A Musical About Autism?!
Tricia Regan, the director, did a terrific job of digging into the lives of the children and their families, and of shining a bright light on the joys, frustrations, and sheer intensity of living with autism in America. Sadly, though, the musical itself is presented only in bits and snippets.
The Cast of Autism: The Musical
In the end, the film centered on five children and their families. Of these, two children are highly verbal; two have low language abilities; and one (Hall's son, Neal) is non-verbal. The families were, to a degree, self-selected: All are at least middle class (at least one is quite wealthy), and of course all are willing and able to engage in a time-and-energy intensive project with no specific therapeutic focus.
The flavor of the film is definitely "California-centric." Included among the families are musician Stephen Stills (of Crosby Still and Nash), a mom who had starred in Norman Lear comedies and had even posed for Playboy magazine, a film producer, and an acting coach. Each family has its own issues -- and of the five families presented, two had gone through a divorce, one was in the process of a split, and one wound up splitting during the six-month period of filming.
Lexi is a 14-year-old girl with a beautiful voice, a warm personality, and serious issues with socialization, language, and acquisition of basic life skills.
Wyatt, 10, is a bright and articulate boy who has been relegated to the "special" class in school. He clearly has a talent for drama (and, according to Elaine Hall, has continued in the Miracle Project -- acting and now mentoring other children).
Adam, 9, is a cellist and singer with limited language and social skills.
Henry, 10, is absolutely fascinated with dinosaurs and reptiles. Diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, he also has sensory issues that make it tough for him to sit through Dad Stephen Stills' concerts.
Neal, age 12, is Hall's son. He is the most profoundly disabled of the group, with no verbal speech at all. Hall and Regan describe him as an athlete. Regan says, "If he weren't autistic, he'd be a football player!"
Lexi's mom, recently divorced, shares her depression and anxiety about her life overall and about her daughter's future. Both she and her ex husband are overwhelmingly concerned about Lexi's adult life, and even express a hope that she will die before they do -- so she will never be without a home.
Adam's dad, now estranged from his mom, is bitter because of his wife's obsession with Adam's autism. Mom, meanwhile, spins out of control when she thinks her son's cello solo will be cut from the final musical production.
We join Wyatt's parents in a meeting with a horrific lawyer, who offers to charge them $100,000 to attempt to push the school district to change his classroom setting.
All of these people are very real. The intensity, the obsession, the frustrations, the anger... and the sense that a child's autism (even when relatively high functioning) can and should be the central focus of an entire family's life.