Filmmaking on the Autism Spectrum, with Keri Bowers and Taylor Cross | EDB Episode 26


In this episode, Harold Reitman, M.D. speaks with Keri Bowers and Taylor Cross, the directors of the films Normal People Scare Me and Normal People Scare Me Too. The mother and son discuss collaborating on the films, Taylor’s journey with autism, and the importance of parents supporting the goals of their neurodiverse children.

For more information about Normal People Scare Me and Normal People Scare Me Too visit: www.normalfilms.com

 

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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR)

Hello, there. I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman and you’re listening to Exploring Different Brains. Welcome to another edition of Exploring Different Brains, and we’re talking with Keri Bowers and Taylor Cross here. Now, what they did was, they made this movie, “Normal People Scare Me,” and then they made the sequel, “Normal People Scare Me, Too.” Keri is also one of the founders of the Art of Autism and hello Keri and Taylor, welcome. How are you?

KERI BOWERS (KB)

Hello we are doing great, Hackie, thanks.

TAYLOR CROSS (TC):

Doing fantastic.

HR

Well that’s great , Taylor why don’t you start off and introduce yourself to our audience here?

TC

Well my name is Taylor Cross and I made normal people scare me one and two.

HR

All right, what else do you do?

TC

Currently I’m a student at a community college under communications

HR

And what are you taking? You’re taking communications there, huh? You like it?

TC

they didn’t have journalism for what I wanted so communications was the next best thing

HR

And what about you, Keri, what are you up to?

KB

Wow, what I up to, what am I not up to that’s it. Were–actually, through the Art of Autism, we are taking a road trip from san Diego up the coast to Sacramento back down the coast giving art of autism heart and arts awards to quiet heroes in autism and the arts and stopping in eight places and doing four screenings–the first screenings ever of normal people scare me too.

HR

Wow. Now, when you set up a screening, how does all that get, done tell our audience how that gets done?

KB

there is a couple of ways to do it. the first way is that some college or organization buys the film and then as long as they’re not charging at the door, they can do their own–I give a free license to screen the film so all they have to pay for is buying the film and we don’t come with it. the other way to go is if they decide to charge at the door and then we take a percentage of what they get at door. the third way which is the preferable way–what do we do Taylor?

TC

We both go and present at the Door.

KB

Yeah, we get on an airplane and we fly all around the world. this is the model that we used with normal people scare me, you know, 10 years ago–eight years ago–We show up and we do an audience Q and A and breakout sessions on everything from transitions planning to social skill development to how to utilize the arts to grow skills in autism and other disabilities.

HR

Well how did you guys get into this?

KB

That’s your story Taylor.

TC

I think we kind of fell into it by accident, where a lot of stories that do come from how normal people scare me was ultimately formed they just sort of were happy coincidences.

KB

Well, what happened when you were just about to turn 15-years-old?

TC

Oh, with that–it was a social skills group–tried to pay money for–to get toys for, you know, those with battered women, other families, and I wanted to pay this year.

KB

Well I had put Taylor into community service when he was eight years old as a way to help him with social skills–it was free social skills–I highly recommend that to people today because you must interact and you also must think about others when doing community service and through the years he did more and more toward the actualization of community giving. So when he was 14 and he perseverated on film he came to me and he said, mom, this year I want to pay for the gifts myself. How can I earn some money? And do you remember what I said? What did I say?

TC

you can clean the swimming pool.

KB

And what did you say?

TC

I was like no, I’m going to make some films and sell them.

KB

But that was after he went (scoffs) I don’t think so!

TC

Yeah I was acting very artillerish there.

KB

he was acting typically teenager and I loved it. I mean when he just gave me that ugh ugh ugh. so people who know me think I immediately said, yeah, let’s go make a film! Because my background is in entertainment law I was a paralegal with Motley Crue and Kiss blind melon–of course I would say yes, right? No, I gave him every reason why he, at almost 15 years old, could not make a film. you’re too young, you haven’t gone to film school, we don’t have money, it’s just not done that way in Hollywood. And we were in the car and I looked at my son and I saw him looking at me believing everything I said to him. And through my brain, it went do do do do do, and they said you might never walk or talk. And I looked at him and I said, Taylor, everything I’ve said is a lie.

