Q: What do people with autism want out of life?
A: Love and acceptance.
What people on the spectrum want is what EVERYONE wants:
a fighting chance to succeed in life. All parents hope their kids grow up and are able to leave the family nest—including those of us with sons and daughters on
the spectrum. In 2015 there are laws in
America which are supposed to protect the rights of people with disabilities
from discrimination, just as today’s laws protect people regardless of race,
gender, religion or ethnicity. (In fact, this year we are supposed to be
celebrating the 15th anniversary of laws guaranteeing equal opportunities to
adults with disabilities). How well—or
poorly—these laws work is up for debate.
Right NOW what I care about are all the young adults on the autistic spectrum—especially
my daughter Sarah—who are wasting away
on the sidelines of life because most of them lack the social and communication skills which are essential to demanding and defending their rights.
Talking about neurodiversity—a newly minted word in our
lexicon—is cheap and relatively easy.
Actually educating neurotypical people (yet another recent addition to
our politically correct vocabulary) and making our society more accepting and
inclusive of people with autism is far more difficult and time consuming. So what’s the answer?
If education is the first step, then reading books by
brilliant and articulate people on the spectrum, like Temple Grandin and John
Robison, makes for a great start. But sometimes a picture is worth a thousand
words. For example, take the short film,
Keep the Change, a story about young
adults on the spectrum trying to find love and emotional connection. Keep
the Change, (co-starring my daughter), is a 15 minute crash course on how
people with autism struggle to communicate and find love. The characters’ facial expressions and
gestures—their non-verbal communications—often tell the audience far more about
their feelings than when David’s jokes fall flat, or Sarah talks about herself too
much to neurotypical peers at a nightclub.
What’s the biggest difference between a neurotypical
couple and two people with autism out on a date? After watching Keep the Change many times, it’s clear that the couple with autism
can't avoid speaking their true feelings, no matter how awkward or untimely
their conversation might be. In some ways Sarah and David retain the best of
childhood qualities—honesty to a fault. Whereas a neurotypical couple today might be
texting other people, or speaking a small fraction of what’s in their hearts,
David and Sarah say EXACTLY what they think.
Dissembling or holding back information just isn’t part of their game
plan or wiring.
Ironically, the movie begins with David, an upper-class
charmer, who’s trying to hide his high-functioning autism. Forced to attend Connections, a support group
for people on the spectrum, David falls in love with Sarah, a sheltered young
woman, who challenges his identity as normal.
Challenging the concept of “normal” is part of the film’s beauty. Emotional honesty can be uncomfortable, but
wouldn’t the world be a much better place if more people told the truth?
The answer is a resounding yes, judging by the large
crowd and thunderous applause at this week’s screening of Keep the Change at the JCC in Manhattan. The screening was held to raise money to
expand the film into a full length feature at the end of the summer. So far, Keep the Change has been very well-
received by neurotypical audiences as well as those with autism. Not only has
the film been featured in a number of film festivals, it also won “Best Film”
at Columbia University’s 2013 Film Festival.
Film director Rachel Israel hosted this week’s screening as “An Evening
of Inclusion” with an interview and q/a session with the cast. My daughter and
the other cast members all expressed their gratitude for the opportunity
through their performances to be seen and heard—for a moment anyway—not as
misunderstood outsiders, but as actors “like Meryl Streep or George
Clooney,” one cast member explained.
I’d like to see these special actors have another
chance to be in the spotlight instead of on the sidelines. If you agree, then I
hope you’ll join me in supporting Rachel Israel, her cast and crew, by donating
to the feature length version of Keep the
Change. Please go to http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/keep-change and follow the instructions below. You might help change the lives of people
with autism by giving them a platform to show how love and truth connect ALL
people in the world. Wouldn’t that be a
change worth keeping?
Labels: actors with disabilities, autism, autistic spectrum, civil rights laws, disabilites, equal opportunity, George Clooney, John Robison, love, Meryl Streep, neurodiversity, Temple Grandin, truth