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Oprah Winfrey Network to re-air “Autism: The Musical” on April 15

The children from "Autism: The Musical." From left: Neal, Adam, Lexi, Henry and Wyatt. Photo by Cindy Gold.

The makers of “Autism: The Musical,” a documentary about a theater program for children with autism, said a screening of the four-year-old film on the Oprah Winfrey Network‘s Super Soul Sunday on April 15 at 11 a.m. Eastern will educate more people about the disorder.

They also hope the film will be an educational tool for social workers who often work with children, teens and adults who are coping with autism spectrum disorder, which affects about 1.15 million Americans.

“It’s really amazing to get a new audience to be able to see what is possible for children with autism,” said Elaine Hall, founder of The Miracle Project, a film and theater program for children with autism.

The Miracle Project, Hall and her adopted son Neal, who has autism, are featured in “Autism: The Musical.” Neal was 11 years old when the film was made in Los Angeles and will soon turn 18, Hall said.

Director Tricia Regan told SocialWorkersSpeak.org that social workers who watch the movie could gain more insight into what families of autistic children experience. OWN is also showing the film in April, which is National Autism Awareness Month.

“Often social workers, teachers, and therapists say thank you so much for making this film because I had no idea what the parents were going through,” said Regan, adding that parents and siblings of people with autism often need nearly as much or as much support as the child.

“What they are going through is not an ordinary experience,” she said.

Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Elaine Hall and her son Neal. Photo by Cindy Gold.

There is no single known cause of autism but the number of cases is growing. The Centers for Disease Control this month released a study that said one in 88 children had autism or a related disorder in 2008, up 78 percent from 2002.

Part of the reason for this increase could be that schools, doctors and other professionals have become better at detecting and diagnosing autism, experts said.

Regan said her film does not delve into what causes autism. What is more important is that autistic children have value and can contribute to society, she said.

Regan is considering doing another documentary to find follow the progress of the five children in the original movie into young adulthood.

“We wanted to make a film that acknowledges these kids are here and they are deserving not only of our love but also our attention,” Regan said. “It’s an incredible journey to behold. The five children in the film are pretty amazing and so are their parents.”

To learn more about how social workers help people overcome mental disabilitiesvisit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Mind and Spirit web site by clicking here. Social worker William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, also wrote about Aspergers, a variant of autism, on HelpStartsHere.org. To read that Q&A, click here.

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