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MARCH 2007

“Autism Everyday” Gives A Glimpse Into Life In The Shadows Of Autism

By Gillian Granoff

At the 2007 Sundance Film Festival a compelling documentary, Autism Everyday, gives a portrait of a day living in the shadows of the illness. The film opens a door to the intimate struggles of eight families raising children suffering from autism, an illness affecting the lives of 1 out of 166 children. The film is close to the heart of producer, Lauren Thierry, who describes the nine-month journey of making the film as a completely unscripted look into the chaos experienced in the wake of autism’s turbulent storm. Thierry knows first hand the incredible commitment and sacrifices that surviving autism requires. When her son, Liam, was first diagnosed with the illness, Thierry left a thriving career as a Broadcast Journalist at CNN, and began a passionate mission to raise awareness, secure funding, and lobby for improved education and research to combat the debilitating and paralyzing symptoms of the disease.

From the moment the first clip reels, the audience unwittingly follows in the footsteps of eight children and their parents in their struggle to navigate the turbulent and unpredictable waters of the disease. With brave and shocking honesty, these parents share their shame, guilt, and frightening and conflicted emotions evoked by the behavioral and cognitive challenges their children face. The film’s blunt frames do not eclipse the striking realities these families face, but delicately depict their frustrations, sacrifice, and uncompromising love they share as they persevere through challenges brought on in a life lived beneath the shadows of autism. Michelle and Raffaelle bravely confront the challenge of having three children with autism. Jackson and the twins, Bennet and Luca, all struggle with the illness. Their story illuminates the incredible personal and financial sacrifices that having the illness requires.

For Allison Singer, Jodie’s mother, having a child with autism means having to face the cruelty, isolation and unfair reactions of other parents to her daughter’s unpredictable outbursts and erratic behavior. She must confront the daily sneers and stares of other parents in the playground. Her hope is that her participation in the film will raise awareness and help to eliminate unfair stigmas and intolerance of other parents to the disease. She is candid, fearlessly honest about her feelings regarding the inadequate resources available for autism “When I saw these kids in overcrowded, inadequate schools, making no progress that’s when I contemplated driving off the George Washington Bridge with Jodie in the back seat.” Singer, who spent 4 years at CNBC and NBC, is determined to remove the burden of accountability for this disease from the parents and onto the school system.

Michelle is a single mother whose marriage became an unfortunate casualty of the illness. Despite the intense financial and personal pressures and loss of her marriage, she faces these obstacles with incredible resilience and love. She describes how her own denial, guilt and vain hopes for a cure, forced her to put unrealistic pressures on herself. “She held out hope that if she just worked hard enough her son Danson would improve.” Michelle, a Harvard graduate and former teacher, experiences facing the unfair judgments and criticism. Despite her struggles, Michelle has optimism, spirit, and incredible respect for her children. Since their divorce, she preserves a great friendship with Danson’s father. Her admiration and love for her child has made her “grateful for the lesson’s” Danson has taught her. The viewer witnesses these families as they persevere with incredible grace, dignity and bravery, through moments of despair, to weather the incredible financial and emotional burdens inflicted upon them.

Autism Everyday gives an uncensored look into the chaos, isolation, and rejection that parents and children must endure as they struggle to cope with the unpredictable and often debilitating symptoms that autism inflicts. The film portrays an unglamorized look at the reality and limitations that these families face everyday. Their courage to share their moments of shame, guilt and anger with others is a testament to the power of the film, whose intimate and honest look into the lives of these families dispels the myth that autism is simply an obstacle that can be overcome with hard work and diligence. This myth places an unfair burden and responsibility on the parents of these children to overcome these challenges on their own. The filmmaker’s commitment to bring light to the challenges of autism without diluting the reality with heroic tales of triumph, allows the viewer to see the everyday heroism that these families have—the courage to reward the simple successes of their children to successfully brush their teeth. Thierry hopes that making the film will help to bring these families “out of the shadows” of the disease. If the reaction of an audience filled with parents, clinicians, and ordinary people at Sundance is any indication, the film has achieved its goal. Its powerful impact will surely resonate with audiences everywhere, and provide inspiration and support to families who struggle to find keys to unlock the doors and free those whose minds are trapped in the prison of autism.

Portions of Autism Today were recently screened on ABC’s, The View and the film will soon be available free of charge to the Los Angeles United School District. It will be shown to all of their educators as well as other audiences they select. The film is an educational tool that engenders greater awareness. Readers can see a 12 minute version of the film on www.autismspeaks.org.#



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