TC

And that is totally true.

KB

You can make the film. I don’t know how to do it but I’ll help you.

TC

We’re going to do it. Doesn’t matter how we do it but were going to do it.

KB

And so you know, Hackie, when we put out an intent into the universe, the universe responds. So that might have come to me and said I want to call it–

TC

Normal People Scare Me.

KB

And how did you come up with that, Taylor?

TC

Oh, I saw it on a shirt.

KB

He saw it on a T-shirt. So we had a title and a week later we met Joey Travolta, who agreed to become Taylor’s mentor to make a short student film, which won quite a few awards at the Ultimate Student Film Festival, which picked up media, which turned into us actually engaging Joey to create the feature film which became, you know, People Magazine, Scholastic Magazine, the Today Show, Heraldo, all that later became sort of a first of its kind for an autistic to interview 65 people with autism to create a film about autism for people with autism.

HR

That’s just great. That’s what’s got to happen more and more. That’s got to happen more and more. Now what do you consider your skill sets, Taylor? Like what do you feel you’re good at?

TC

You know, that’s a very difficult question for me to answer. I’ve been doing a lot of asking that our self recently, especially in the last month or so. I view myself as someone who is actually naturally talented at giving a decent enough interview, in learning how to prepare for it, let’s see–what else am I pretty good at? I’m also very good at being–you know, on point when I am required to be.

HR

All right, now let me ask you this, Taylor, if I might. Let’s say before this interview I just met you on this interview. How would I know that you are autistic? Because I can’t tell talking to you now. What do you think would be the pick-up for me like how I would tell that you’re an autistic individual?

TC

That’s a very interesting question. I’ve never really been asked that before. It would be very difficult, probably because I’ve had a lot of extensive social skills training and a lot of life experience, is the word–into how to interact with others on a normal basis.

HR

How old are you?

TC

I am 27.

HR

  1. Okay.

KB

Can I share something on that point, Hackie?

HR

Yes.

KB

Sitting with us today is James. James, you can’t see him on camera, but he works with Taylor and Taylor has had significant supports through his life. A lot through the arts to help develop his social skills. James is actually on the spectrum–autism spectrum himself, and they are the same age. So what we’re discovering through the eyes of a support staff person are the ways in which Taylors autism appears invisible to the average observer, but the ways in which Taylor has more quiet challenges. So they’re not perceptible other than maybe some unusual mannerisms or delayed ability to maybe connect with certain subject matters beyond the first, give or take.

HR

I have an ultimate theory.

KB

Okay.

HR

Which, having never met Taylor before, and being ignorant, I’m at liberty to say because I don’t know the whole story–you know, it’s like you guys have been living the video or the movie, and I’m just seeing a polaroid snapshot in the way. I’m just seeing one point on the graph. But as I’ve gotten more into neurodiversity, I believe we all have a degree of neuroplasticity, which means our brains rewire themselves according to many different factors. Some of its behavioral training, social training, some of its what we eat, some if its genes–you know, it’s like all of the above so that I would dare say if we took name your test, MRI, PETA Scan, whatever–of my brain or Taylor’s brain now, it would be significantly different from like 10 years ago or whatever, you know? The pathways are there now that may not have been there before.

KB

Oh absolutely. And I am very intrigued by neuroplasticity. This last year I co-authored a book Autism Movement Therapy: Waking Up The Brain. And the entire premise of this book is how the brain is malleable beyond was science used to think. They used to think it was more fixed. Now were seeing that through things like movement, through–there’s something I was talking today with Taylor’s–with James, Taylor’s staff, about, I call it rapid-fire improvisation. Its something where we start to focus on ideas and values and rapidly talk about like a random item but draw that into a story. So in this way, were actually like waking up the brain so that were connecting neuro–the neurons to a better way to present output. To create more fixed cellular memory–things that we begin through repetition, that our body, our natural reflexes and our brain remembers, and so Taylor’s brain now, through all of the different crazy stuff that I’ve done with him over the years and the things he’s done himself has definitely, definitely expanded and the memory helps him to function much more proficiently in his life.

TC

I would completely agree with that. Sorry for being a little disconnected there for a second.

