Swim Team – Autism Movie

Swim Team – Autism Movie

by Gina P. Woodruff

Back in January, Art Spark Texas and The League of Ordinary Weirdos hosted a screening of the film Give Me Liberty at Alamo Meuller. Remember when we could gather in one place and watch a movie together IRL (in real life)? The Art Spark team enjoyed spending a Sunday afternoon with friends and wanted to make Sunday movies an ongoing program. Then the world changed and some of us have watched more movies at home alone during our shelter in place mandate than ever before.

We want to continue sharing and watching movies together so our team has been sharing recommendations with each other about films -with and/or about people with disabilities and is working on a list of movies we can feature for Art Spark “Netflix parties”. We’ll have more on how to join our Netflix parties later this month.

One of the movies our Director of Outreach, Susan Slattery, sent me during Autism Awareness Month is the documentary “Swim Team” by Laura Stolman. Swim Team (run time 100min) is an award-winning documentary film, released in 2016 about a competitive swim team, the Jersey Hammerheads, from Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Director and producer Laura Stolman describes it as a film about coping with challenges and trying to stay positive, and not give up in the face of adversity. And more specifically, the film is about parenting and not giving up on your kids.

Swim Team Trailer

Director and producer, Laura Stolman began filming in 2014 and followed three young men and their families as they trained and competed in three major swim meets. She found the Jersey Hammerheads swim team while searching for swimming instruction for her autistic son. Jersey Hammerheads coach Michael McQuay and his wife Maria started the swim team to provide their son Mike with competitive opportunities, socialization, and a place to set higher expectations than doctors gave him at 4 years old. Doctors at that time had proclaimed that Mike would never talk or be self-sufficient.

The film starts with each teen swimming effortlessly across the Raritas Bay Area YMCA pool alone with a narration of what swimming means to them. Their words reveal their difficulties in communication and their knowledge of autism. Michael McQuay, Jr. identifies as autistic and understands how important swimming is to him. Robert Justino knows what he wants and what he has to do to win but at the beginning of the movie doesn’t identify with his disability. Kelvin Truon struggles with controlling verbal and physical outbursts. Stolman also does a great job honestly and compassionately capturing the parents’ hopes and struggles for their children as their children “age out” of services after high school.

The film ends with a look at a year after the 2014 swim competitions and how the boys are managing outside of high school. Six of the seventeen Jersey Hammerhead swimmers went on to swim alongside typical peers on YMCA, high school and elite swim teams.

Watching this movie, I’m reminded of the Art Spark mission to create inclusive programming for people with and without disabilities. We strive to create a safe space for people to come together, practice their craft, gain confidence and support. This confidence and knowledge encourages sharing their craft with a larger community.

About Swim Team

Official movie website

What would you do if your community gave up on your child?

In New Jersey, the parents of a boy on the autism spectrum take matters into their own hands. They form a competitive swim team, recruiting diverse teens on the spectrum and training them with high expectations and zero pity.

Swim Team chronicles the extraordinary rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, capturing a moving quest for inclusion, independence and a life that feels winning.

Swim Team has screened at over 50 international film festivals, won 14 awards, was released theatrically with its debut at New York’s IFC Center, was broadcast on PBS’ acclaimed nonfiction showcase POV and streamed on Netflix. It is available to rent from Amazon Prime for $1.99.

Credits: Director and Producer: Lara Stolman; Co-Producer: Ann Collins; Producer: Shanna Belott; Director of Photography: Laela Kilbourn; Composer: Mark Suozzo.

For Parents

Common Sense Media recommends the movie for ages 11+:

  • positive messaged 5 /5
  • Positive Role Models & Representations 5 /5
  • Violence 1/ 5
  • Sex 1 / 5
  • Language 4 /5
  • Drinking-Drugs-Smoking (none)
  • Consumerism (none)
Support Swim Team

Please consider buying or renting this movie and supporting films with and about people with disabilities. Follow Swim Team on Facebook. Watch the movie:

About the Filmmaker

Watch / Listen to Laura Stolman talk about the film:

Keep in Touch

Comment below and let us know what you think of the Swim Team or other movies you’ve enjoyed watching this month.

Gina P. Woodruff
Art Spark Texas
[email protected]

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