The documentary "Autism: The Musical" (7 p.m., HBO) offers a thoughtful look at children with the neurological disorder as well as the toll autism has taken on many parents and families. The film follows Elaine Hall, the adoptive mother of 12-year-old Neal. Soon after bringing Neal home from Russia, where he had spent the first two years of his life in an orphanage, Neal began to exhibit behavior that Elaine thought might be autism.
Like other parents interviewed here, she consulted a battery of doctors and therapists only to receive conflicting information. She began to understand her son's condition only when she reached out to some unorthodox therapists who suggested that autistic children needed to be met more than halfway. Parents, counselors and teachers were encouraged to enter "the world" of the autistic children, even if that world seemed to manifest itself in odd and repetitive behavior. If Neal was spinning, Elaine was encouraged to spin as well, to join Neal until he felt comfortable joining her on her level.
Elaine soon discovered that while many people had trouble engaging with Neal in this manner, actors and performers seemed all too eager to play along. This inspired her to embark on a what has become her career. She founded the Miracle Project in Los Angeles, where she has become an acting coach.
"Autism: The Musical" follows Elaine and Neal and other children and their parents over six months as they prepare for their show, practice, and rehearse dialogue, songs and dance steps for a show that will bring them out of their individual shells. Like many documentaries of this sort, "Musical" is both inspiring and heartbreaking.
¢ Remember that feeling you had as a kid when you got out of bed early on Christmas morning? I suspect that more than a few baseball fans will have that feeling this morning when they awaken to watch a Major League Baseball game that counts for the very first time this spring. The world-champion Boston Red Sox play the Oakland Athletics live from Japan (5 a.m., ESPN2). Unless you have a very good paperboy, you've probably missed the game already, but you can catch a rebroadcast (1 p.m., ESPN2). The second game will be broadcast Wednesday morning (5 a.m., ESPN2).
Tonight's other highlights
¢ The top 10 compete on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ On two helpings of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC), recaps (7 p.m.), results (8 p.m.).
¢ Sam can't translate his parents' bedeviling contract on "Reaper" (8 p.m., CW).
¢ "Frontline" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) concludes its four-hour history on "Bush's War."
¢ Eddie prefers charity to housework on "'Til Death" (8:30 p.m., Fox).
¢ Jake and Hawkins have little time to explain a vast conspiracy on "Jericho" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ A Web site's exposure of a potential witness complicates a prosecution on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).
¢ People react to the unusual on "Primetime: What Would You Do?" (9 p.m., ABC).
¢ Dahlia fears she's lost something during their domestication on "The Riches" (9 p.m., FX).
¢ Two "Dancing with the Stars" rejects will appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:05 p.m., ABC). How much do we think tonight will bring a reunion of the Jimmy and Adam show?