Student creates film on autism

By Brad Barber and Tori March

Cary Brown works on his autism documentary. (Photo by David Stringham)

According to the Center for Disease Control, one out of every 88 children is diagnosed with autism. Cary Brown, a senior film production major, believes the stories of these children are not being told.

Brown and a team of students are creating a documentary for his senior film project to tell these stories.

Brown said that the inspiration for the story came from his early childhood diagnosis of high functioning autism. He said that he still struggles with some things but has since lost that diagnosis.

“Throughout my life, if you will, I overcame that, different struggles at a time,” Brown said. “I actually lost that label entering high school and that is something pretty unique, and is why I wanted to film this story.”

Brown and fellow senior film production major Noelle Cruce are co-directors on the project. The team found Jacob Luchtenberg, who is living with Asperger’s syndrome, which is part of the autism spectrum. Luchtenberg is a ninth grade student in the Chicago area from Brown’s alma mater, Wheaton Academy. Brown contacted the high school during the project because of their program and connections with the National Institute for Learning Development.

The team interviewed Scott Hunter, Ph.D., director of neuropsychology at the University of Chicago, and Kathy Hopkins, executive director of the National Institute for Learning Development, for the documentary. They explored the idea of whether or not losing an autistic diagnosis is valid, which Hopkins is an advocate for.

The documentary currently has the working title of “Suitcase” because the production team wants to show that autism is like a suitcase that these individuals and families carry around and possibly lose, in cases such as Brown’s. The group had the idea of possibly having the title based on the idea of flipping the label that comes with the diagnosis. However Luchtenberg said that the diagnosis is not a label, but a “suitcase.”

Filming took place at Wheaton Academy from Nov. 1-3. The group raised funds to fly Hopkins to Chicago for the project. The film will be showcased in the digital media arts showcase this spring. The documentary will be the first documentary the university has ever sponsored as a senior project.

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