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Autism Culture Round-up: Swimming, Mom Prom, and a Riveting Documentary

While it’s not officially summer yet, in many parts of the country schools are out on summer vacation, little league practice has begun, and summer activities like swimming can seem off limits to some children with autism. This week we’re looking at how a group of children with autism are experiencing summer’s favorite pastime, a Mom Prom fundraiser that got a group of kids dancing while raising money for autism research, and a new documentary hitting theaters that tells the up-close and personal story of one individual with autism.

While kids spend way more time in front of a screen during the summer than ever before, it’s hard to dispute the allure of a cool pool on a blazing hot day. Yet, due to many children with autism struggling with sensory overload, the sudden change in temperatures can pose a real fear. However, a local pool operator in the D.C. metro area believes that those on the autism spectrum not only respond well to direction, but are “beyond fear.”

“These guys jump right on in,” said Harden, referring to his class of 16 students, all of whom are on the autism spectrum. Harden’s students include Justin Serrano, a 16-year-old student who “just wants to explore the deep side” but who Harden also believes is capable of joining the swim team. Of course, not all of Harden’s students take to the water like fish, but they all do seem to appreciate the chance to interact with the fluidity of water. Said one 19 year-old student, “I learned how to kick my feet on the water, not on the ground!”

Moving from the swimming pool to the dance floor, the MOMS Club of Evans, GA, a town outside Augusta, recently held a Mom Prom charity dance that rose $7,000 that was given to the Autism Society of Georgia. This event helped the group to make their largest donation to date, with representatives of the Society coming to the town to collect the money and acknowledge the moms’ goodwill.

“We are very excited about what we can do in Augusta,” said the society’s executive director Ray Johnson. “Augusta needs resources and support and what they’ve done in Augusta to help support our organization is incredible and we are excited about being able to put back and give back to the Augusta community.” Johnson said the donation will be used to continue the society’s ongoing sponsorship of a camp for underprivileged children with autism. In addition, the funds will be used to support a local Boy Scout troop.

Finally, as we’ve reported on before, as documentary films continue to grow in popularity and availability to filmmakers in terms of affordable equipment and micro budget productions, a new film entitled Life, Animated is about to hit movie theaters in New York City and Los Angeles. A coming-of-age tale, the movie is based on the best-selling book Life Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism by the Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Suskind, who has a son with autism.

Losing his capacity for speech at the age of three, Owen learned how to relate to the world through his love for Disney animation. The film recaptures this process through combining video of Owen as a child alongside scenes from Disney classics. The film won a directing award at the Sundance Film Festival this year and will be distributed by The Orchard.