Beyond Awareness: Autism Acceptance Month

Published anonymously

April is “Autism Awareness Month,” a time where national landmarks light up blue and people share stock photos with phrases like “I support Autism” or “30 days of Autism Awareness.” It’s one of the few times a year when autism is actually recognized or even acknowledged in popular media. It can be easy to forget that autism is actually an everyday part of life for a large number of families in America. According to the Center of Disease Control’s most recent statistics, in 2012, 1 in 68 children were placed on the autism spectrum. My younger brother is one of those 68 children and he’s part of the spike in autistic diagnoses that occurred in the late 90s and early 2000s. While he’s always my brother first and a person with moderate autism second, the autism awareness campaign always makes me reflect on his disability.

To be honest, autism is a very confusing disability, and even though my brother has it, there have been times where I have even struggled to understand it.  Medically speaking, autism is a neurological communication disorder that affects an individual’s verbal communication and motor skills. Additionally, it can also impact their cognitive intelligence.  I find that this very clinical definition of autism doesn’t really give a sense of what autism is like beyond it’s biological functions.

While I’m not on the spectrum myself, I think I can offer some insights on what autism is like in a more tangible context.  I would best describe autism as a barrier between the person’s inner self and the rest of the world, almost a metaphorical wall or fog that prevents my brother from fully expressing what he is experiencing. Of course, autism is a spectrum and depending on where you fall on the spectrum, your barriers are different.  My brother falls in the middle of the spectrum, where his disability greatly impacts his life and prevents him from living or expressing himself to his full potential.

But autism isn’t something that gets better over time, instead it gets harder as autistic children get older. When they are young kids, everyone else their age is dependent on their parents. I’ve also found that people are a lot more accepting of disabled kids when they are still the age where they are cute. However, like everyone else, people on the autistic spectrum grow up and it becomes harder for families to protect and care for them.  The unfortunate reality is a large portion of people on the autism spectrum will never be fully independent and many parents with autistic children live in fear of what will happen to their children when they are gone. I know that responsibility personally, and when it falls to me, I will embrace it, knowing that when my parents can no longer take care of my brother, I will guide him through adulthood.

As many siblings of children with disabilities feel, I was conflicted going away to college. On one hand, I felt like I was abandoning my brother, selfishly taking part in an experience he would never get to have, while on the other hand I was excited to pursue my degree in Media Production. After a lot of contemplation I knew going to college would help me get a better job and therefore allow me to support my brother in his adult life.  I would say there is truly no right or wrong answer, it’s about doing what is best for yourself and your sibling long term.

Unlike other siblings, keeping in touch with a sibling on the autism spectrum presents a unique set of communication challenges. Calling him up on the phone isn’t really an option, because it’s hard to get even yes or no answer out of him and often he’ll sit silently leaving it to be a completely one sided conversation. For example, one time we tried Facetiming and it did not go well, he had trouble maintaining a conversation with me even on the screen. Instead, it turned into him bringing me around our house virtually but going about his day as if I wasn’t on Facetime.

However, we have found other ways to stay connected; he’s always on his iPad so Facebook Messager is the best and least stressful way for him to keep in touch with me. Snapchat has also become a fun medium for him to keep me updated on what’s going on in his life. Also, many people with autism have trouble expressing or understanding their emotions, but social media has helped with that. While he’s never going to text or message me to tell me he misses having me at home, I know when he stalks my social media profiles and likes and relikes old posts of mine that he’s thinking of me.

As this month continues, it’s important to take time to reflect on the impact autism has on individuals, as well as, the community at large. While sharing a”light-it-up” blue photo to Facebook may be a very public way to show your support, less public strides can often achieve a greater impact. For example, you can support companies, such as Home Depot, Walgreens and Shaw’s, who have programs that give disabled workers jobs. The importance of these program plans should not be underestimated because they provide both a monetary independence and, even more importantly, a sense of purpose.

