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Film starring Elgin Park grad receives theatrical release during World Autism Month

A new, award-winning movie about life struggles with autism, featuring Elgin Park Secondary graduate Jonathan Simao, has made its way from film festivals to theatres, opening this week on the silver screen.

Simao stars as Kayden, the non-verbal brother of lead character Abbie (Willow Shields) in When Time Got Louder, a coming-of-age drama that captures the challenges of life as a teenager with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and aims to accurately portray neurodiversity in film. The theatrical release coincides with the start of World Autism Month, with the cast and crew hoping the film will help bring greater awareness to issues faced by those on the spectrum as well as their loved ones.

For Simao, who is on the spectrum, the opportunity to play a character with autism allowed him to fully portray himself onscreen and embrace his autism while gaining an understanding of how non-verbal people with autism see and experience the world.

“I actually found it a lot easier to play than some other characters I’ve portrayed over the years because I understood it on a deeper level,” he said. “A lot of the behaviours that some people on the spectrum have… I’ve had to hide those in my life. So it was very relieving to be able to go back into those and be able to embrace them in a character.”

In her director’s statement, writer and producer Connie Cocchia said she was passionate about casting the role of Kayden authentically with an actor on the autism spectrum.

“As a sister to a 28-year-old non-verbal brother who lives with autism, I have always had the desire to create honest and authentic autism-based content for film and television that enlightens our society on the profound effects autism has on an individual and their family,” she said.

Screened last October at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the film was part of the official selection for festivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Montreal, Atlanta, Santa Fe and Seattle, and won Best First-Feature Director at the LA Independent Women Film Awards.

Simao echoed the importance of accurate representation of people with autism in film and television, noting it’s necessary in order to improve the general public’s understanding of ASD.

“There’s a lot of stigma around people who are on the spectrum, mostly focusing on the aspect where they’re hypersensitive, they can’t communicate and it’s overwhelming for everybody,” he said. “That’s just one specific person’s reaction, and it’s all people think it is – they put a label on it.

“It’s important to show that people who are on the spectrum are not so different than neurotypicals.”

Simao said he hopes anyone with autism who watches When Time Got Louder takes away a significant message of personal acceptance and compassion.

“I want them to know they’re not alone and that you don’t have to be ashamed of who you are,” he said. “You don’t have to have that hold you back. Be proud of it. You have stronger sense of empathy, you’re able to understand people on a deeper level than most.

“It’s not something that will bring you down, it’s something that, I believe, will build you up.”

When Time Got Louder is in theatres now and screening at Fifth Avenue Cinemas (2110 Burrard St., Vancouver). Check your local listings for showtimes.

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