In less than a week, a documentary about autism will make its world premiere at the Arden Theatre. Filmed in Edmonton and Sherwood Park, Cliff 20: A Future on the Spectrum features interviews with three concerned fathers and their adult sons affected by autism.
The documentary not only focuses on challenges facing the three young men with autism spectrum disorder. It also showcases how the fathers attempt to find solutions to safeguard their sons’ future.
St. Albert director Lindsay Warner and production director Deja Springfield filmed the documentary last year under the moniker Smokeshow Pictures. Although this is Warner’s first full length documentary, she developed extensive experience in the film industry working in major cities across Canada as a news anchor for CTV, Global and CBC.
Sitting behind the anchor desk gave her insights into how the public currently absorbs news.
“For the most part sitting down to a formal newscast at 6 p.m. has been reduced. But when you look at how my generation consumes news, we consume more than our parents. We absorb documentaries. There is a transformation from the two-minute topic to 20 minutes or an hour. People want to do a deep dive into news stories,” said Warner.
As a parent with a son dealing with ADHD, Warner feels a great deal of empathy for parents supporting children with autism.
“My son had oppositional defiance and was kicked out of two schools before finding a good fit at Ronald Harvey. Now he’s in the hockey academy and doing great. But I really struggled for those years not knowing where to place him and how to support him. I have a lot of compassion for parents who have issues not so easily solved.”
According to statistics Warner collected, children are usually diagnosed with autism between ages three and seven. Autism is defined as a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that affects the way the brain works.
As individuals under the age of 18, children are provided with government support. However, once youth turn 18 — an adult in the eyes of the government — they typically lose most of the government funding, services and support intended for children.
“They can’t find a job because they don’t present well and there are barriers. Statistics show 90 per cent are unemployed. Many live in their parent’s basement playing video games. They have more potential, but the support drop-off makes it very isolating for them.”
Ling Huang, CEO of Technology North was wracking his brains attempting to assist his adult son, Brian. Since 90 per cent of people affected with autism gravitate to math and computers, Huang took his son to work.
A service Technology North offers is digitizing documents for companies moving from a paper-based system to digital ones. Most people hired for this work have poor accuracy due to the repetition.
“Brian had 100 per cent accuracy and was very proud. Ling then started developing an environment and software for adults on autism spectrum disorder. It’s a very supportive environment.”
Another father is Sherwood Park’s Warren Henschel, whose son Aidan lives in a group home. Unfortunately, due to his disability, Aidan was mistreated in the past. Aidan's twin brother Connor, who lives at home, is featured in the documentary and Henschel worries about their futures.
“Warren gets very emotional and vulnerable when talking about his fears for his son.”
The third father, Scott Wilson, works for Children’s Autism Services. Sharing a different viewpoint, he adopts a more philosophical approach to his son David’s disability.
“Scott said, ‘The day my life changed was when I accepted my son for who he was.”
Initially when Warner and Springfield started the project, they planned to involve experts such as Dr. Temple Grandin. However, upon reviewing tapes, they didn't make the cut.
"The most captivating part was what these young men were up against."
Throughout the documentary, Warner calls for inclusion and support.
"We want them to be seen for the brilliant people they are. I want us to think about how we deal with people and how to get them the resources they need. We need to talk, to plan and see what they need rather than what the government thinks they need."
Cliff 20: A Future on the Spectrum screens on Wednesday, March 15 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, and are available at tickets.stalbert.ca or at 780-459-1542.