Autism: A Family Journey

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You may not think I'm watching but I am. I'm not judging, I'm observing. And I'm in awe. The new film Fly Away has only made me more keenly aware of the amazing families that have Autism woven into their family experience. And here's what I think of the parents. Wow.

Unlike me, you show patience as your child has a melt-down (is that the right word?) in the elevator on the way to school. You don't get short-tempered or frustrated as I probably would. Instead you have the magic words that get your child to a better place. Magic indeed.

I stand behind you in line as you get tickets for ski lessons and eavesdrop as you patiently explain what Autism is to the ski school director. And I get angry as the director acts as if it is a disease. Not you. You calmly share your child's challenges and keep asking to speak to someone else until you get a ski school instructor who will listen and place your child in the right program. And you never raise your voice...how do you do that?

At Starbucks, I order right before you and share a little neighborhood chit-chat with you. And then your son drops his drink and the world seems like it is going to end from the magnitude of his reaction. You disarm the situation as if you were a special-ops marine defusing a bomb under hostile fire. Grace under pressure.

For all of these amazing parents I encounter everyday and for all of us civilians watching, I recommend you see Fly Away. Janet Grillo is the writer/director/producer. As you might imagine, Grillo is ingrained in the world of Autism. The artists son is on the spectrum. She used her story as inspiration, but let me be clear it's a fictional account of a single mom raising a teen daughter with Autism.

I expected a gratuitous tear-jerker (sorry I'm a bit of a cynic). Nope. This is a thoughtful story with an ambiguous ending. It left quite a few questions. Perfect, since I think Autism one big gray area.

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I came away touched by the intimate storytelling. Then I was flabbergasted. Fly Away was shot in 14 days with a budget of $70,000. Simply amazing. And speaking of things beyond my ken, let me just say Ashley Rickard's performance as the 16-year-old daughter rivals Dustin Hoffman's work. Janet Grillo took part in a brief Q&A after the screening I saw. All the moviegoers were impressed with the film---especially Grillo's ability to capture the stamina required to parent an Autistic child. As Grillo said, "it is physically demanding and the cycle repeats itself everyday." Here's what else she had to say...

Why did you choose to tell the story of a severly impaired child?

Most of Hollywood tells the stories of mildly impacted families. But most families are dealing with children that are really impaired--this is the story I want to tell.

How did you find the actress who plays Mandy (the 16 y.o. daughter)?

She's not Autistic, she's just enormously talented. She's had some experience with Autistic kids while working at her parent's horse farm.

The school at the end of the film seems like a fairy tale. Do schools like this exist?

They do! This is an actual school called GlenElm. But we need more of these. There has been a 53% increase in diagnosis of Austism in the past ten years. There is a huge gap in the need for resourees.

read the NYTimes review here and more about the film and see a trailer visit www.flyawaymovie.com

The movie is available for purchase today on Amazon for $24.95.

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