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Vancouver-produced film breaks boundaries, sheds light on family life with autism

Click to play video: 'Vancouver produced film looks at autism impact on families'
Vancouver produced film looks at autism impact on families
Ahead of World Autism Day on Sunday, a Vancouver produced feature film is set to hit theatres, showing the impact autism can have on families. And as Jennifer Palma reports, it losely follows the life story of the film's producer, writer and director – Mar 29, 2023

A new coming-of-age film produced in Vancouver is shedding light on the complexities of family relationships and life with autism.

When Time Got Louder opened in select Canadian theatres on Friday, ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. It’s the story of a college-bound woman exploring her independence and sexuality, leaving behind her family and non-verbal brother living with autism.

The film is inspired by the life of its writer and director Connie Cocchia, who is queer, and has a brother who is on the autism spectrum.

“I felt this was a great opportunity for me to come out and actually show this side of myself that I’ve had buried for so long,” the Vancouver filmmaker told Global News.

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“For me, it was always really important to create content that showed, you know, our experiences in these communities and how autism impacts not just the individual but the whole family.”

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According to Statistics Canada data from 2018, 1 in 66 children and youth are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Canada.

Autism Canada describes ASD as a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development, often contributing to communication problems, difficulty with social interactions, and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. It’s often accompanied by other medical conditions such as epilepsy, sleep disorders or gastrointestinal problems.

Anxiety and depression are common, Autism Canada adds. The severity and symptoms of ASD, however, vary from person to person and so do the ways it impacts quality of life.

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The film focuses on the relationship between sister Abbie and brother Kayden. While the events of the film are fictitious, their bond is inspired by that of Cocchia and her own brother.

“It was really important in this film to highlight the beauty of this relationship, and of course, the really important role that these siblings play in their neurodivergent sibling’s life,” Cocchia explained.

“They’re often their sibling’s best friend.”

Both her brother and Kayden, she added, defy “common stereotypes” about autistic people with their friendly, outgoing and physically affectionate nature.

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Abbie, is played by Willow Shields of The Hunger Games film franchise, while Kayden, is played by Burnaby, B.C. actor Jonathan Simao. Cocchia said she wanted the film to be as authentic as possible, so she cast a queer actress and an actor with autism as leads.

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Simao said the film breaks another boundary surrounding people with autism in film, by not showcasing Kayden as either a savant, or someone who can’t function independently.

“Usually when individuals with autism are portrayed in any form of media, it’s usually people who are gifted and have a certain form of intelligence that is perceived as beyond neurotypical, or it’s on the opposite side of the spectrum and they need a bit of extra help,” Simao explained.

“We do see Kayden as an individual who needs some extra support, but it’s not necessarily that he’s not able to function. He is able to live his life normally as any individual would, it’s just his experience to his world around him is hyperbolized and overstimulating to him.”

The actor said When Time Got Louder will shed “new light” on the diversity of experiences of people with autism, and show it’s “nothing to be scared of” or “ashamed of.”

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Simao said the role was a boon for him, after having kept “quiet” in the industry about his own autism for years.

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“I actually felt very relieved when I got the opportunity to play this character, or find this character within myself, because I felt there were a lot of things I could relate to and understand from his perspective, and was given permission to do,” he told Global News.

When Time Got Louder debuted at the Vancouver International Film Festival last year. It will be available on-demand by the end of April.

With files from Jennifer Palma

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