year and was replaced by another teacher who taught differently.  “That was an accommodation that I needed,” he said. “I may have been given a lower grade and therefore a lower indicator of my intelligence based on this specific assignment, which was only a quantitative measure of my intellectual performance, when it was clear that accommodation was what I needed to succeed in this situation.” 

The final part of the film dealt with the transitions that the young adults faced as they left high school and entered adulthood. Micah lives independently and graduates from university.  He takes a teaching position with the school. Naomie goes to work in a beauty school, while the future for Naireer, a talented artist, is less than clear.  

“The transition from school to adult life is often described as a cliff for a reason,” says Courtney. “You have a social and structural void to fill in your schedule when you graduate and it is important to have some kind of support...  I think one thing that could help that if the individual had supports in place, they would feel like they could enthusiastically make this transition. The support to build this transition is key. It speaks to the need for having higher or more person-centred expectations of people with disabilities, not low expectations.” 


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