November 10, 2006

Documentary of an Aspie

Autism gets a new frame in family film

Lizzie Gottlieb (r.) hugs brother Nicky Gottlieb, who stars in her documentary about Asperger Syndrome.
Most of what the average person knows about autistic adults with special abilities probably comes from the movie "Rain Man."

But New York filmmaker Lizzie Gottlieb hopes to change that with a documentary about her brother, Nicky Gottlieb, who has an autism-related disorder known as Asperger Syndrome.

The 28-year-old is the star of "Today's Man," a one-hour feature which will be shown Friday at the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival at the American Museum of Natural History. It's a loving yet unflinching look at the paradox of Asperger: Nicky can memorize whole calendars but can't hold a 9-to-5 job; he's a whiz at foreign languages but struggles to communicate with his peers.

It also follows his parents - former New Yorker magazine editor Robert Gottlieb and actress Maria Tucci - as they encourage their son, with mixed results, to lead a more independent life.

"Physically, I'm a man," Nicky says as the movie opens with his 21st birthday party. "But mentally and emotionally I'm a boy."

Though it was obvious from infancy that Nicky was different than other children, he wasn't diagnosed with Asperger until after Lizzie started filming the documentary.

"Nicky had been this sort of strange and mysterious child," she said. "He was the most interesting, unique, odd person I knew."

He exhibits many of the hallmarks of Asperger: peculiar speech, social awkwardness - and obsessive interests. He's fixated on television, compelled to watch certain soap operas. He can recite the date of every Easter Sunday since 1900 and pinpoint the day of the week for anyone's birth date. He blithely blurts out inappropriate comments.

He gets fired from a theater company for telling subscribers one of the shows is a dud. He gets his own apartment, but soon moves back in with his parents because he enjoys the "perks," including a big television.

"Today's Man" premiered at the Nantucket Film Festival, where celebrity-loving Nicky relished the applause and his moment in the spotlight. "As he said to the audience in Nantucket, he enjoys being a star," Lizzie said. "He went up to Heather Graham at the film festival and said, 'I'm the star of a movie here, too.'"

Nicky is looking forward to the documentary, which is being pitched to TV companies, debuting in New York. "I imagine a lot of people feel like Asperger's is a real disability," he said. "But at the same time you have some extraordinary abilities - math, foreign languages, dates. I don't mean to flatter myself, but that seems like real genius."


beachcrick said...

I was wondering if Lizzie or her parents have considered a "Micro Board" for helping her brother? Have they contacted their local CIL-Center for Independ. Living, or Self Determination information that may be able to give Nicky some assistance on getting out on his own.
We have a 14 yr. old High Funct. Aspie son that I will going down this road with. We often-me more than his dad, wonder how he will do on his own. My ds says he will move out when he is 18-but that concerns me too, and then beyond.
Best wishes, we are glad to see advocacy in action as well as awareness.
Kirsten Hargis

Anonymous said...

he still lives at home and most likely will always because of his doating infantilzing parents, disabled folks are just a different race or culture, its not a bad thing to be disabled, we need assistance and help, j ust as most normals do, some alot, some very little, but he needs an independent living program, thats what he needs and surely he can live independent havig supports and assistance as needed. but his parents treat him like a littl;e boy and they see him as alittle boy so consiquintly he thinks of himself as a child.

he needs to go to burlington vermont because that city is veeery disability supportive and accepting in fact a large part of that citires population is disabled, it has a large disabed community and many many recources and servicess to enable even the most profound, to live independent and have full and happy lives and make there own choices

so if theres anyway for nicky and his sister to read this, please look into burlington vermont center for inependent living.