Change of Habit (Elvis Presley)


Made in 1969, this is the earliest autism related movie I have discovered to date.

But what really intrigued me was that Elvis is the lead actor and that it was his last non-concert movie!


Elvis plays Dr. John Carpenter, who is running a free clinic in a low income neighborhood.

We learn that Carpenter is giving a few years back to the neighborhood of a soldier who saved his life in Vietnam.

Three young ladies, concealing the fact that they are nuns, join Carpenter’s clinic as part of a church outreach program.

Mary Tyler Moore is the lead actress, playing (Sister) Michelle Gallagher.

A social spotlight

I wasn’t expecting much from this film other than perhaps quaintness, quirkiness and more than a touch of nostalgia.

Instead this turned out to be an absolute treasure trove.

Change of Habit relentlessly turns the spotlight on pretty much every aspect of prejudice in society.

  • But it does so in a contemplative way
  • and except for one farcical scene, is entirely non-judgmental
  • in stark contrast to the way in which causes are often championed today
  • in this regard, it carried a message of hope



The autism element is in the form of a non-verbal young girl.

Michelle Gallagher demonstrates some knowledge of autism, such as it was in 1969.

  • Pointing out some autistic traits in their patient
  • Though some of the theories explained by her sounded Medieval given what we now know

She and Dr. Carpenter show great kindness and compassion to the young girl

  • and indeed to everyone they come into contact with

However it soon becomes clear that the young girl is not in fact autistic, but is suffering from something akin to PTSD.

That said, I believe this movie has merit for the Autism community in:

  • Portraying some of the understanding and interventions that were prevalent a generation ago
  • Perhaps helping us to appreciate the advances that have been made in the field of Autism?



Although I am just old enough to remember Elvis as a pop Icon, I wasn’t particularly drawn to him or his music.

As astonishing as this may sound, I don’t remember consciously listening to his music growing up!

  • although I am acutely aware that the other kids in High school WERE completely absorbed by it!

This isn’t an indictment of Elvis, his music or his movies.

  • I didn’t really start paying much attention to any music until literally a few years before his death
  • My time was mostly taken up reading, studying maps of the world, or swimming
  • I also managed to remain insulated from several other areas of what are generally considered common knowledge for people of my generation – the wonders of Asperger’s!
  • But that’s better left to a separate post

My point here is that I approached this film with no pre-conceived ideas about Elvis or his acting.

  • Which perhaps gives me a somewhat rare perspective for someone of my generation/age?

I was surprised by Elvis natural demeanor on camera.

  • The character he plays is kind and wise but at the same time modest
  • I had wondered if his stardom would overwhelm the movie?
  • but his superstar status never really comes across at any time during the movie
  • despite which Elvis delivers a wonderful performance, that stands entirely on its own merits

The same is also true of Mary Tyler Moore’s performance.

  • I had forgotten how stunningly beautiful she was


A message from the grave

Dr. Carpenter makes frequent reference to the abuse of drugs by his patients and by others in the neighborhood.

  • Cautioning his 3 temporary nursing assistants to take minimal amounts of medication on house calls

The character Elvis portrayed in this film exemplified the clean cut boy next door.

So it is ironic indeed that from the time of this movie (and in particular his divorce in 1973) to his untimely death in 1977, aged just 42 years old, he became the antithesis of this character, which was the last he ever played in a motion picture film.


Change of Habit – the Autism scene (ffwd to 7.25)


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