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The Story Behind Autistic-Like

March 30, 2011 2 comments

This is a guest post by Erik Linthorst is a 13-year veteran of the film business. An award winning documen­tary filmmaker and a produced screenwriter.  Erik founded Pergé Produc­tions in 2006 to make films aimed at helping families with children with special needs.  In his advocacy work, Erik travels worldwide, present­ing his film and advancing the issues it raises.

Throughout April, PBS stations around the country will air a documentary film Erik Linthorst made about searching for the right help for his son, Graham, who doctors called “autistic-like”   Check your local listings for airtimes, or www.autisticlike.com.

Autistic-Like:Graham’s Story started as a project for me, but I now realize it has become something more like a community. Many people have told us our story sounds so familiar, and that’s really why I made the movie: I felt like it shouldn’t be so hard to find the right help for our children.

Our story began in 2005, a very hard year for our family.  Our seventeen-month old son’s quirks were blooming into full-fledged obsessions.  We had experts on one side saying he was clearly and possibly severely autistic.  We had experts on the other side saying he was most likely not autistic. Still others insisted he was too young to diagnose.  We had family and friends on both sides giving us advice that was by turns helpful, misguided and sometimes downright bad.  My wife and I were in an emotional tailspin, alternately propping each other up and freaking each other out with our anxious thoughts.

Then we began the slow process of digging out:  discarding this expert for that one, this treatment for that, this book for that, this piece of advice for another.  And we grew in strength.  Once I was back on my feet, and feeling armed with new understanding, I felt the desire to reach out to families just beginning their hard year.  I felt like sharing our story might help them dig-out faster.  So, being in the film business, I decided to make a documentary about our journey.  I brought out my camera, began to chronicle our lives, and recruited journalist Jody Becker to help investigate the issues, elevating an intimate family story into what we aimed to make a thoughtful report from the edge of the autism epidemic.

Then I sent the film, Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story, out into the world and planned to be done.  But then the emails started coming in.  And they kept coming.  Then the trickle became a wash, several a day, coming in from all over the U.S., and then Canada, and then from all over the world.  And they all had questions.  What did I think about this therapy? that biomedical approach? This doctor? That organization?  I took the time to respond to all of them, because the truth is it helped me feel no so alone, too.

I heard from professionals, as well.  Many told me they use the film as a new parent orientation tool. They shared that they were teaching workshops, and seminars with it.  Schools were holding movie night fundraisers.  But they had questions too:  How could they see the extended interviews from the film?  Did I have an update on Graham’s progress?  workshops?

After much consideration, both for Graham’s sake as well as my wife and my own, I decided to say ‘yes’ to all of the above.

So this month our little movie hits a milestone: the PBS broadcasts include an 8-minute update “Where is Graham Now”; we have translated the film into Spanish to reach more families, and now more insights from the experts are available in a  2 DVD Box set that includes a full-color 12 page guidebook for facilitating professional and community conversations. I’ve traveled with the film, met hundreds of parents and professionals, and like the slowly dawning realization that supporting Graham is a project with no end for me, I see the film that way, too. More families, more conversation, more resources. The story continues.

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