Furthermore, you can choose to make a committed effort on a personal level to be more accepting and inclusive to people on a daily basis. I can promise that behaviors such as these will be noticed by people on the spectrum and their families, because even in this alleged age of acceptance, autism still faces a great deal of stigma.  By leading by example and educating others to do the same, it is possible to help break down the stigma surrounding autism. Ultimately, the goal of “Autism Awareness Month” is to show that people on the spectrum are not defined by their disability.



Taxing Film Out of Massachusetts

If you have been watching the local news lately or at least following the local news on Twitter, you probably know that Governor Charlie Baker’s first budget proposal while in office is to get rid of the Massachusetts film and TV tax credit. Massachusetts gives film and TV productions spending over $50,000, with tax incentives such as a 25 percent production credit and a 25 percent payroll credit, according to the Massachusetts Film Office. In order to qualify the production, they need to shoot 50 percent of their principal photography in MA or spend at least have their budget here.

As a Media Production major myself, I, of course, want to see films and TV shows shoot in Massachusetts, because of the potential opportunities it could provide me while in school. However, the real reason I’m passionate about keeping the film tax incentive is because it provides good jobs to people in Massachusetts. At first, people may assume that the film tax incentive is simply lining the pockets of “big hollywood” producers and while that may be partially true, a lot of people have neglected to see that these productions coming to Massachusetts create jobs for hard-working middle class citizens.

The state argues that each job created costs them money, which is true but shouldn’t the state’s money be invested in creating jobs for its citizens? The budget saved could potentially be used to benefit low-income families in Massachusetts. I completely support the state aiding low income working families, and think the state should make subsidizing low income families a priority in their budget.  The solution should not be to take away an incentive that provides other working families with steady jobs. The average person who benefits from the film tax incentive is middle class with a family and needs of his or her own.  If Massachusetts loses the film and TV industry which has been slowly growing since 2006, thousands of people working in the production industry will be out of work, and then may potentially rely on state assistance.

Furthermore, the film and TV productions happening in MA have a trickle down effect that supports other industries. Creating a film or TV show takes a lot of effort and collaboration that people often forget about when watching the finished product. They see the glamorous actors on screen, they see the director’s vision, they hear the screenwriter’s dialogue and they know Hollywood producers made it all happen, but there is more work that goes into a production than just the people with “above the line” credit. It takes hundreds of people working on a production to get the finished product, and that equals a lot of job opportunity.

Additionally, other businesses are supported by these productions. To transport their equipment and props, sets hire trucks and truck drivers, once again supporting local blue collar workers. The crew must be feed, as well, and if they are in MA, they are not going to order food to be shipped from California. Instead, they are going to turn to a local MA catering company to feed their cast and crew three meals a day for an extended period of time. For example, my aunt works at company in MA that sells used science equipment and over the past few years she has received several larger orders from films and TV shows shooting in MA seeking props.

If the film tax is taken away, productions will chose to film elsewhere, either in milder climates around the US or even abroad which will take jobs away from Massachusetts residents and New England residents as a whole. Producers and production companies are simply looking for the most cost effective place to film that will give them the aesthetic they need. Without the film tax incentive, MA will not make that list and they will go elsewhere. Personally, I don’t want to be watching a movie that is supposed to be set in Boston only to find out during the credits it was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia. If films and TV shows being shot in MA dwindles, people who rely on a steady stream of productions to support themselves will be forced to relocate to other states, which means uprooting their lives and leaving their family and friends in search of work.

Although they may cost the state more, ultimately, they create a wealth of job opportunities, which is essential considering the job market has still not completely recovered from the recession. These jobs are not limited to within the film and TV industry itself. Productions coming to MA also give business to the hospitality industry. Additionally, big name celebrities coming to town and films being set here give the great state of Massachusetts some publicity, which, in turn, helps drive tourism.

If you want to see the real faces of the MA film industry, I recommend checking out the Facebook group called Save MA Film Jobs. You might even see some Emerson Alums in there who decided to stay in MA instead of going the traditional LA route!