In Session with “Rain Man”

Dr. Sam and Dr. Fran hope to spread awareness, information and acceptance during Autism Awareness Month. Their first stop? One of the most commonly referenced portrayals of autism in American cinema, the 1988 Academy Award-winning film, Rain Man.

We use Diagnosis Bingo to break down the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder and determine whether that diagnosis applies to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond. What aspects of Raymond’s character seem to accurately portray autism and which have been exaggerated? For example, do people with autism always have special abilities? We wouldn’t bet on it. The doctors explore the misconceptions around autism and savant syndrome.
Listen to this week’s episode and stay in our good graces. Unless you want to get stuck with the rose bushes just like Charlie… THE ROSE BUSHES?!

Glossary of Terms

Social-emotional reciprocity – back and forth interaction during social communication

Primary motor sterotypies rhythmic, repetitive, fixed, predictable, but purposeless movements (e.g., flapping/waving of the arms, hand flapping, and rocking back and forth)

Echolalia – repetition of vocalizations made by another person

Scripting repetition of words, phrases, or sounds from other people’s speech, often times phrases and sounds are from movies, TV shows, books, or people they interact with

Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) – one of the gold standard assessments for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder; a standardized assessment of communication, social interaction, play, and restricted and repetitive behaviors in children

Savant syndrome – characterized by remarkable talent in one or more domains (e.g. music, memory) in the context of some form of developmental condition, such as autism spectrum disorder


Dr. Sam highlights the importance of language in working with and discussing autism spectrum disorder.  Check out this resource for a glossary of important terms.

We took a deep dive into the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder during today’s episode.  Learn more about this diagnosis here and here.

We also discuss some of the best practices for screening for and diagnosing ASD.

In Rain Main, Raymond is referred to as a “savant.” Check out these resources to learn more about savant syndrome, including an interview with the psychiatrist who consulted on the creation of the movie.