KB

One of the things I did with Taylor from a very young age–because, you know, we got autism before it was front-page news, before the internet. And so there was no group for moms, kids that were unusual, quirky, different. As an artist, I would film him or take pictures of him and when he had no language and little language which developed through time in his early years. And he couldn’t speak to me, and I didn’t know what he understood. I would say what does Taylor see? Which is very different than me telling Taylor this is what I see. Taylor, you’re not making eye contact. Taylor, you’re not responding. Taylor, you’re not understanding. I would show him and say what does Taylor see? Is Taylor happy? Is Taylor sad? So a lot of these approaches that I took were giving Taylor the responsibility for Taylor, as opposed to me just telling him what he needed to do, what he needed to perceive, or what he needed to connect with in the world. So a lot of that came early on for him to interpret for himself.

HR

Taylor, what role do you think–you know, creativity, has to play in your direction that you’re going? Like you consider yourself a creative person.

TC

Short story, yes. Long story, I would say it’s been a very, varied amount of a combination between social skills, general life experiences, the fact that I have a mom whose personality as an artist kind of comes into play. There’s all sorts of factors that just come into it. It’s not just one thing. Does that make any sense?

HR

Yes, it does. Now, you know, I can just repeat to you with what my mentor for many, many years, Tim Van Patten, who was the executive producer and director of Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire and a lot of other stuff–he would say to me, he’d say, Hackie, no matter what anyone ever tells you, if you have a good story, with good characters with good execution, which is hard, it’ll make it. It doesn’t matter what the medium or what the venue. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Do you feel that way about your filmmaking and your creative efforts?

TC

Yes. Yes, I do. You know, my medium is a little bit different, but I do feel that execution is important, and everything else that is tied to it is very important.

HR

Now, how are your writing skills? When I say writing, I don’t mean how the idea gets formulated, but how would you consider your writing skills, in other words creating a story?

TC

In the case, I’m probably not that bad. I see a lot of–and read a lot of fictions so I have a pretty good understanding of what makes and doesn’t make a good character.

HR

Nice, you know, because a lot of times people think that writing means you have to either sit down at the computer or you have to handwrite or dictate or anything. A lot of times when you collaborate, it’s just having fun talking about different things and brainstorming, and then somebody puts it down on a piece of paper. And I think too many people get caught up in the formatting of screenwriting and final draft and everything has to be just so, as opposed to, just tell the story. And you guys have a terrific story. You know, you have a wonderful story that you’re articulating and telling. What would you say is the biggest difference other than the time chronology between Normal People Scare Me and Normal People Scare Me Too?

TC

I would have to say that totally it’s just a little bit different. It’s a little–the first one is a little bit of a smoother experience, while the sequel, itself, is a little sharper. It’s got more of a bite to it. Would you agree with that, momma? Considering you were there for both of them.

KB

I definitely see your point but there are other things that really jump out at me as far as where the story has changed. WE do ask–Taylor asks them but we wrote it together, the script, we do ask many of the same questions, but here’s where it takes a sharp turn from me. The first film, 10 years ago, we knew what we knew. You know, neurotypicals made the film to support an autistic interviewing autistics about a film about autism for autistics. This time around, through the years, Joey Travolta created inclusion films. He used to teach practical filmmaking to rich kids in LA community. Now he teaches exclusively to people on the autism spectrum and other disabilities, the craft of filmmaking. So were very pleased to say that we have, like, 75% of our film crew is on the autism spectrum. Our assistant editor is on the autism spectrum. In the film, we have 65-75% of the music that’s composed and performed, is created by people with autism, and nearly 100% of the art or the animation is created by people with autism. And, lastly, we invited back the cast, from 10 years ago that’s now grown up and gone up to, like yourself, through many different experiences in a decade. And so this film is more authentic in its very fiber. Connected with the very movement on autism that we want to see today, and that is futures. So this is a much more futuristic inclusive film whereas the first one was, you know, just uncharted territory.

HR

Alright, Taylor, so we can inspire some of the people watching this–talk to us a bit about your diagnosis and your progression as you see it so that we can inspire other people whose brains might be a little bit different, no matter what their labels might be? I happened to think labels are a lousy way to describe a unique human being, but sometimes they serve a purpose. And do you mind talking about your diagnoses and progression.

