One afternoon in August of 2007, I was pondering possible documentary subjects as I brought my son Sam home. We had just finished walking the circuit of lampposts that Sam liked to visit in Prospect Park.
At the time, Sam's diagnosis of autism was a few months old, and he was about to start at a special needs school in Brooklyn. His diagnosis still felt strange to my wife and me, especially because we didn't seem to be reacting like many autism families that are depicted in the media. We didn't feel like Sam had been "stolen" from us. He wasn't sick. He hadn't lost any skills. We didn't think his life was doomed to be a tragedy. Certainly, we were concerned about how best to support Sam, but he was very much as he had always been. It was just that his differences from typical children now had a name attached to them.
My wife had been exploring the autism community on the Internet and had come across a group of autistic adults and parents of autistic children who supported "neurodiversity" — the idea that autism is both a disability and a difference, a natural variation of the human brain. This idea felt right to us, and yet I wondered: Sam did not have many of the most difficult behaviors associated with autism. Would we still believe in neurodiversity if Sam was banging his head on the wall or rocking endlessly in a corner? Was a parent's view of autism simply a function of how difficult his child was?
On that August afternoon, I realized that such questions would be a perfect subject for a documentary, and Loving Lampposts was born.
In the more than two years since, I've immersed myself in the world of autism at the same time that the world at large has paid more attention to autism than ever before. Never has a community been less ready for its cultural moment than the autism community. Indeed, there is disagreement about whether autism is a disease, about how to treat it, about whether it is an epidemic, about whether it can be cured, and even about what it is.
These disagreements are on full display in Loving Lampposts. And yet, at the end of the process, I can't help but be optimistic. I've met parents of severely autistic children whose patience, acceptance, and support of their kids are truly inspiring. I've met autistic adults--whose voices are too often ignored in the autism debate--who lead rich, full lives even as they struggle with the challenges of their disability. And I've seen Sam progress in ways I couldn't have imagined two years ago.
He's still profoundly different from other children. But in making the film, I've seen that there may be a place in the world for Sam and those like him. I hope that audiences that view Loving Lampposts will see that, too.
"Loving Lampposts" received the Best Feature Documentary award at the 2011 Peace On Earth Film Festiva1. Director Todd Drezner accepted the award from festival directors Nick Angotti, Milissa Pacelli and Clayton Monical.
In its February 25th issue, the Chicago Sun Times called "Loving Lampposts" a "revealing documentary with a personal touch." The three star review appeared in the paper in advance of the film's screening at the Peace on Earth Film Festival.
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