Film Explores Attitudes Towards Autism

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"Wretches and Jabberers", by Academy award winning film-maker Gerardine Wurzburg, follows Larry Bissonette and Tracy Thresher — two Vermont men with autism who travel the world to change attitudes about disability and intelligence. 

The movie is the ultimate road trip-buddy movie. The fact that its stars use keyboards with computer generated voices to communicate, make their adventures in Japan, Finland and Sri Lanka all the more powerful.  In the movie, a reporter asks Thresher what it means to him to have autism.

"I was trapped in a body that didn’t work right," says Thresher, "and I wasn’t able to let people know."

As he continues typing his assistant, Harvey Lavoy, reads aloud. "I have always been very angry about my autism and didn’t get seen as intelligent til I was out of high school," Lavoy reads. "I am 42 years old now so it’s how to remember when I was young.  My family loved me but I really had no education in school because I could not speak. My classes were isolated. In high school I sat in a room all day doing puzzles – when I was 23 years old I started typing.  Slowly I showed my true intelligence although I am still prone to acts of intense anger."

If Thresher and Bissonette lived in Rutland County, they’d probably get services through Rutland Mental Health’s Community Access Program. That’s the organization that’s showing the film as both a fundraiser and teaching tool.  Dan Quinn, Rutland Mental Health’s president says the documentary can help shine a light on the services they provide and the nearly 500 individuals who benefit. "The most important thing I believe is to showcase to an entire community what the abilities of these individuals are," Quinn says. "It’s not about focusing on the challenges it’s really focusing on what people can achieve if they receive that kind of support that in many ways we’ve all received at one point or another in our lives." Support services that he says are increasingly threatened by budget cuts. 

After the movie, Larry Bisonnette and Tracy Thresher will take part in a panel discussion to answer questions — like the one that they posed to Japanese college students in the film. Lavoy reads, "My question to the audience is, what you think of the paradox in front of you – with peculiarities and typing of intelligent words?"  

It’s a question that will likely haunt anyone who watches the documentary. 

"Wretches and Jabberers"  will be shown at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre Friday night, June 15th at 6:30. Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher will take part in a panel discussion after the screening. All proceeds will benefit Rutland Mental Health’s Community Access Program and the Paramount Theatre.

Earlier: Documentary Film On Autism Garners National Attention



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