What Makes 'A Boy Called Po' so Important for the Autism Acceptance Movement


Every child, every family situation and every parent is different but we can connect to autism through authentic stories like the indie filmA Boy Called Po.” Inspired by one family’s journey with autism, we get a glimpse into the life of Po, an autistic boy, and his father.

In 2016, the film made its debut at several film festivals, winning “Best” Feature Film, Actor and Original Song awards along the way. It’s not surprising because the movie has such heart.

The plotline covers issues we can all relate to — bullying, emotional trauma, the complexity of relationships — and those unique to so many parents of children on the spectrum — lack of insurance, unsympathetic employers, and schools ill-equipped to handle the gifted-but-different child.

So much in the story rings true because so many involved — the writer, director, actors — have loved ones on the autism spectrum.

I asked the film’s lead actors to activate their voices as a part of our #Activate4Autism movement and
share how the film helps to spread the message of acceptance and inclusion:

When you know better, you do better or “Don’t be afraid, daddy.”

Po’s father is not only dealing with the loss of his wife, but now he has to be Po’s primary advocate and nurturer. He’s doing the best he can but he doesn’t always make the right decisions. Throughout the film, Po tells him not to be afraid and we witness his father’s growth when he stops fearing his parenting, life decisions and, ultimately his son.

For those of us who are parents to children on the autism spectrum, we need to remind ourselves of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” If we trust our instincts and make decisions out of love, not fear, our children will thrive.

People on the spectrum face playground, stereotype and institutional bullying.

In the film, Po is a victim of a bully at school, an intolerant student who uses every opportunity to verbally and physically harass Po for being different. But what’s more insidious is the stereotypical and institutional bullying Po encounters — from people who call him the R-word to the systems that fail him.

Actor Christopher Gorham (“Ugly Betty,” “Covert Affairs”) plays Po’s dad who fights for the rights of
his son. I asked him to speak out against this kind of bullying for our #Activate4Autism movement. Here’s what he had to say:

Every child has something special to offer.

Julian Feder does a brilliant job of playing Po, a boy who has a rich and imaginative inner world when the outside world, including his father, struggle to understand him. I loved these scenes because they reminded me so much of my son lost in his own world, pacing around the room and happily stimming. When I would ask, “Hey buddy, what are you doing?” He’d reply: “I’m just doing my episodes.” I
imagined, like Po, he was going on great adventures with pirates and knights.

Today, my son calls his inner world his “mind palace,” a term he heard BBC’s Sherlock use and connected with. He describes the safety and solace he finds in his mind palace when he’s anxious or needs to escape the noisy, chaotic real world.

Julian grew to have a deeper understanding of autism through his experience as Po. He’s part of a new generation who wants to be more inclusive:

The “system” can’t really handle people outside the “ordinary.”

In one scene, Po’s father (Gorham) says to the school principal: “You mainstream kids but the fact is you can’t really handle kids outside the ordinary… Po is a smart boy. He can run circles around most of these kids. He just does it in his own way.”

The workplace, educational systems and the insurance industry have not caught up with what we know about autism today. They were not set up for anyone outside the norm.

For so many families, these institutions are barriers we must knock down so our loved ones on the spectrum have the same rights as everyone else. Let’s use “A Boy Called Po” as an important resource in our tool kit to advocate for change.

Discover more about #Activate4Autism.

A Boy Called Po is available on demand everywhere including iTunes and Amazon.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Britany.

When People Make Assumptions About My Autism Functioning Level

I was failed by the system because I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until between 19 and 20. People assume that means I’m super high functioning. It’s hard living life when people assume you’re one functioning level, but your reality is something completely different. I don’t meet the stereotype of someone with moderate to severe autism, [...]

Making It Through Halloween With a Child on the Autism Spectrum

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, I couldn’t wait to stay up late and go out in the dark to see all the spooky costumes and the excitement that filled the cold, winter streets. Groups of friends going door to door trick or treating while others are lurking around ready to [...]
Man looking at a globe through a magnifying glass.

How Asperger's Changed the Lens Through Which I View My Life

I have never felt like I belonged in this species. I resembled a human, and I could force myself to awkwardly ape the basic mannerisms of people, but I would always suspect there was something alien about me, and that everyone else suspected (or knew) the same thing. A lot of this alienation is in [...]
Kana with her conference presentation poster on the topic of Asperger's and horses.

What It Was Like to Grow Up in Japan With Undiagnosed Autism

My name is Kana. I’m 22 years old and recently completed a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. I am also autistic and this is the story of my life growing up with Asperger’s syndrome. I have a passion, obsession and strong interest in Asperger’s, which comes from my recent diagnosis. The picture is from this [...]