||Volume 20, Number
3, November/December 2007
The education of Adam
Marianne Kaplan's documentary reveals her son's struggle with
By Janet Nicol
Vancouver filmmaker Marianne Kaplan delivers an intimate portrait
of her son Adams Grade 7 experience in a one-hour documentary
The Boy Inside. A groundbreaking story, Marianne reveals
Adams daily struggles with Asperger Syndrome, a form of
Since the documentary was first aired on the CBC last October, the
networks Internet blog has been jam-packed with viewer reaction
and Marianne has received more than a hundred letters, most from
parents in similar situations.
"Parents who watch the film say Im seeing my
story for the first time." Marianne says in a recent
interview with her and Adam at the familys Vancouver home.
"I hope the use of resources about autism can make a
Marianne believes the whole community "needs to get the
skills to be accepting and tolerant." And with one in 260
children born with autism in North America, educators need to learn
Mother/filmmaker Marianne Kaplan narrates the film and son, Adam,
talks openly about his feelings and challenges. We also hear from
Adams father and classmates and glimpse his Grade 7 teacher and
The various forms of bullying Adam endures, coupled with his
special needs, contribute to his growing depression and inappropriate
behavior. Many strategies are used to help Adam and when all ideas
seem spent, his mother and teacher bring in a special needs expert to
help classmates change some of their behaviors.
The film ends on a hopeful note. Adam is delighted to learn he is
accepted into a Vancouver secondary mini-school computer program and
believes his years of bullying are over, because he says, teenagers
in high school will be "more mature."
So how has Adam been doing since Grade 7?
"Im really liking high school," he says.
"Its much different from elementary school. I have more
friends to hang out with."
Adam says his course work was never a problem. It was the social
part of school that always challenged him.
He likes having more independence in high school. "You have
more freedom to go out and do what you want," he says.
Adams mother adds, "He has learned the social skills to
Having friends at school has really made a difference for Adam.
"Grade 8 was weird," he says. "I have a habit of
wanting to hang out with the popular kids." That hasnt
worked for Adam. But in Grade 9 he hung out with "nerdy"
friends. "They are the best friends," Adam says,
"because they have a personality. They are cool."
To look at Adam, you would barely recognize the boy in the film.
He has grown into a handsome, young teen with curly dark hair, who
politely stands to shake hands before and after this interview.
High school summers have been fun for Adam, too. Following Grade
9, he traveled to South Africa and visited relatives on his
mothers side. Adam notes apartheid may be gone, but
snobby behaviour and segregation between racial groups
still exist. And last summer Adam enjoyed great baseball games and
card-collecting in Chicago, while his dad was on a working
How did former classmates react to the film The Boy Inside?
"Some really liked it," Adam says. "One classmate
became a friend when he realized what I went through."
Marianne adds this classmate also happened to be "the number
one bullythe ringleader."
Adam says that last year of elementary school sucked. One
principal did not treat him well, he remembers. "He told me I
gave the school a bad image."
Marianne says bullying is rampant in schools and sometimes the
victims end up getting punished. Autistic children are much more
likely to be targets of aggressive students, she says.
So what do schools need to do?
Marianne observes an irony: teachers are in the business of
education but resist learning. "Families are the experts,"
she says. "We need to work as a team with teachers and teaching
"The language at home and school can be re-enforced,"
Marianne suggests, "if a team approach is used."
She thinks teacher aides should be required to take courses about
autism and have experience and a sense of commitment.
Ultimately, Marianne believes the entire system needs to be
overhauled. "Schools need integration (of students with special
needs) with support," she says, "and this means class-size
reductions and more staff education and training."
"Teachers should be less demanding," Adam believes, as
he discusses school life in general. "Our workload at school is
too big. And school needs to be more fun. There needs to be more time
to communicate," he says.
And based on his past school experiences, Adam asks teachers to be
"more accepting and willing to learn."
The Boy Inside will soon be available to public schools.
For more information about the film, access the CBC Internet web
Janet Nicol is a Vancouver secondary teacher on leave.