Challenges & Joys: Autism – a short film

Challenges & Joys: Autism is a film that looks at life with autism. One in sixty-eight American children are on the autism spectrum, it's an epidemic. Raising a child on the spectrum is not easy, there are struggles and milestones all along the way.

It takes a lot of patience, kindness, and letting go of the desire to control every nuance of life in order to raise children. Raising children with autism takes even more. For most parents it takes qualities and character traits that they don't posses naturally within themselves. That is where Jesus and the Gospel come in. To image Jesus to a child with autism means relying on the Holy Spirit everyday, for strength, grace, and love.

Behind The Story

I started shooting this film in January of 2014. At the time, I had a different story in mind. Originally, the film was going to be a story of identity as a business owner. As I sat and prayed about it, it was clear the story needed to change. The story evolved and became focused more on Autism Spectrum Disorder, something I didn't know very much about at the time. 

I started researching, talked with my friend Robbie who sat for the first interview. We started talking about autism. I knew I wasn't going to shed any new light on the disorder, there are new things coming out everyday it seems. What I wanted to do was look at life with autism and how the gospel applies to it.

Friends from church, Daniel and Megan whose son Calvin was on the spectrum, came to mind. I approached them one Sunday and told them what I was doing, asked if they would be willing to be interviewed. I shared the goal of the film, to show that Christians struggle with the same challenges and the celebrate the same joys as any other parents do. The distinction is they look to Jesus for grace in the challenges and praise Him in the joys. Daniel immediately agreed, he told Megan, she agreed. They were on board and excited.

In May, I interviewed Daniel and Megan in their living room. I brought my friend Neil along to help. By the end of the interview there wasn't a dry eye in the room. It was beautiful to hear how Daniel and Megan look to Jesus and apply the gospel everyday. Daniel shared about how he's learned so much about God as a father and His unconditional love, patience, and grace. Megan shared how she desires to control things and has had to wrestle with God and relinquish that desire to Him and allow Him to be God.

After the interview we shot some footage of Calvin playing the drums and then using his iPad to communicate. It was such a blessing to watch Calvin as he prayed and thanked God for his teachers and beautifully articulated the gospel and an understanding of how Jesus died for him. Neil and I left that day totally humbled and blessed by seeing how good God is, how much he loves Daniel, Megan, Calvin, and Ruth. We left feeling pretty selfish that morning because we felt so blessed to be able to spend time with the Garcia's, see God's grace, and to be able to do what we do as filmmakers. 

Calvin playing his drums.

Calvin playing his drums.

Calvin using his iPad to communicate his prayer.

Calvin using his iPad to communicate his prayer.

When I started writing and editing the film in June I had wanted to interview additional families that have children on the spectrum. Sadly, some folks weren't available others weren't sure they wanted their kids in a film. I can respect that, my job isn't to exploit anyone or make them feel uncomfortable.

Once I started writing it became clear that film was going to focus on Calvin, Daniel, and Megan. There was so much good stuff with them, and with Robbie, his wife Katie, and with Blake that the film almost wrote itself. At some point I no longer wanted or needed any other families, the story was clear.

Over a couple weeks Challenges & Joys: Autism came about. It's a story about how good God is, how he's a loving Father that loves us more than anyone else could. It acknowledges that life is not easy just because you love Jesus. Christians go through the same junk as non-Christians, the difference is that Christians can turn to Jesus for comfort, strength, and grace. 

One clip that didn't make into the film because of time was from a question I asked on the spot of Daniel and Megan. I asked them what they would say to people who feel like Jesus is a just a crutch for them, something to lean on in the tough times. They both answered the question so well I've included their 2:26 answer below.

This film was such a blessing to work on and such a great story to share. I'm thankful that God has placed folks in my life that are so willing to share about how God is working in their lives and willing to boast, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9, in their weaknesses for the glory of God.

Behind The Production

Challenges & Joys: Autism was shot over several months from January through May 2014. It was photographed on a Canon 5D Mark III with a Flaat 10 profile and a Canon T3i. We used a Canon 24-105mm f4 and a Bower 85mm cine lens. All the interviews were done with natural light and reflectors. 

Red Giant's Colorista II and FilmConvert were used for color grading. The soundtrack was assembled in SonicFire Pro by SmartSound. 

The film was mastered in 720p so that the 1080p footage could be moved around the frame to change up the shots and avoid jump cuts.

Bret Robertson

Writer, photographer, storyteller.