PBS and Autism Awareness

Learn about and watch some of the compelling in-depth news stories and documentaries about autism developed by public broadcasting.

Public broadcasting has been covering the subject of autism for many years, digging deeply into a range of important issues including signs and symptoms, what we know (and don't know) about causation, effective therapies, teaching kids on the spectrum, living independently, and the prospect for meaningful work for adults on the spectrum. Here, we've collected a sampling of in-depth news stories and documentaries that take a close look at many of these issues.

PBS NewsHour: Autism Now

This 6-part series hosted by Robert MacNeil takes a close look at how autism impacts families, schools and communities. The story is one that resonates deeply with his own family and the families of thousands of others — MacNeil’s 6-year-old grandson, Nick, has autism. (PBS Premiere: April 2011)

Part One: Introduction to Nick and Autism as a whole-body experience

Robert MacNeil brings viewers along on a visit with his daughter and grandson Nick in Cambridge, Mass., to see how autism affects the whole family.

Part Two: Autism Prevalence

Robert MacNeil investigates why the number of children with autism is increasing in the U.S. MacNeil meets children at different points on the autismspectrum and gets several views on the increase in prevalence — from better diagnosis to a variety of environmental factors.

Part Three: Autism's Causes

The rise in the number of reported autism cases has caused a surge in research to find the causes. Robert MacNeil speaks with four leading researchers: Dr. Gerald Fischbach of the Simons Foundation, Dr. David Amaral of the MIND Institute, Dr. Martha Herbert of Harvard University and Dr. Craig Newschaffer of Drexel University.

Part Four: Autism Treatment

School systems often bear most of the burden of treating children with autism through educational tools. Robert MacNeil looks at how two schools in the New York City area handle teaching children and teens with autism.

Part Five: For Adults With Autism, Few Support Options Past Age 21

Although federal law mandates educational services for children with autism, there are virtually no support services provided once they become adults. In the fifth report in his Autism Now series, Robert MacNeil profiles a young man in New Jersey — and his family — as they face an uncertain future for him.

Part Six: How Should We Address Deepening 'National Health Emergency'?

Governments, educators, families and public health officials face mounting challenges in dealing with autism as the prevalence in the U.S. continues to grow. In the concluding segment in his Autism Now series, Robert MacNeil explores these issues and possible solutions in a roundtable with four autism researchers and advocates.

Related resources

POV: Neurotypical

Neurotypical is an exploration of autism from the point of view of autistic people themselves. Four-year-old Violet, teenaged Nicholas and adult Paula occupy different positions on the autism spectrum, but they are all at pivotal moments in their lives. How they and the people around them work out their perceptual and behavioral differences becomes a remarkable reflection of the "neurotypical" world — the world of the non-autistic — revealing inventive adaptations on each side and an emerging critique of both what it means to be normal and what it means to be human. (PBS Premiere: July 2013)

Related resources

Making Our Way: Autism

Daily life for a child with autism is a challenge for the child and the family. Making Our Way: Autism, produced by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, shows how and where to access that network of support. Through the telling of personal stories like Dr. Temple Grandin's, an accomplished animal scientist and one of the most well-known adults with autism in the world. (PBS Premiere: September 2011)

Related resources

Spectrum: A Story of the Mind

Take a journey into the rich sensory experience of autism, a world where words taste and thoughts feel, where sounds swell with color and leaves on trees change tones visible to the naked eye, and where eye contact with another can cause physical pain. The documentary explores autism through the lens of diverse characters on the spectrum. (PBS Premiere: April 2017)

Spectrum Kids

Kids on the spectrum practice gymnastics. Movement helps regulate their sensory systems.

Temple Grandin on Sensory Issues

Dr. Temple Grandin describes her sensory world. Animation brings her experiences to life.

Related resources

Reading Rockets (2017)

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