TC

Well I do not remember much about my own diagnosis session because it was all the way back in 1996 and I was like–

KB

’94.

TC

Oh okay, ’94. And I was like six-years-old at the time. So I really don’t remember very much about it. I will tell you this about, you know, my progression. I started out not in a dark place but I definitely started out being–you know, somewhat ashamed of it, but over time, what, in short, happened–is its really gotten to the point where I just don’t care anymore about the perception. You know, if people will call me out on it and want to talk to me about it, I really am not too ashamed to get in front of a camera and physically speak about autism, but I’m not–you know, I don’t have that negative feeling that comes with it. Does that make any sense?

HR

It does, and it’s something were trying to do. See, I want to get the next president of the United States, whoever that might be, to wear a T-shirt that says my brain is different. Because if you start adding up all of these different labels, the so-called neurotypicals are in the minority now, just because of mathematics–if you add everything up. I think that it’s kind of like almost like being gay 50 years ago, it’s just easier to stay in the closet. You know, we graduated three aspie interns last summer, all great people, all going to college, all have great futures–not one of them is going to ask for the accommodations they–that would make their lives so much easier in college, because they don’t want to be stigmatized so they don’t want to ask for the–take the exam in a quiet area or get a little bit more time on the test or something. Which is silly, you know, it’s kind of like if you’re blind, it’s not going to do any good if somebody’s writing on a blackboard, and if you’re deaf, it doesn’t do any good if someone is screaming at you–doesn’t mean you’re stupid or anything, and I just think we should all chill with that and just be comfortable with who we are–same as we get comfortable if were tall or short or young or old–you’re young and I’m old Taylor. That’s what’s happening here.

TC

Well, the positions will be–well they won’t be reversed, but pretty soon I’ll be where you’re at.

HR

Yep. Yep. Probably so.

KB

I think it’s amazing what you just said–I completely agree and I have watched Taylor struggle throughout his life with his inability to ask for help and because Taylor is–I call him a tweenie–those are people on the spectrum who–there’s not that sort of “A-Ha!” moment because something is sort of obvious and there’s not that so-called–this is a quote on quote “Normal kid” or individual, he was sort of in the middle, in between, so it’s like the invisible part of the autism spectrum. So when he didn’t ask for help, if I had a dime for every time somebody–a teacher, administrator, a coordinator–you know, through his services, said, you know, well if Taylor would just–if you would just organize him. If I had a dime for that, I might have a Starbucks card for years’ worth of coffee. Because Taylor did not have the ability, for whatever reason, to ask for those accommodations, Hackie. He–whether it was not knowing he had that resource, fully understanding that–whether it was shame–

HR

Well it’s not only the Taylors of the world. It’s the we parents of the world with all of our great intentions and everything, and my daughter, Rebecca, who has a Discrete Math Degree from Georgia Tech is now 33. She’s tutoring in an after school program people with Asperger’s an autism–she’s going for her masters in applied psychology–she’s chosen to live at a place where she gets her own apartment, she gets coaching, she gets transportation for the disabled because she doesn’t drive, and she’s fine with it. She’s fine with it. But, you know, like when she goes to the university and is in a group project, she doesn’t want to tell everyone else there, hey, I have Asperger’s. You know, or even I don’t drive, or whatever. And it shouldn’t be that way, it should just be comfortable, you know.

KB

I’d love to give a strategy here. When Taylor was three-years-old and got on the first little yellow school bus to go to his seriously emotionally disturbed class, that’s what they called it at the time, SED–I remember that bus, that little yellow bus–

HR

That was really the name? That was the name of it?

