Wyatt seems more emotionally astute than some of the other kids, yet he was placed in a special-education class in school, which frustrates him. His parents try to hire a lawyer to argue his case for inclusion in normal classes, but exorbitant legal fees end their quest. Wyatt appears to be a victim of bullying in school, but relished the experience when "Coach E" allows him to act like a bully in a Miracle Project exercise. Diane caught us up on how they solved Wyatt's school frustrations and how her son has responded to the film's release.
The New Mainstream
We did end up changing Wyatt's school and he's now at a place called Village Glen which is a school for kids that have special needs, so he's not mainstreaming anymore. There has always been a debate about inclusion, because the kids that are in mainstream know there's a difference, and the kids that have special needs know that there's a difference, so there's never really a seamless kind of inclusion. That was always a conflict with Wyatt. Now he's in a very high functioning group, so he feels like he's the mainstream. The support is built into the curriculum so it's not something that kids look at and say "Oh now he needs to have that extra help." Everyone has that extra help so it's like there's no differences. Are there times when he's frustrated? Absolutely. But we're definitely in a better dynamic for him where he's not so conscious of being the one on the outside always trying to be accepted.
Taking His Act on the Road
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and we were there. I didn't know how Wyatt was going to respond in front of a packed huge theater. And he got up there and became like a stand-up comic: "Who wants to see the movie? I don't hear you! Hello New York!"
At the Mill Valley Film Festival, they screened the movie for a middle school - six, seventh and eighth graders. And that's when Wyatt's differences really became hard in sixth grade. And after the movie when the lights came up and Wyatt was standing in the front of the audience, I could tell that he was nervous that he felt he was going to be judged as he normally is with his peers. Kids are cruel anyway, but when they see differences, they really can go whole hog. Well he says, "Does anyone have any questions?" And the hands went up and for 40 minutes, he fielded questions: "What do you like to do?" "How did it feel to do this? "How much did you have to rehearse?" And finally one kid put his hand up and said, "Do you realize how cool you are?" [CHOKES UP] It just killed me. And he just kind of nodded his head and went, "Yeah." It was so beautiful.
Autism: The Word
Wyatt was like "You know, I don't like the title of the movie." Autism in headlights was kind of off-putting to him. But over time, he can now talk about it. In fact, after that experience in the middle school, one of the teachers was so moved by the movie she asked if he would come talk to her eighth graders - even older than Wyatt. So Wyatt goes into the classroom and he takes the dry marker and writes on the board "autism." And he looked out there and he said, "I want to hear what you guys think autism is." And then he started to write their answers on the board. He said, "Don't be afraid, there's no wrong answer here." They were afraid to say it's a disorder, they didn't want to offend him. But he said, "Don't worry, you're not gonna hurt me, I just want to know what you guys think it is." And it was like he was owning it, and letting it go - it's not like you're stuck with a definition, because autism is so many things. And he was acknowledging that saying, "You know what? You can't say what autism is. I might have autism, it might be an inch of autism where some people have a foot of autism and some people have a mile of autism. Or people have a millimeter of it. It doesn't really have meaning. It's just a word."