Everyone is abuzz about Temple Grandin's appearance on the Emmy's last night. For those reading this blog who have been living in a cave, Claire Danes starred as our most notable, contemporary autistic person, Temple, in the HBO film 'Temple Grandin' which was nominated for 15 emmy awards, and took home seven! I have to admit that I have not yet watched her speech, but plan to as soon as I'm done here.
Okay, I lied...I had to go view some of the acceptance videos myself before I could proceed.
The last bit I saw shows Temple (in regard to making her story into a film) saying to the executive producer and founder of what is now Autism Speaks, 'I knew that a Mom would do it right.' Damn. That just made me a little teary.
It's fantastic that a film about an autistic person has garnered so much attention and award. Yes, we all have heard about autism and know someone(s) afflicted with it, but in reality there is still not enough being done to understand what the hell is responsible for the rise in cases. And don't get me started on all the people (my parents included) that like to immediately follow my previous sentiment with one about how we have better diagnosticians that are labeling people autistic more readily than they were in the past. That's just not the whole picture. That's only a teensy tiny sliver of it.
But that's not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the four autism-related films I have had the pleasure of watching this past year. Whether you have been touched by autism or not, I'm betting you won't leave any of these with a dry eye.
One is, of course,Temple Grandin's story, and the other three are documentaries.
I've mentioned before about my experience meeting Rowan and his family in 2009. They are the subjects of the book and film 'Horse Boy,' about a Father's quest to help his severely autistic son through the help of horses and Mongolian healers. Rowan and his parents live in Elgin, Texas, a small town outside of Austin near where we used to live. They run the Horse Boy Foundation, which provides therapeutic horseback riding to children with developmental disabilities as well as to neurotypical kids. As amazing as the book was to read first, watching the film months afterward was even more rewarding. To have sat down and spoken with Rowan and his Mother personally, and to have heard her tell me that-as crazy as it sounded-these healers really and truly were the only thing that had made a lasting difference to their son...well, that in itself was also a magical experience. It's hard to not feel hope and a bit of 'would that work for my child' when you speak directly and frankly to someone who has had such a mystical experience.
Next is 'Autism: The Musical.' This is another great film that was presented by HBO. (Go, HBO!) This one's been available for a few years, but I was just finally at a place in my own journey where I felt I could watch it. Naturally, I sobbed through the whole thing. But it was totally worth it. It's a beautiful, uplifting story about one Mom's desire to create something theatrically beautiful with a group of kids,(including her own severely affected son), all on the spectrum and functioning at various levels. It's brilliant and I found it oddly comforting to see a couple of other kids whose autistic traits were very similar to M's.
Finally, there is another HBO documentary, 'A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism,' that was definitely the toughest of the four for me to watch, but by far the most rewarding.
Wow. I'm not going to lie; if you have a severely affected, non-verbal child, this one's going to be difficult for you. But in the end, it offers so much hope and insight. It is truly a special piece.
Toward the end of the film, we learn that the beautiful, non-verbal child at the heart of the documentary has desires to play the piano and compose music. I'm not going to go into any further detail than that, but let me just say that when this moment occurred, I felt my stomach go into knots and my heart explode as I wondered if somewhere deep inside M he wanted to tell me that he, too, had passions and desires to be someone beyond what his autistic brain and body currently allow. I actually don't think I can type any further about it without the emotions taking over me...it is that powerful to me still.
I realize that not everyone wants to go to 'that place' by watching films that stab you with emotion, as these surely can. Even the other half has refused to watch a single one of these despite my pleading with him to do so. But perhaps if you're feeling like you don't see other kids who do the things yours does, or you want to learn more about what other parents of autistic children have found helpful in their journeys...or you need to have that cathartic letdown of a good cry, then rent one of these. Just make sure you've got a box of kleenex and a carton of Ben & Jerry's next to you. Trust me...you're going to need it!