Sophie and Ben
Sophie Sartain, director of the Independent Lens documentary Mimi and Dona, which explores the trials of parenting and care through the story of her aunt and grandmother, brings us this short film about her relationship with her son Ben, who was diagnosed with autism. Unlike Dona, Ben is fortunate to live in a time where there is a better understanding of autism and Asperger's.
And now the short film, "Sophie and Ben".
Brought to you by the Director of "Mimi and Dona".
Hi. I'm Sophie Sartain,
and I'm the director of "Mimi and Dona".
Sophie, voice-over: This is my grandmother's house
where I spent weekends growing up.
Sophie: Hey, Dona.
Sophie, voice-over: And this is my Aunt Dona
4, 5, 6.
Dona has an intellectual disability.
8, 9, 10, 11..
and probably some undiagnosed autism.
At age 64, Dona still lives at home with my grandmother Mimi.
Mimi is 92 and going strong.
I started filming "Mimi and Dona" in 2009,
when it seemed obvious that their life together
would not continue like that forever.
My grandmother at the time was 92,
and she had, finally, after decades of resistance,
admitted that she couldn't take care of my Aunt Dona any longer.
I love you, and they want you to stay awhile.
No. No. They just want--
They want you to stay awhile
[Man speaking indistinctly
Oh, this is hard.
I know it is, now.
I don't think I can-- Here. Ye
I'll just take her back hom
I had grown up with my grandmother Mimi
and my Aunt Dona,
um, and I had seen my grandmother
take care of my Aunt Dona for--for decades
I mean, just being this wonderful, loving presence
to my aunt my whole life.
And while I admired that so much
it made me think about myself
and, wow, could I be like that, could I live up to that
And I thought, "I can't. I can't do it.
You know, I'm not that good
I'm not that unselfish
Um, you know, how could I measure up to Mimi?
You wanna do..
Sophie, voice-over: It was during filming
that I started to fear my own son Ben might have autism
And I wondered if I was beginning a journey
that Mimi had just ended
'Cause it's a bigger picture
Sophie: Who's that? Who's that?
Ben: Aunt Dona
Sophie: That's right. Aunt Dona.
In my case, um, I have a family history
of people with autism
and--so I was nervous from the time I knew
I was having a boy, even, and when I was pregnant
that this could be a possibility
Sophie, voice-over: We had a meeting with therapists
who had been evaluating my son Ben.
Woman: So, what did you think about what they said?
Sophie, voice-over: They confirmed
he's on the autism spectrum
[Crying] It's just not what I wanted to hear.
Sophie, voice-over: Well, my partner and I first got
the diagnosis for my son when he was about 4 years old
I have to say, it was scary.
I was fearful
Woman: He's gonna be okay
[Sophie speaking indistinctly]
Hey, let's go on those things.
You have these-- you know, you have kids
and you have these expectations
of what your life's gonna be like,
um, how it's gonna unfold,
um, you know, 18 years down the road.
They'll go to college, things like that
And then when you hear some-- a diagnosis like that,
it kind of throws all that out the window.
and--and you really...
you don't know what your future's gonna look like.
Oh, look! There's a baby! Look!
Look. There's like a little baby right there
See that? What is that?
It's a little one. See that?
Ooh, that's a baby
Oh, don't step on it!
Yeah, I'm giving it some shade.
OK, shade is good
But don't step on it.
Crushing is not good
Sophie: Pretty quickly, I got past that
and realized that these family members of mine
my grandmother, my mother, could be role models for me.
I think of my grandmother as a her
I think she showed Dona such love for decades,
and gave her a really good life.
And to me, that is so inspirational
The great thing about our situation with Ben,
is that he is a wonderful elementary school now
and he is able to access services
that my Aunt Dona was not able to access
when she was a child in the 1950s.
She was actually asked to leave the public school system
in second grade because they couldn't accommodate her.
And my son actually entered the public school system
in second grade
And so, we started talking with him about autism
from probably when he was in first or second grade
for him to sort of understand that his brain works differently
from the brains of other kids.
