On Oct. 18, numerous students from the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst made their big-screen debut alongside President Michael T. Victor and AIM Director Bradley McGarry in the college premiere of “This Business of Autism.” The documentary film is an exploration of how meaningful employment of people with autism has benefits for both autistic individuals and society at large.
The red carpet was rolled out for the featured AIM students who enjoyed an invitation-only reception with the producer, Stephen Mackey of Mesh Omnimedia, and received rewards prior to watching the film.
“We really want them to feel like movie stars,” McGarry, said.
“This Business of Autism” focuses on the economic and social benefits of employed autistic young adults, and the effect they have on businesses and institutions. Mercyhurst’s AIM program is featured as an example of how autistic students can be aided in their search for employment and a college education which prepares them for the real world.
The AIM program was first approached with the opportunity to be featured while at a Bay Area Job Club Meeting in San Francisco, California. The production crew met with AIM staff members and decided to accompany the group on a trip to New York City where they engaged in a vocational exposure experience.
“This trip was all about helping these students to become productive parts of society and not living off the system,” McGarry said. “Our program gives them access to live independent lives.”
By the conclusion of filming, 14 students and six AIM staff members were featured in the film through interviews, video and pictures.
Senior Norm Mingolelli was one of the students who was featured with in-depth interviews.
“The producer filmed some of us meeting with the executives, and some students, myself included, also chose to do one-on-one interviews with the crew,” Mingolelli said.
Since its completion, the documentary has been showcased at numerous film festivals and two world premieres. It was recently shown at festivals in Long Island and northern Virginia and can also be found on Amazon Prime and Vimeo.
“This film is really for everyone,” McGarry said. “It’s meant for businesses to hire autistic folks, explain the benefits of having them in certain roles and for families in the disability community to see that there is hope. Now is a good time in history to be raising a child with autism.”
Sophomore Political Science major Benjamin VanHook commended the film for highlighting the benefits of autism and debunking some popular myths.
“I fully believe that neurotypical people must learn about the autistic world, just as we must learn about theirs,” VanHook said. “If we can understand each other and learn about each other, I have every confidence that an easier transition to the workplace will commence.”
Mingolelli shared similar sentiments. “Those who watch the film may not be familiar with autism, but viewers get an insight into how individuals with autism function daily and interact with others,” Mingolelli said. “People should learn that folks with ASD add a unique type of diversity to society.”
The documentary has been very well received both in general and specifically by the Mercyhurst community. It is hoped that its impact will allow initiatives like our AIM program to spread and be recognized beyond the gates, particularly as our program can only accommodate 60 AIM students each year.
While the focus is certainly on employment, McGarry believes that the film achieved its main purpose if it promotes understanding and hope. “If we’ve done that, then it makes it all worth it,” McGarry said.