Ben is a young high school student who falls on the Autism Spectrum Scale. Because he is different, many students find it acceptable to pick and bully Ben. Consequently, he finds himself disassociating during these traumatic experiences and honing in on his online video game persona. Through his process of gaming, Ben builds a relationship with a girl coined his “helper”. His helper assists him in building not only courage in standing up for his rights but revenge on the bullies.
Behind the Eyes of a Boy With Autism
BenX is a heart-wrenching tale regarding an Autistic boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). While Ben is known as somewhat of a social pariah, he excels in learning, his store of knowledge, and most importantly, video gaming. Due to his social differences, Ben finds himself the victim of many merciless pranks at the hands of school bullies. At school Ben is different, but online he is just as good, if not better, than any other player.
He is a highly respected online video gamer reaching an almost impossible level of 80. Through his high status on his video game, he builds a close relationship with a girl named Starlite, his “helper” in his online voyages. Starlite helps Ben stand up to those who hate his differences in the most courageous and impressive fashion of staging his own funeral. Only through the act of faking his own suicide was Ben able to show his schoolmates that they’re actions towards him are not only unacceptable but also able-ist and inhumane.
While Ben is on the Autism Spectrum, he is high functioning and able of to perform the required daily functions for living (i.e. able to dress, use bathroom, eat, navigate on his own). For the most part, the film greatly portrayed not only the symptoms of Autism but also gave the audience an Autism perspective straight from Ben’s mind. The general criteria for Autism according to the DSM V is: persistent difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication, functional limitations in effective communication, social participation, social relationships, academic achievement, or occupational performance, and onset of symptoms are present in an early developmental period. Ben is close to a textbook example of a person with moderate Autism (with several exceptions). Specifically, he did have functional limitations such as: difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication (i.e. not being able to communicate that he did not want be bullied nor was he able to physically stop it), limitations in social participation and social relationships (i.e. not feeling comfortable in crowds of people or just the presence of people) and lastly he was diagnosed at an early age which was addressed in the film.
A couple of Autistic symptoms in the movie may not be commonly noticed by the public. These include Ben’s difficulties in speech, hearing, and seeing. Often times, certain social functions of people with Autism get “traded-off” for other cognitive functions unrelated to social ability. Research done by Broderick and Kasa-Hendrickson does not only touch on the compromised hearing and seeing functions of Autistic people, but also found that speech is one of the most commonly compromised assets due to the misunderstanding of certain social cues (2001). Another symptom portrayed in BenX was his irritability and agitation when there is a stimulus overload of any kind. The movie showed that Ben had more outbursts as a child but then learned to control such reactions’ as he got older. Research conducted by Mikita, Hollocks, Papadopoulos. Aslani, et. al. (2015), found that irritability in people with ASD, especially men, is often a result of extreme stress that is built up over a period of time. BenX coincides with this research due to the fact that Ben was generally able to control his outbursts as an older adolescent, until a build up of stress related to bullying resulted in a fit of irritability and material destruction.
One aspect of the movie related to ASD was a bit far off from the general known symptoms of the disorder. BenX is seen as having an on-going hallucination of Starlite for several known days. During these hallucinations Starlite stopped him from committing suicide, gave his confidence and courage in order to stand up to his peers, and ultimately helped him execute his fake funeral set-up. While these hallucinations gave a great twist to the movie, these symptoms are otherwise unrelated to ASD. In fact, researcher Gadow (2013) founded that people with ASD who experience hallucinations are often times experiencing that due to another underlying mental disorder, mainly schizophrenia . Therefore, this aspect of the movie wasn’t an accurate depiction of a person with Autism only. On the flipside, it could be considered that Ben may be diagnosed both Autistic and Schizophrenia to a certain degree.
Overall, I would rate this movie as a 4/5 for accuracy, only because of the false depiction of hallucinations in people with ASD. I would rate a 5/5 for educational value considering this movie not only presented many of the ASD symptoms but also gave insight on how Autistic people experience such symptoms. And I would rate a 5/5 for entertainment due to the fact that the movie was unique in its nature, did not drag on, had a surprise ending, and addressed certain social justice issues concerning people with mental disabilities. I would recommend this movie to ages 12 and older for a couple of reasons. One, there were very explicit depictions of bullying that could trigger children who have experienced extreme bullying in the past. Two, the subject matter is mature and a bit complex, I would imagine that someone who is 8 would not developmentally be able to understand the underlying premise of the movie the way a cognitively more developed 12 year old would.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.
Broderick, A.A., & Kasa-Henrickson, C. (2001). ‘SAY JUST ONE WORD AT FIRST: ‘The emergence of reliable speech in a student labeled with autism. Journal Of The Association For Persons With Severe Handicaps, 26(1), 13-24. Doi:10.2511/rpsd.26.1.13
Gadow, K.D. (2013). Association of schizophrenia spectrum and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms in children with ASD and clinic controls. Research In Developmental Disabilities, 34(4), 1289-1299. Doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2013.01.011
Mikita, N., Hollocks, M.J., Papadopoulos, A.S., Aslani, A., Harrison, S., Leibenluft, E., & … Stringaris, A. (2015). Irritability in boys with autism spectrum disorders: An investigations of physiological reactivity. Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry, 56(10), 1118-1126, doi:10.1111/jcpp.12382