Autism Awareness Month: Disabilities on Film

19 Apr

Even at a time where 1 in 110 kids receives an autism diagnosis—meaning virtually everyone in this country has some kind of contact with a child on the spectrum—I still get this question with fair regularity: “Can your daughter memorize the phone book like the guy in Rain Man?”

I don’t really mind.  Before 2000, when my Paige received her diagnosis, my only point of reference was Dustin Hoffman, too.  Paige (now 15) isn’t a savant and doesn’t talk.  As Dr. Carolyn Garver, director of the Autism Treatment Center in Dallas, puts it: “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.”  They are like snowflakes—each with their own unique strengths and quirks.  (Which might just sum up every kid out there!)

I do appreciate media depictions of kids on the spectrum, if only to raise awareness.  It seems most of these projects see the light of day when a producer or writer has a child on the spectrum.  So much the better:  the “insiders” perspective can only help round-out the depiction in film.

Which brings me to a new movie making the art-house rounds (which I’m hoping comes to the Angelika in Dallas ASAP!): “FLY AWAY”.  Here’s the news release with a link to the trailer:

A powerful film directed by Emmy Award winner Janet Grillo (Autism: The Musical), FLY AWAY narrates the story of Jeanne (Beth Broderick, Bonfire of the Vanities, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) and her autistic teenage daughter, Mandy (Ashley Rickards, One Tree Hill).  Jeanne has cared for Mandy since the day she was born, growing closer every day to a child who is charmingly offbeat one moment and nearly impossible to manage the next.  In the dog park, Jeanne encounters Tom (Greg Germann, Ally McBeal, Friends with Money), an easygoing and accepting neighbor who sparks a romantic interest, but she finds juggling Mandy’s care and her own career leaves little room for a new man.  As the pressures of work and her child’s needs increase, she must decide whether or not to enroll Mandy in a therapeutic residential facility.  Over the course of a few weeks, Jeanne is confronted with the most difficult decision a parent can make: to let go, allowing her child to grow, but also grow apart; or to hold on tight and fall together.

Statement from Director Janet Grillo, who won an Emmy for her film, “AUTISM THE MUSICAL” (which is awesome, BTW):

As the mother of a child with disabilities, I was immediately thrust into the challenge every parent must face at some point: meeting the needs of your child when it is at great cost to yourself.  Perhaps the very measure of love is what and how much we are willing to sacrifice.  Although parenting someone with Autism is particular, the primal drive to do the best for oneʼs child is universal.  FLY AWAY tells this story.

FLY AWAY is a personal film, derived from experience.  As I have journeyed with other parents of children with special needs, Iʼve witnessed great pain and extraordinary passion.  Iʼve also watched parents unable to place their children in full time therapeutic residences, when it was clearly needed.  While such placement is not best for all or even most children on the spectrum, it’s tragic when parents are too plagued with fear and guilt to make the choice when it is.  If FLY AWAY eases the pain of even one parentʼs torturous decision, or if it expands the heart of even one person untouched by Autism to accept our children and appreciate our struggles, it will have been well worth making.  The authenticity of our story can provide insight and hope.  Truth often does.

-Janet Grillo

Check out the trailer: http://flyawaymovie.com/the-film/.

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