Wretches & Jabberers
A Little Bit of Background on the Film…
Wretches & Jabberers is a fascinating — and delightful — new film about two men with autism who are determined to change people’s attitudes about disability and intelligence. Produced and directed by Academy Award-winner Gerardine Wurzburg, the film follows Tracy Thresher (42) and Larry Bissonnette (52) to Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland, where they meet up with friends and join forces in the challenge to shed myths and misunderstandings about autism.
Tracy and Larry, who both have limited speech, were institutionalized for much of their lives. As adults, they learned to communicate by typing — and a whole new world of opportunities was opened to them. Their insight and humor in this film as they experience the excitement (and frustrations) of three very different cultures is as refreshing as it is informative. Wretches & Jabberers is a powerful work, deserving of the world’s attention.
Our Interview with Larry Bissonnette
Larry is a delightful person whose artistic nature and candid humor come through his language, as well as his paintings. Though his speech is limited, he communicates eloquently through typing.
AWE: Larry, will you tell us a little about your experience growing up and the obstacles you faced?
LARRY: I lived an unusually slammed into institutions early life which moved me into adulthood as a loony in behavior but intelligent in mind person. The biggest obstacle to my pursuing a meaningful life was the ignorance about my disability and the lack of acceptance for my oddities.
AWE: Before you began using a keyboard, you were unable able to carry on a conversation. Can you describe the way you felt before you learned to type your thoughts, and how you feel now?
LARRY: I am skilled enough in my speech to socialize on a primitive level but in order to express my opinions ideas and thoughts I need to type them out. Opening this door was like being able to watch color TV for the first time.
AWE: When — and how — did you learn to read, and what were the challenges for you?
LARRY: Opening my mind to ordering print into meaning happened on a continued basis of absorbing letters and words in my environment. Sometimes only arranging all of my education around rote learning over-stimulated my natural impulses to make automatic responses without real thought so my challenges in reading were not based in intellectual deficit but in exercising control over mostly canned methods of responding.
AWE: What was the most difficult experience for you during the making of Wretches & Jabberers? What experience gave you the most joy?
LARRY: All of the lands we traveled to were interesting in their own cultural and placement of hotels ways and I loved meeting all the people of different languages and nationalities. Probably the painful, very uncomfortable-on-my-feet, shoes-off, experience in the outside, rather rustic, area of the temple in Sri Lanka was hardest because usually I keep my shoes with me at all times and the potential for losing them made me freak out.
AWE: You’re an artist… what inspires your paintings?
LARRY: Using art to express my most inner thoughts is not how I work. I am pushed to paint images coming from pictures moving around in my head, put there by my experiences living in Vermont as an autistic man.
AWE: Art speaks a language of its own. What does your art communicate about you?
LARRY: Your most attractive qualities as a person are often linked to your creative side because art is not made to conform to social conventions and so I can be free of society’s need to make me normal when I paint. Nothing is looked on more favorably than a vividly colored and movement-driven looking painting and understanding me in the same way is also thinking of me as an expressive and creative person.
“I am pushed to paint images coming from pictures moving around in my head…”
Our Interview with Tracy Thresher
Tracy, a strong advocate for autism awareness, is witty and charming. Though he spent most of his life without being able to express his thoughts, typing has allowed him to communicate clearly and articulately.
AWE: Tracy, tell us a little about your experience growing up and the obstacles you faced.
TRACY: My experience was one of extreme loneliness due to not being able to make friends. I wanted to play fun games but I could not get my body to do the things I wanted it to do. Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space. My mind told my body to move but it was hard to get it to listen. I was in the grip of thinking I would never be in friendship with others. My family tried to understand but I had no way to tell them I longed for friends.
AWE: Can you describe the way you felt before you learned to type your thoughts, and how you feel now?
TRACY: I could not communicate prior to typing. I felt like a frustrated caged beast trying to break free from the loneliness. I liked the thought of being in the safe cage of protection until I discovered I had typing to let my intelligent thoughts out. I now feel free in most of my life but I need to get my entire team trained which is taking time.
AWE: When – and how — did you learn to read, and what were the challenges for you?
TRACY: I learned to read by looking at books my mother read to me. I liked to look at the newspaper too. My challenge was putting my mind in the listening mode to process the story. I had to hear the repetition of her words.
AWE: What was the most difficult experience for you during the making of Wretches & Jabberers … and what experience gave you the most joy?
TRACY: The most difficult time was not understanding the languages in other countries. I like to read the road signs so I felt lost. The most joyful time was meeting Henna. I never knew the feeling of being head over heels until I heard her typing in her beautiful way of calm.
AWE: In the film, it is pointed out that you have no permanent home … that instead, you rely on various local support groups and individuals for temporary housing. How does this affect your outlook for the future?
TRACY: It has been hard to find the right place to live. I need to have calm and patient people to live with who are committed to learning the best practices of communicating in the way I choose. I am hopeful that I can be more independent and find my own place like my friend, Sue Rubin, who hires her own staff to help her live the way she likes. I hope I can buy my own house and be in control of my life. I like to know I have people in my life who let me make my own mind up. My team is great; they listen to my opinion. However, finding living partners is very hard. Most people do not like to go on the trail in the long Vermont winters. I love it though and I need the quiet peaceful home of my dreams.