Some Ann Arbor Public Schools families and staff members shared laughs and a few tears last week watching the movie Swim Team at Pioneer High School. The AAPS Office of Special Education hosted the screening of the movie about a team of competitive swimmers that have autism. The screen took place as we recognize April as Autism Acceptance Month.
Director and producer of the movie, Lara Stolman was also on hand for a discussion after the screening. Stolman says she created the film because she wanted to share some of the inspiration that she felt witnessing the team coming together and ultimately having success at the New Jersey Special Olympics.
Stolman says she was looking for a swim coach for her son who is on the spectrum, when the coach that is highlighted in her film stood out to her when he said the team would dominate the competition. She says it’s uncommon for parents of students with autism to hear this type of language used about what their kids can do. “It’s easy to give up, especially in the face of a lot doctors, teachers, etcetera, defining your child by their limitations, instead of what they’re capable of, but coach Mike was always about what they are capable of, and his expectations were so high,” Stolman says.
While the film has inspirational highs, it also clearly showed some of the challenges students with autism and their families face, particularly as they age out of school-based programs. Stolman says, at least in New Jersey where she lives and the film is set, there is still too much segregation of students with autism.
Executive Director of Special Education Marianne Fidishin says her department looks forward to sharing other events like this movie screening to inspire and support families of students with special needs. “Acknowledgement that the day to day that they experience is being shown and presented by experiencing other parents as well,” Fidishin says. She adds the film shares important messages, “Acceptance, belonging, inclusion for our students, as well as making sure that there are high expectations for the students.”
Fidishin hopes to share the film with teachers across the district.
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