Autism at the Movies: Fly Away

Unbridled joy! is how Tom (Greg Germann —  Ally McBeal, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, NCIS) describes 16-year-old Mandy  (Ashley Rickards – Awkward, American Horror Story, One Tree Hill) who is severely autistic.    This also aptly describes the powerful, award-winning motion picture Fly Away.  Written, produced and directed by Janet Grillo, the film skillfully and accurately depicts the day-to-day struggles of a single mom trying to raise a severely autistic teenager girl.

…the film skillfully and accurately depicts the day-to-day struggles of a single mom trying to raise a severely autistic teenager girl

Tom has a romantic interest in Mandy’s single mother Jeanne (Beth Broderick —  The CloserCSI:Miami, Lost) whom he meets at the dog park.  He becomes Jeanne’s mirror as she fights against all odds in trying to create some normalcy in her young teen’s life.   Mandy obsesses about airplanes and flying…  Jeanne obsesses about her daughter.  Every night Jeanne must sing, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home…” to help her daughter sleep.  But usually, Mandy wakes up from night terrors screaming hysterically, “Bad Mandy, bad Mandy…” and Jeanne must console her.

Jeanne has to keep Mandy’s life extremely structured with time-consuming charts  to  help keep Mandy from sliding into severe temper tantrums. (One time she threw a desk at a classmate.) Exhausted and feeling hopeless, Jeanne places her own life on the backburner to keep “rescuing” Mandy from herself.  Ironically, Tom  is compelled to rescue Jeanne from herself as she loses her own identity in her daughter.

Ultimately, the budding relationship between Tom and Jeanne fails because of the daily trials that saddle Jeanne’s life.   Also, the stress of constantly taking care of Mandy without a break, has caused Jeanne to lose her job as well as her carefully controlled universe.   Her ex-husband and the principal of Mandy’s current educational placement push Jeanne to place Mandy in a residential school, but Jeanne sees it as “institutionalizing” her daughter and can’t do it.

The movie touches your heart and soul even if you do not have a child on the autistic spectrum.   There are some light-hearted moments  such as the time when Mandy innocently mimics someone in the pizza parlor and says, “Sh–, sh–, sh–!” over and over at the top of her lungs, to the shock of the other customers.

As the trailer suggests, parents of children with autism someday might have to realize “when love means letting go” and allowing their young ones to fly on their own.

Fly Away is available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes and on DVD.

Debra Clark is anchor of the upcoming Autism World News on The Autism Channel.