KB

It was called Seriously Emotionally Disturbed. That was his very first class in Los Angeles Unified School District when he was three, and we didn’t have the autism diagnosis yet. So he got on that little yellow school bus and it drove down the street and I was crying–I mean I had tears in my eyes thinking, oh my god, what is the big, bad world going to do? It’s going to swallow up my innocent kid. That day, I wrote, in my head–and eventually it would be written on paper–a mission statement for Taylor. I decided to treat Taylor as if he were the beginning of me starting a corporation or a business, where we write a business statement, which is our overall–what we want, our goal, what we stand for. So I wrote that for Taylor, and that became the guiding principle to every IEP, IPP, MTP–any P that we could “P” on–that became the guiding principle to what we wanted and therefore in meetings or with teachers, what have you, it supported me to know what to ask for, because I knew where I wanted to go with Taylor. With that I will tell you that his first written goal, when I first wrote down the mission statement, was Taylor will live independently, in his community as an adult as possible and to be supported by and surrounded by people who love and support him. And we are, today, sitting in Taylor’s own apartment.

HR

Nice!

TC

Yeah it’s not my mom’s apartment and she just happens to rent it out to me.

KB

Yeah, no. I come to visit my son today for this interview in his apartment. Now, when he was eight-years-old, was I sure that he would live independently in his community and be supported by people he loves? No. But that’s what my mission became, and so that supported me when an IEP team or another team or teacher would say, well we think this. I knew that didn’t match with where I believed Taylor could go, and as he got older, each year I would revisit that mission and change it and modify it to meet the needs of where he was at and what he had grown through and where we had issues to overcome so that that mission would always be the guiding principle to asking for the support that I felt that we needed, as opposed to the support that they wanted to impose, if you will, upon us. And then lastly, I think, Taylor’s fair to say that now that you’ve revisited college, by the way, after years of a lack of success in college–Taylor finally went back–that today you’re learning how to ask for more help. Is that fair to say?

TC

That is fair to say. You know I’ve got things that I’m lining up for college, like as we were speaking, you know?

KB

I think that I interpret that as meaning that what was once my mission for Taylor, is it fair for me to say that now you have your own mission–your own guiding principles for life?

TC

Yes. Yes it does.

KB

So that’s the goal, I believe, for every individual. Is that we as the families, the mothers, the fathers, the support that while we move it forward during their youth, their childhood, their youth and growing into adulthood–but as they become older, they take on more responsibility for their own lives and their own dreams and their own desires and somehow with whatever creativity we can infuse that they own, if you will, their own future.

HR

Now what was it like making a movie together? Did that put your relationship strained or did it make it better or what happened with that?

TC

Well you see, here’s the thing. It definitely strained it a lot. You see, it’s–I’m having a really tough time just being in the same room as her right now–I’m just kidding–it’s actually made it a lot better.

KB

It’s both, Hackie. It’s both. There were times Taylor just didn’t want to do the work, and were talking the first film–so he’s now a teenager–

TC

I would say that honestly, in this case, that both part is just about everyday relationships–it’s just–you know, it’s just how it is. If it was strained, like we wouldn’t even be wanting to be in the same room right now. At all.

KB

Well I like to think of both of my boys as people that–not–of course I love them, that goes without saying; but I actually like both of my kids. Taylor’s brother, Chase, the sandwich kid. We made a film about siblings, he and I did. I feel like we go on trips together, we do things together that are like really fun, and not just you know family dinners, but we like to be with each other. Of course, were not as together as much now that Taylor is an adult living farther away, but we like each other. But making the film, it definitely put stress because there’s–you know, there’s a lot of people involved, there’s money involved in making a film–people–you know, plan for things, and when Taylor has had a hard time showing up, like any good parent, I say, hey, you wanted this. You made an agreement that you wanted to do it. So I get that you’re having a struggle today or you’re not really wanting to be here at this moment, but is that acceptable to what you said you wanted? And what would–eventually you would do what?

TC

Just kind of agree–well, I think if I can remember correctly I would start out arguing but then, you know, ultimately I would just kind of agree, and go, you know what, I kind of can see the bigger picture here.

KB

That’s exactly what you do. And with Normal People Scare Me Too, there was a point at which Taylor was kind of asking the question about where’s the heart? What does this really mean to me? And I literally, 50 people in with interviews, were ready to lock the film, Taylor was like, you know, what’s it all about? And I said well you need to go and you need to really search your soul because, you know, you committed to this. You wanted this, but I hear that you say–saying that you need to find its heart. So I need you to get back with me on that and I sat with baited breath for quite a few days behind the scene, waiting to see–was Taylor going to want to complete the project. Talk a little bit about how that felt for you and what happened?

