Dad tells 'Graham's Story' of autism

Friday, April 17, 2009 at 3:08pm
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A scene from 'Autistic-like: Graham's Story,' about a family's struggle with autism

Director and screenwriter Erik Linthorst didn’t initially plan to make a movie about his son Graham, or to explore some of the issues and questions around the diagnosis of autism.

But after taking some pictures of his young son with a home movie camera, Linthorst eventually decided that he needed to do some investigation and research to determine whether his son was indeed autistic.

That quest, and its toll on Linthorst, his wife Jennie and son Graham comprise much of what makes Autistic-like: Graham’s Story very moving and important, particularly for parents. Besides being the director, Linthorst collaborated with Jody Becker on the screenwriting and producing while Jeff Chapman served as the film’s executive producer.

“What we discovered over time and what we want many parents to understand is that there’s a wide range of things between the absolute worst case diagnosis, that your child is autistic, and that they might have some type of neurological problem, but it may not be nearly as bad as they might think,” Linthorst said. “There are options in terms of treatment and therapy, places they can go, and hope for their situation. It shouldn’t just be a situation where you immediately throw up your hands and say it’s hopeless.”

The film will make its debut at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Nashville Fillm Festival. For more information on the festival, click here.

The film shows the couple involved in the Applied Behavior Analysis method, a way of trying to determine the extent of their son’s problem and how to approach it. They also get involved with the Options program and other methods of interacting with Graham (who’s now 5 years old).

It shows how much time and patience is required of parents, and the necessity for them to avoid getting easily frustrated or openly disgusted. It also reveals that there are still no quick or easy options regardless of a child’s situation, and that there’s still plenty of debate and discussion about the best ways for parents to effectively respond to children diagnosed as autistic.

“We’re not doctors and I make no attempt to call this a medical film,” Linthorst said. “It’s much more a coping one, something that shows our family’s personal struggle, but also offers hope for others. I don’t try to demean or attack any medical person. I would just say very strongly to all parents that you understand the wide spectrum that’s involved when you’re talking about anything connected with autism. Please get as much information and check with as many people as you need before you make any conclusions about your child and their treatment.

“That’s the overriding message we want to get across in our film.”

Autistic-like: Graham’s Story, a free screening, will be presented in an autism-friendly fashion. The sound will not be as loud as normal and lights won’t be entirely turned down. Plus those who need to move about during the screening will not be reprimanded. Seating is on a first come, first served basis, so arrive early.

Erik Linthorst will be attending the screening, which is sponsored by the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee.

What: Screening of Autistic-like: Graham’s Story as part of 40th Nashville Film Festival
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Green Hills Cinema 16, 3815 Green Hills Village Drive
Cost: $11, $9 (students)
Info: nashvillefilmfestival.org