Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Wizard Mode Adoption Movie Review

Robert Gagno is a world champion of pinball. He also is a 26-year-old who has autism. Supported by his parents, but striving towards independence, Robert finds a sense of community, passion, direction, and (perhaps surprisingly) peace in the world of competitive pinball.

Wizard Mode follows Robert as he travels across the country to different pinball tournaments, and also visits him at home as he makes strides towards finding a day job. Through candid interviews with Robert and his parents, Wizard Mode presents Robert as someone who is impacted by – but not defined by – autism.

Wizard Mode is a direct release from Vimeo.

The Adoption Connection

Adoption does not factor into Wizard Mode; however, many children in foster care have diagnoses which relate to their social or behavioral functioning. Parents wanting to learn more about autism or about how a person can function with a mental health diagnosis might find Wizard Mode helpful enlightening.  

Strong Points

Wizard Mode is honest in its portrayal of Robert as an individual who is impacted by autism, but who – through his own efforts, his community, and his family, is not defined by it.

Robert’s parents are strong supports to him. I noticed how his father was consistently providing reassurance to Robert. His parents support him as he pursues independence.

Robert is able to speak about his feelings; he likes hugs, and although he tends to lack an innate awareness of social norms, he has researched hugs in order to understand how and when they are appropriate. Robert has also come to understand his emotions in the language of “brain chemicals” which helps him to make sense of his experience of the world. Robert is also honest about his fears; he gets overwhelmed fairly often, and acknowledges that he fears that he might not be able to do all that he wants.
Robert acknowledges that he feels like a teenager sometimes. His mother also is open about the tension between acknowledging that he is an adult and the reality that she sometimes views him as younger than he actually is.

Younger viewers might be able to resonate with Robert and his feelings; they can share in his triumphs.

It is helpful, but perhaps uncomfortable, to see Robert trying to talk to a fellow pinball player who is not wanting conversation.


Wizard Mode is a positive, honest, and engaging introduction to a young man thriving in some areas of life while striving towards independence in others and developing his ability to function as an adult with autism. It would be most interesting to teens 14 and up as well as adults; it could be particularly helpful to people living with autism as a road into conversations to identify and share their experience of the world. It could also be helpful to adults considering pursuing adoption through foster care, to help develop an understanding of one of the diagnoses with which some children live, including kids in foster care.  

Questions for Discussion

In what ways have you felt like Robert?

What would help you parent a child with autism? What are some particular strengths you’ve seen in Robert’s parents? 

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