HBO's 'Autism: The Sequel' creator says new docu focuses on including adults with autism in workplace, society
"Twelve years later, we're exactly where we were and yet lightyears ahead," Elaine Hall, Neil's mother says while recounting her journey with her young son with autism. Nearly twelve years ago, in 2007, the Emmy-winning documentary 'Autism: The Musical', showed five young children with autism creating something beautiful with their talent at a time when hundreds of children were identified as being on an autism spectrum. Filmmaker Tricia Regan decided to take the film forward and document the journey of these children as they grew into adults and how they navigated through their life to achieve some semblance of independence.
"I finished making the original film in 2011," Regan told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). "At that time, there was this massive explosion of kids being diagnosed with autism and a lot of people were rubbishing it, saying it wasn't real, the condition was an overdiagnosis and kids weren't getting treatments. A lot of people didn't know what autism was. So, the goal really was to introduce these kids to the world and make the world understand autism a little bit better."
With the world now a relatively more accomodating place for people with autism, Regan is set to release a sequel of the film, which picks up again with the same five children, now adults – Neal, Adam, Lexi, Wyatt, and Henry — as they relay their struggle and challenges of adulthood. These children, who have been impacted with autism in very different ways, are now adolescents with a burgeoning sense of independence and a desire to make it on their own in life. The film shows them traverse through new-found circumstances that come with growing up and the triumphs and challenges they face on the way.
"I have been trying to get this film made for a few years," Regan said while talking about 'Autism: The Sequel'. "Because now that the first wave of kids with autism have reached adulthood, there's another cliff they fall off where all of the services that the parents of these children fought for end once they reach high schools or reach college. Then what do you do with this huge portion of our population that has autism? How do we find a place for them in our society, in our workplace, where do they live, who takes care of them? Parents aren't going to live forever."
The director explained how her purpose for following-up with these children was to shine a light on new models of inclusion that need to be formulated for people with autism. The film questions how the world often talks about children with autism but no one knows what happens to them as adults. Where do they go? What do they do?
"This documentary is about finding ways to retrofit our workplaces and our society so that they can function in them, where they not only participate but contribute to the richness of our culture," Regan said.
The director explained how each of the five individuals in her film evolved emotionally in a critical way. How each of them reached a point where they wanted a certain level of independence or mastery over something despite their mounting challenges. And, how their parents were advocating for them, fighting for them, and seeing their children grow into independent beings.
"I really hope that these adults are really going to change the world for all the people on the spectrum," Regan added. "This film was not made just for people who have kids with autism. This film was made for everybody because we think that the struggle that people with autism have is like any struggle any one of us has to face. We have to dig deep inside ourselves to overcome whatever limitations we have. I see this film as a testimony to the core of humanity and that place inside of us that allows us to overcome our own obstacles. For the kids, who are now young adults, it's just a desire to be."
'Autism: The Sequel' debuts Tuesday, April 28 on HBO, in commemoration of National Autism Awareness Month.