Viacom’s Office of Global Inclusion, The Parenthood, SOMOS, and The BEAT partnered to host an inspiring film screening and panel that successfully moved the silence around autism and encouraged the difficult dialogue about what it’s like to parent a special needs child. The audience was treated to a screening of the short film, Colored My Mind, which stars Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker as parents coping with their son’s autism diagnosis. The screening was followed by a panel with the film’s director and BET Sunday Best producer Nia Hill and the film’s cast LaDonna Hughley, Donna Hunter, Tammy McCrary and Shannon Nash. The panel was moderated by actress, author and autism advocate Holly Robinson Peete.
The Colored My Mind title speaks to how children with autism see the world differently and often color the world to their way of seeing. The tear filled narratives of parents LaDonna Hughley, Donna Hunter, Tammy McCrary and Shannon Nash are weaved throughout the film and bring to the forefront the importance of talking about autism especially in communities of color.
Holly Robinson Peete discussed how delayed autism diagnoses are more prevalent in Black and Latino communities because talking about mental health is often discouraged. She spoke to the difficulty she had discussing her son’s diagnosis with her family. “My in-laws I think just three months ago said the word autism… my boy is 15. There is a generational stigma that made it very difficult to start to accept…that can impact the family the marriage and all those things but now that we have the diagnosis and we are moving on and in a proactive way.”
The panelists shared their personal struggles with grief, denial, coping, seeking understanding and finding help in the 1990’s when there were limited resources. Parents today have an advantage with the internet and access to information. The panelists encouraged parents to take advantage of the internet to build support communities and even credited organizations like Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, for increasing awareness. Representatives from Autism Speaks were in the audience and fielded questions about autism’s definition, causes and early signs of developmental disorders.
The panel ended on an inspiring note as each panelist reflected on their favorite parenting moment. LaDonna Hughley recounted that her proudest moment was when her son Kyle graduated college and her husband (comedian D.L. Hughley) received an honorary degree from the school and they shared a stage on graduation day. The Hughley’s experience is unique as many children diagnosed with autism don’t make it to college and parents should know that each autism case is different.
One might be quick to infer that lack of discipline is the reason behind a child screaming in the mall, but it’s important to think about these strong mothers profiled in the film. Consider that screaming child could have sensitivity to lights, colors and crowds, making a trip to the mall physically painful for them. This film will help shift perceptions and remove stigma especially in communities of color. As the audience left carrying signed copies of Holly Robinson Peete’s book My Brother Charlie (a children’s book about a young boy living with autism) – I am optimistic that this important conversation will continue on thanks to the many efforts of those on the panel.