And he's been open and receptive
to understand how he's different.
All right, Benji, let me talk to mommy
for a couple of seconds
and then we're gonna play together,
just you and I
OK, see the camera there
Look in the, like, very center of it.
I have Asperger Syndrome
a higher degree of autism
And what separates me is, well
it's an entire spectrum.
So, I guess.
increased intellectual capabilities
decr--decreased social abilities
And, as you know, with autism comes obsessions
and I am basically just a super nerd.
Sophie: He's an amazing kid and has an incredible memory.
You know, if he starts talking about his obsessions,
you can just be blown away
by the kind of things that he can come up with
You know, I'm the type of person who was raised in the South,
you know, always feeling like I have to say the right thing
um, don't ever want to offend anyone.
Well, guess what, my son will just--ha
He'll say anything.
Oh, Ruby-- she's my twin sister
We both came out of the same incision in my mom's womb.
[Chuckling] Yes. That's true.
Sophie: And sometimes, I--you know, just have to, you know
cover--cover my-- cover my eyes and say
"Oh, gosh. What did he just say?"
AKA a C-sec-- the same C section
Sophie: So, you know, it can be hard,
but at the same time, it's kind of refreshing.
Um, he's very honest. He's very funny.
He's very clever.
And so, sometimes we would say, you know, "Yes, Ben,
"your autism-- it gives you challenges
but it also gives you super powers".
You know, you could see his-
you know, him kind of stand up a little straighter.
when he kind of thinks, "Oh, OK. I can go with that".
Ha! So, we've had some good open conversation
about his situation
and he, himself, is pretty articulate talking about it
I made a space-- I made a rocket
to go to different areas
of the universe in this game.
Ben: Once I reach adulthood,
I think that the perfect occupation
would be game designer
I mean, because videogames are the new movies
so, I honestly have to say that I would be designing--
I just want--I feel like my purpose in life
is to design great games that people can enjoy.
Woman: It's a pretty nice day. It's not...
Sophie: Ben has 2 sisters, and they're wonderful with him.
And, um, you know, challenging at times
with the siblings, obviously.
Girl: I call.
Ben: I call it
No! Ben, stop it!
Mine. I'm bigger than you.
Sophie: You want to have the same kind of expectations
of all your kids for behavior,
helping out around the house, but then there are times
when you also have to be sensitive to...
these are different individuals
and does Ben get a pass sometimes or not.
Um, these are sort of daily dilemmas that we have, um,
and that we have to navigate with all 3 children, um,
Girl: Well, really, he's just like
your average annoying brother,
but he's just a different kind of annoying.
But he's just my brother,
and I spend a lot of time with him, of course,
because he's my twin.
Oh, Ben is very gentlemanly,
and he always holds the door open for us.
And, like, he's very sweet and considerate
most of the time,
even though he can be a little irritating sometimes.
Irritating, just as in, like, sibling irritating.
Like, I don't think of him any differently
than I think of Ruby.
[Ben speaking indistinctly]
[Ben speakin on the rocks]
See it? It's right there.
There it is.
I think it has made me a lot more considerate
as a person and understanding,
because I've kind of learned from Ben, like,
not to judge people as much by their actions
because it might not be in their control.
Ruby: I think it's also made me more open-minded,
and it just helps me to get along with people.
Sophie: You know, what Mimi taught me
was just this, unconditional lovee
that she's had for Dona for decades.
And, you know, for Dona we make these great advances
in--in our understanding of the brain
and in our understanding of behavior
but yet just to show that kind of love
is--is just so timeless and universal.
And that will never change,
And for me, Mimi will always be my hero
because she really demonstrated that to me.
Differences are what makes us human.
I mean, imagine if we were all the exact same person.
The world would be a boring place!
And now since-- and since we have differences,
that makes the--
that makes the world an entertaining--e--
that makes the world that makes the world unique.
And I feel like autism and Asperger Syndrome
are just a difference,
where your brain is just built a different way, and...
it's completely fine.....
because it's what makes us human.
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