I was introduced to Jordan, the effervescent subject of this Op-Doc, by a mutual friend; we met for lunch at his favorite deli in Los Angeles, where we live. That day, we waded through a getting-to-know-you conversation that somehow felt both more awkward and less awkward than most of its kind. Jordan has Asperger’s syndrome, and so he often gets pulled into his own world, one that can seem chaotic and isolated from ours. But he has learned to make deliberate choices to stay present in reality.
I found myself pleasantly surprised by the quick-witted middle-aged man having lunch across from me. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and movies, and a strikingly clever sense of humor. So I was intrigued. The lunch became the first of many meetings we shared over the course of many months, before we started filming this Op-Doc more than a year later.
In Jordan’s case, he lives independently, holds a job, and manages his own personal finances. He has a relationship with a woman named Toni who has multiple disabilities herself. But more importantly, he is self-aware, self-accepting, caring, with a strong ability to analyze and speak about his condition with others. He understands how he is different, and he has created a coping mechanism for himself that enables him to function in society and pursue his interests in the arts as an escape when it all becomes too much for him. It is these qualities that I wanted to emphasize in this film. I wanted Jordan himself to tell us his story instead of it being formulated out of impressions from the perspective of an outsider. A strong self-advocate, Jordan argues that he is not a disabled person, but merely a person with a disability. Someone from whom those he calls “normal people” could learn. Besides, he will argue, “everybody is not completely normal” anyway.
So much more research and support is needed to enable people with autism. There are no limits to what beautiful minds like Jordan’s can help us make of this world.
(Source: Joris Debeij, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker whose work has appeared in the Sundance & SXSW Film Festivals and on PBS. His previous Op-Doc was The Bull Rider.)