TC

I’ve–I remember just feelings a disconnect from the project, like it wasn’t really mine, in that I had very little at stake. And I felt that, you know, it was honestly time for me to be interested in other things and just try to move forward with my life, but then I had a moment where I was like, yeah, this could really help me, you know, with my other goals–you know, the things that I really want to do right now. If that makes any sense.

KB

Not only does it make sense, but Hackie, you guys are the first like in this conversation were having, this is the first time were saying this publicly–so this is like the behind the scenes–not just individual personalities, desires hopes and dreams, but also autism is in there somewhere. You know a lot of times in autism, people will have a desire, a goal–something they want over there but over here the process, the executive administrative skills to getting and reaching that goal are a huge challenge.

HR

Well, I think–but I think also, superimposed on all of that, and I’m projecting a little bit here. I know when I–you know, made the movie the Square Root of 2 starring Darby Stanchfield from Scandal–it was inspired by a true story about my daughter, Rebecca. And at the time I made the movie, I knew Rebecca had 23 brain tumors and ADHD and some memory deficits but she was doing well and I didn’t know she had Asperger’s and autism until after the movie was done, which was an inspirational movie, getting ready to release it, and Rebecca starting tutoring students with Asperger’s and autism and Atlanta, and the owner of the school met her for 10 minutes and said, hey, you know Dr. Reitman, your daughter has Asperger’s. And I said what’s that? Well it’s on the spectrum of autism. I said what’s that? I held up release of the movie and I researched for a few years. And dummy that I am, it took me a couple of years to put it together, when I had my “A-ha!” moment, I wrote Aspertools: The Practical Guide to Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity, because by that time, I knew that it was all about all of our different brains. And to my surprise, HCI books that did Chicken Soup for the Soul gave me a contract, but they said, look doc, one catch: you can’t release your movie because you’re confusing everybody.

So I wasn’t allowed–I released the book one year ago and I just released the movie a few months ago just online, very low-key kind of thing, but what I was getting at is in–the reason that movie come out so good with such a nuance performance of someone on the spectrum, by Darby Stanchfield, well she didn’t listen to the writer/producer/director/. She studied Rebecca directly, they spent a lot of time together. And as a result, it was just a terrific performance, which now, when I look at in in retrospect, I can pull down scenes that show the clueless parent and everything else. But why I was bringing that up was it is stressful for Rebecca to watch that film because it’s about her and her brain. And when she helped me write the book, the way the book, Aspertools, is configured, there’s a chapter by me, and then there will be a box by Pati Fizzano who is a really good ESE teacher who is like a mentor with Rebecca, and then there’s the box by Rebecca who says such things as, I know that’s what my dad thinks but he’s all wrong, here’s how it really is–you know? Kind of thing. So you have that clash of perspectives and you guys are making a movie together, and as cool as Taylor is, and as mature as he is about everything, it’s–there’s some kind of stress and anxiety there because it’s about him, it’s about his brain it’s about autism and it’s doing great things for so many others–I think–but I think that has to be a little bit of–a little bit in there.

KB

Thanks so much for sharing what you shared and about your daughters perspective. I would surmise or think or assume that Taylor would have very similar feelings, like oh gosh there goes my mom or that’s what my mom thinks.

TC

Honestly I think it’s a different feeling entirely because I’m a little more bashful of the film. It’s like I don’t mind it so much and I actually don’t think the information in and of itself is wrong–it’s just kind of one of those things where you’re kind of shy to admit it in front of other people.

KB

Like Hackie said, it’s about you, so–

TC

Yeah, that’s–hence the actual feeling.

HR

Yeah the–that’s very well said, Taylor. The bashful feeling. Maybe that’ll be the name of your next movie, that bashful feeling, you know?

TC

I don’t have anything negative against the information and I don’t think my mom is wrong because in a lot of regards she actually isn’t–it’s just that–you know it’s a personal shyness sort of deal. And if honestly I didn’t feel that, I would probably have most people questioning–okay why don’t you feel anything about it, you know?

HR

Really. Because its–if you didn’t have a special feeling about that, that would be surprising to me. That would be surprising to me, myself. Now tell me what it’s like working with the whole Joey Travolta team with what he’s put together? That’s quite amazing and a happy circumstance.

