Kristján Kristjánsson and Bjarney Lúðvíksdóttir’s SEEING THE UNSEEN breathes new life into decoding the diversity of psychiatry; by breaking through the rigidity of diagnostic templates, resounding with the flexibility of neurological manifestations, rather than dated, stereotypical formulas that serve to alienate the masses further. SEEING THE UNSEEN invites us to look deeper into the struggles faced by autistic women, with a refined equilibrium of insight and empathy.
SEEING THE UNSEEN digs beneath the surface of developmental disorders; channelling the stories of women of all ages diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. What the documentary defines from the onset to the climax is the vastness of this spectrum and the many variables which can hinder social confidence and an overwhelming realisation that stimuli can be perceived and processed in numerous ways. Moreover, the film shows that a diagnosis of autistic traits can differ immensely from each individual who is documented. The flow of the documentary meanders through different case studies of Icelandic women, of different ages and walks of life, who identify as being a part of the autistic spectrum; as they invite us into the hidden corners of their experience with the disorder, before and after diagnosis.
Many of the women within the documentary relay their difficulties as feeling as though they are from another planet, seeing themselves as an “alien”, each one possessing this introspective analysis of what it means to feel this essence of otherness. We see the contrast throughout between the women who have received a diagnosis earlier in life, to those who have only been diagnosed in their later years, and the sense of liberation and enlightenment which follows. Kristjánsson and Lúðvíksdóttir manage to evoke a significant amount of depth from the amount of stories they digest in such a short time frame; retaining a consistency to the discussion of female manifestations of the disorder and how it seems to fall under the radar. Despite its relatively fixed focal point, SEEING THE UNSEEN manages to unravel more poetically than its subject matter would normally. The film reminds us as a society that we must penetrate below the surface of the symptoms and exhausted connotations, into an understanding that intransigence elevates prejudice.
SEEING THE UNSEEN delivers a compassionate discourse, with each stream connected to the source and core of the documentary’s message: that the manifestations of autism spectrum disorder glide with fragile complexity, often colliding and contrasting with other disorders. For many women, their symptoms are often more hidden than symptoms in men. The documentary’s success resides within its acknowledgement that it does not have all the answers, but that the epistemological failure goes much deeper than anything that can be discussed in such a format. SEEING THE UNSEEN explores the reality that the misdiagnosis of autistic women still has stagnant roots within psychiatry as a whole. Is it the case that autism is more common in men, or that is it simply more of a consideration in our psychiatric screenings for men than it is for women? SEEING THE UNSEEN establishes the latter as far more likely, as within the complexity of psychiatric conditions it would be increasingly limiting to condense the psychological microscope in terms of gender, but rather to accept that the nature of developmental disorders is innately atypical.
The women throughout the documentary are completely dissimilar; some are young adults, some are middle-aged, some are older, many are mothers, children of autistic parents, wives, single, employed, unemployed, and students. It is the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder that links them together. There are no set criteria to evaluate the experiences of autism, just as there is no linearity in the prognosis. SEEING THE UNSEEN manages to subtly tackle the issues of alienation and disconnection faced by those on the spectrum, as well as those with little understanding on the subject; illuminating a heartening canvas of education and humanity.
SEEING THE UNSEEN functions through the perspectives of those affected by the many variables of autistic traits, through a lens that shines a light on the difficulties that autism presents during younger life to employment and beyond. But it also captures the beautiful and unique worlds, talents, achievements and successes that these women have obtained, even from a world which fails to present the tools to integrate them comfortably.