One Boy's Courage
If being a single mum was not hard enough Karen's (Melissa Gilbert - Forbidden Nights) 7 year old son Michael (Bradley Pierce) is severely autistic and too much for her to cope with. Michael's father believes he should be in a special school something which Karen is reluctant to do as she feels like she is the only one who can mother her son but agrees when it gets too much. Leaving Michael in the care of teacher Terry (Patty Duke - One Woman's Courage) is just as difficult as she becomes jealous of the improvements which Terry makes with Michael. When they given the silent Michael a computer to communicate he reveals that someone at the school abused him.
So "Touch of Truth" which is also known as "Cries from the Heart" tries to be two things starting with a look at the complexities of raising a severely autistic child. Firstly it attempts to highlight how difficult it is for Karen to cope with Michael all on her own being left battered and bruised by his frustrated outbursts from being unable to speak. But it also tries to highlight the maternal conflict of feeling guilty abandoning Michael to the care of a special school which it does surprisingly well as it highlights the jealousy which she feels at seeing how Michael responds to his teacher Terry. Now there isn't huge depth to this more of a fleeting looks at the issues and in a fleeting way highlights some interesting elements such as the jealousy of Terry leading to hostility towards her.
But it evolves as we then have the more dramatic storyline, which I must say this is based on a true story, as Michael communicates that someone at the school abused him. Now this is where not only does "Touch of Truth" become more hard hitting but also divisive as to whether you feel an autistic child can communicate through a computer aided by a carer holding their arm. I won't go into detail as to what unfolds during this side of the movie although for those who are familiar with TV movies from the 90's will have guessed how this plays out.
Now I will be frank, "Touch of Truth" is not the most dramatic movie I have watched which deals with either abuse or autistic children but it has its moments none more so during the scene where we realise abuse is about to happen. But for the most it has a controlled almost restrained feel which tries to mix hard hitting with easy going positivity as we see both the improvements with Michael but also the abuse. The knock on effect of which is whilst the likes of Patty Duke and Melissa Gilbert deliver entertaining characters they often struggle to make them ring true as whilst they end up hitting the right notes of positivity don't do so well when things turn dramatic. In fact it is Bradley Pierce as Michael who steals the movie with a full on performance as a severely autistic 7 year old, when we see Michael make improvements you feel for him.
What this all boils down to is that "Touch of Truth" is both an interesting and entertaining movie as it tells a touching but hard hitting story. But at the same time it falls foul of a problem which caused many TV movies from the 90s to flounder and that is trying too hard to be both uplifting and hard hitting.