TC

I was going to say this is probably more my mom’s story because she has more to do with actually getting into touch with him than I do.

KB

What about your experience with actually working, like when you interviewed him or when he’s on set and you’re interviewing the cast, what do you feel about that interaction?

TC

Personally, feel like he’s definitely taken some inspiration from what we did with the first film. The inclusion in film should be enough of a sign post in terms of what he’s doing right now, with special needs individuals.

KB

I was fascinated by Taylor’s interactions with Joey this time around. It was now an adult to an adult as opposed to an adult with a teenager and I am completely inspired by what Inclusion Films is doing. I went to Bakersfield where he has his main campus, if you will, to do a lot of editing on this film, where Taylor actually has been involved throughout the process of the interviews but not the editing part. And I would walk into Inclusion Films and he’s got like 35 to 40 students every day, five days a week, with his staff, doing practical film school, and I would go into the little–you know, off to the editing realm, but walking in and out through that main classroom, if you will, in a big warehouse, and be floored by what I saw–I mean were talking 35 to 40 adults with autism and other disabilities–not just learning the craft of filmmaking, but their philosophy there is such that they were actually, at one point, doing like a meditation process with the students in order to help quiet anxieties and help them center themselves. So they blend a lot of incredibly creative processes into supporting building Climatic Filmmaking skills. So I’m just flabbergasted and Joeys heart of–talk about Joey, like who he is as a person. Because I think that really is important to the overall–the global perspective in autism–the people who coach, who support, who teach, who are with our children and our adults on the spectrum, their personality has so much to do with the outcome. What do you think about Joeys personality?

TC

Well, I think what he has a tendency to do, and I think you’ll completely agree with me on this. Is that he has a tendency to really draw out the individual. Regardless of if they’re a child, if they’re an adult, if they’re outgoing, if they’re–you know, reclusive, it’s all kinds of personalities, and he has this really innate ability–and I’ve seen it during the interviews, where he’ll just pick up something and then draw that out of the individual who is being interviewed at the time. And it’s really interesting to see that. To see him just go, okay, well how does that feel? You know, he asks what is a good day for you, and that’s actually a really good question, as an example, you know?

KB

He’s also like off the cuff really funny and puts people at ease and I think that careers, staff, educators, could really take a lesson about looking at themselves and how do I present in my interactions with people. Because he’s so relaxed that, like Taylor said, you said that really nicely–he draws out the best in people. And so it was a real privilege. In the film, people will get to know Joey at a completely different level than they did in the first film because he’s taken on autism in the last decade at such a high vibration of his career choice. And it’s–the interview between you and Joey, by the way, is so heartwarming–and just really precious, and people will definitely laugh, people will–by the way in the film people will definitely cry. So I recommend that whoever is going to watch the film, they have a box of tissues.

TC

(bursts in laughter) Heartwarming, and the legitimately sad stuff.

KB

Absolutely.

HR

Okay, so now what I’d like you to do is tell our audience how they find out more about the movie, how they find out more about you, how they see the movie, give us all the information and how they can see them?

KB

Well first talk more and more about you, Taylor. How do they connect with you? To you?

TC

Well you could just follow me on Facebook over on Taylor Cross, it’s under my regular name.

KB

How about Reddit?

TC

On Reddit, my name is TCRPGFan and that is hard to say because it’s just a bunch of acronyms. The same thing could be said about my current YouTube channel. I don’t do much on autism over there because that’s a little more personal.

KB

And as for the film, my website actually for normal films, that’s actually how we sell the film, through my website–is normalfilms.com and the film can be ordered on my website and the film will also be–I have four distributors that I’ve hooked up for Taylor and I. So it will go through–you know, major distribution channels, it will eventually find its way as the other three films we made onto Netflix and also I can be followed on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Facebook using just my name.

HR

Okay and why don’t you repeat your name for everybody?

TC

My name is Taylor Cross and I’m the middle of post-production for Normal People Scare Me Too.

KB

And actually another film that just wrapped–just wrapped.

TC

That’s why I said post-production.

KB

Ahh. Okay.

HR

He’s good. He got you there.

KB

And I’m Keri Bowers–K-E-R-I B-O-W-E-R-S.

