Every child, every family situation and every parent is different but we can connect to autism through authentic stories like the indie film, A Boy Called Po. Inspired by one family’s journey with autism, we glimpse into the life of Po, an autistic boy and his father.
In 2016, the film made its debut at several film festivals, winning multiple “Best” Feature Film, Actor and Original Song awards along the way. It’s not surprising because the movie has such heart.
The plotline covers issues we can all relate to—bullying, emotional trauma, the complexity of relationships—and those unique to so many parents of children on the spectrum—lack of insurance, unsympathetic employers, and schools ill-equipped to handle the gifted-but-different child.
So much in the story rings true because so many involved—the writer, director, actors—have loved ones on the autism spectrum. I asked some of them to activate their voices as a part of our #Activate4Autism movement and share how the film helps to spread the message of acceptance and inclusion:
1- When you know better, you do better or “Don’t be afraid, daddy.”
Po’s father is not only dealing with the loss of his wife but now he has to be Po’s primary advocate and nurturer. He’s doing the best he can but he doesn’t always make the right decisions. Throughout the film, Po tells him not to be afraid and we witness his father’s growth when he stops fearing his parenting, life decisions and, ultimately, his son.
As parents of children on the autism spectrum, we need to remind ourselves of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” If we trust our instincts and make decisions out of love, not fear, our children will thrive.
2- People on the spectrum face playground, stereotype and institutional bullying.
In the film, Po is a victim of a bully at school, an intolerant student who uses every opportunity to verbally and physically harass Po for being different. But what’s more insidious is the stereotypical and institutional bullying Po encounters—from people who call him the R-word to the systems that fail him.
Actor Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty, Covert Affairs) plays Po’s dad who fights for the rights of his son. I asked him to speak out against this kind of bullying for our #Activate4Autism movement. Here’s what he had to say:
3- Every child has something special to offer.
Julian Feder does a brilliant job of playing Po, a boy who has a rich and imaginative inner world when the outside world, including his father, struggle to understand him. I loved these scenes because they reminded me so much of my son when he was a little guy lost in his own world, pacing around the room, and happily stimming. When I would ask, “Hey buddy, what are you doing?” He’d reply: “I’m just doing my episodes.” I imagined, like Po, he was going on great adventures with pirates and knights.
Today, my son calls his inner world his “mind palace,” a term he connected with when he first heard BBC’s Sherlock use it. He says he finds safety and solace in his mind palace when he’s anxious or needs to escape the noisy, chaotic real world.
Julian grew to have a deeper understanding of autism through his acting experience as Po. He’s part of a new generation who won’t tolerate the intolerant. He calls for a more inclusive world:
4- The ‘system’ can’t really handle people outside the ‘ordinary.’
“You mainstream kids but the fact is you can’t really handle kids outside the ordinary…Po is a smart boy. He can run circles around most of these kids. He just does it in his own way.”
In its narrative the film shows how the workplace, educational systems and the insurance industry have not caught up with what we know about autism today. They were not set up for anyone outside the norm. For so many families, these institutions are barriers we must knock down so our loved ones on the spectrum have the same rights as everyone else.
5- People need to change the way they ‘see’ autism.
After a successful theatrical release in September, Jack Teeter is helping the film’s producers and director, John Asher, with further distribution opportunities. He was so moved by the film and our #Activate4Autism movement he wanted to share his thoughts too:
A Boy Called Po is available on demand everywhere including iTunes and Amazon. The filmmakers are working to get the film distributed to educational institutions to bring better awareness and acceptance into schools.
For more on A Boy Called Po:
- Read the interview with John Asher, Director of Po
- Watch my favorite scene in this KTLA Interview with Christopher Gorham
- Follow A Boy Called Po on Facebook for the latest news
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