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by Michel Orion Scott (Director)
Zeitgeist Films, 2010
Review by Christian Perring on Mar 1st 2011

The Horse Boy

This extraordinary documentary shows Rupert Isaacson and his wife Kristin Neff take their autistic son Rowan to Mongolia in hope of a cure. Rowan did not interact well with other children or with his parents, had endless tantrums, sometimes lasting 4 hours, he was still wearing diapers, and he had many obsessive traits.   They have seen him respond well to horses, which would help to end his tantrums and be more cheerful.  But Rupert wanted to try something more radical, and so the family went on a trip to Mongolia to visit some of their traditional healers.  In his previous experience, he had been impressed by the success of shamanic healers, and in Mongolia those healers use horses.  They go to Ulaanbaatar, then to a lake, and then to the north of the country, meeting with shamans all along the way. 

This is a bizarre idea, and even his wife Kristen, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, thought it was crazy.  But then the experts don't have a good understanding of the causes of autism and in many cases they don't have great means to reduce the problematic forms of behavior associated with autism.  Three prominent respected scientists, Simon Baron-Cohen, Temple Grandin and Roy Richard Grinker, talk about the condition on this DVD, both in the main movie and in some extended outtakes. 

There are many myths about autism and many purported remedies that are just nonsense, and of course, there is a danger that a movie like this will be used by charlatans to promote their "solutions" to desperate parents.  Isaacson makes no definite claims for the shamanic healing here, but at the same time, he does say he believes that it was responsible for the remarkable change in Rowan.  Rowan becomes far more social and cheerful, his tantrums reduce, and he no longer needs a diaper.  Viewers of the movie can see the change in Rowan for themselves, and it is remarkable, although of course it is impossible to make any definite conclusions from one case about the power of the shamans.  Nevertheless, this is a fascinating documentary that will be interesting to anyone who either teaches about autism or has a more personal connection to it.

 

© 2011 Christian Perring        

  

Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York