HR

And why don’t you just say a quick word about the Art of Autism with–which you cofounded?

KB

Yeah, the art of autism has been around now for going on its sixth year. We just incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit. My partner, co-collaborator and co-creator, Debra Muzikar, also has a son with autism. They can be seen in Normal People Scare Me Too. Kevin is in his early 20s and is a brilliant painter. Where Taylor’s thing was film, Kevin’s–in fact, the piece behind us is called railroad tracks. That’s a Kevin Hoseny. So both of our sons have inspired us, as mothers, to create the Art of Autism which is a collaborative that represents over 500 artists with autism, or autistic artists, around the world. In order for our artist to showcase, a place to share their art, their poetry, blogging–we encourage, we highly encourage people who love to write to blog on situational whatever. As long as it ties somehow to the art. I mean you can actually take your perseveration of putting things together and taking them apart and make it about the arts. The art of tinkering with stuff. SO we support a space and a place for autistic artists and poets and writers to come together to share what they have to share with the world.

HR

Taylor, what can you tell somebody who’s watching this whose parts that are a little bit difficult for most normal people–I see that a lot so that’s where I’m getting it from.

HR

Well that’s great. And Keri, what can you say to the parents out there who might have a–might have somebody in their family whose brain is a little bit different? What’s one thing you can tell them?

KB

I ally want to do, what you really like, then it becomes much easier to accept those aspects of yourself, or at least tolerate, you know, those say that we have to find out where does–we have to live and venture into the world, if you will, of our children, and not require or demand that they come into our world. So what is your kid good at? What do they migrate toward? And I’m not talking about just verbal or, you know, people on the spectrum with let’s just say fewer challenges than those that are tremendously impacted or challenged. I’m saying non-verbal from all the way up the spectrum. Every individual has something that they’re drawn toward. In my case, I believe that whether it’s one person might love music, but not like painting. One person might like horseback riding but not like another form of arts or football–as in the case of Taylors support staff here, he loves football. Find what they love and then that’s where you teach them. That’s the baseline, the present level of performance if you will, becomes the baseline for how we can teach, whether its social skills, reading, writing arithmetic–you take what they love and you go into their world to bring the rest of the pragmatic skills that we need to move up the ability chart, if you will, by venturing and finding what is loved, and then creating from that momentum, for learning, growth and development.

TC

Well that’s why I said, during my question, really question whether you really want to be there or not. Because there’s some cases, where yes, they may be obsessed with, you know, painting, but they also you know, may like painting only as like a side thing, as a hobby, and their real main interest is this.

KB

Very, very important. That’s very important, boy, we could do a whole show on that. But I also want to say though that what I’ve learned over the years is that while we also want to go into that space and into that place and draw out learning opportunities, at the same time, as parents, we need to also put boundaries around things, and so we need to find a way to bring out the best while also giving natural consequences, natural rewards, within the environment of just raising kids. Autism is a reason, it’s never an excuse. And I know that might sound crazy to some people, it’s a reason things are hard, it’s a reason we have behavioral issues. What we need to do is to not use that as an excuse to not move forward, or to say, oh my kid will never achieve this or never do that. We need to just simply say, okay, here’s the problem, now let me try and figure out the positive, the in-roads with loving boundaries and expectations. And expectations. But with love and consideration, and that’s, I think, also very important. In other words, it’s not just about the arts or creativity or completely letting things unroll like free-range parenting, I think that’s what they call it these days–you know, that’s not practical. Kids need to learn how to be safe. They need to learn how to–you know, whether its initially picking up their dish from the table and taking it to the sink, or–you know, and then migrating from there outwards–so we have to both have expectations but also live into the present level of ability.

HR

Well, were awfully happy to have both of you here, and it’s been great and educational, and both of you have been very inspirational today and I want to thank you, both, very much.

KB

Thank you. We’ll be in touch again.

HR

We’ve been talking to Keri Bowers and Taylor Cross and their movies are Normal People Scare Me and Normal People Scare Me, Too.

For more information, visit us at www.DifferentBrains.com

 

 

Author Image
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, “The Square Root of 2” (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s “Scandal”), and is the author of the book “Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity” from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”

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