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Please Stand By: A True Poetic Love Letter for the Autism Community

By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless Its Cake" - Blog Series Vol. 3, Slice #8

When it comes to autism representation in the media, I’ve realized that I’ve done more to talk about the negative than the positive. Last year, I wrote a six-page blog post ranting about Sia’s Movie Music and this year I wrote a bigger mouthful than I can chew blog post ranting about Alex Oates’s Play All in A Row. Not that this is a bad thing, we need to call out bad representation when we see it and hold it accountable for the negative harm that it does to our community. However, we also need to do more to give shoutouts to movies in media that do give a positive re- presentation to the autism community. I would like to do that by talking about a film that in my opinion is a positive representation for the autism community, and I also believe that it is an empowering true love letter for the autism community.

Promotional Photo for "Please Stand By"Magnolia/2929

That movie is called Please Stand By. Please Stand By is a movie that was made in 2017 starring Dakota Fanning, and the story is about a young autistic woman name Wendy who runs away from her group home facility to embark on this coming-of-age road trip adventure to submit a script on time for a Star Trek writing competition. Please Stand By is my favorite autism movie, and last year I wrote a bit about the movie in my blog post about Sia’s movie, where I mention how the movie has the autistic character written to only represent herself and is not a symbolic representation of the community. Like this, my blog post for this month is going to be about how Please Stand By resonates with me and empowers me as an autistic individual and therefore is not only a positive representation for the autism community but is also (in my opinion) a true poetic love letter to the autism community.

For starters, Wendy is autistic and lives in a group home facility with her caregiver Scottie. In the beginning of the movie, Wendy makes it clear that she wants to go home to live with her sister Audrey, her baby niece, and her brother-in-law, and while Audrey wants Wendy to come home, she underestimates her sister’s capabilities of being able to take care of herself or another person by insisting that she stays in the group home due to the complications that come with her being autistic. This is evidently shown through a clip of Audrey watching home videos of herself and Wendy as children where Audrey is trying to teach Wendy about silverware which ends in Wendy having a meltdown and Audrey is unable to do anything about it. Another piece of evidence is when Audrey shows up to the group home to visit Scottie and the first thing, she does is express her fear of Wendy’s well being to Scottie when she states, “Thank you for working with Wendy. I know how difficult she can be. To tell you the truth, I'm scared.” To ease Audrey’s fears and prove her wrong, Wendy tells her about the Star Trek scriptwriting contest that she’s entered. She explains what being in the contest and winning it will mean for her when she states, “Today is the last day to send it in, but I didn't want to send it in until it was absolutely ready. So, I double-checked and triple-checked, and quadruple-checked, and it's ready to go to the post office now. So, if we mail it, it'll get there right on time. It's ready to go. So, we can go to the post office and then I can go home with you. Wendy, we talked about this. After I win, I'll have $100,000, and you won't have to take care of me anymore, and you won't have to sell Mom's house. Audrey tries to politely dismiss her request when she stated, “But I don't want to take you out of here when you're doing so good. It's not that I don't want to, it's that it's not a good time.” Wendy keeps trying to persuade Audrey that she can help herself as well as take care of her and Ruby, but Audrey keeps underestimating her by saying she can’t take care of a baby or herself. When Audrey tries to tell Wendy that the group home is where she needs to be, Wendy has a meltdown right in front of her which causes Audrey to leave the facility in tears and is reinforced by the situation to believe that Wendy is not capable of taking care of herself or another person due to her complications that come with being autistic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a complicated history in school when it came to learning math. I remember having so many difficulties with it, that I repeated the second grade and went to summer school. I remember when it came to people helping me one on one with math, I would often struggle to understand what they were saying. They would say things repeatedly, but no matter how many times they explained it, my brain was just not clicking. I wasn’t understanding the material right away, and this caused me to experience some traumatizing moments of being yelled at and having people frustrated with me because I wasn’t making it easier for them by understanding the math material. The reason I say that this traumatizes me is because of how insecure it made me feel about myself. I felt like I was stupid and dumb, and the fact that I repeated a grade and went to summer school didn’t make me feel better. I just didn’t know why I was struggling so much with math or how to fix it, and when I first transferred to Joseph Pennell Elementary School and was struggling so much with math to the point where not only did I have an F for it, but it was also starting to look like I wasn’t going to graduate with my 2009 class, it was really starting to scare me about where my future was going to go with school and everything else. My mom was especially worried about what my future was going to look like in terms of school and with math, but with the help of my sixth-grade teacher Ms. Bailer she was able to have me signed up for the Individualized Education Program (IEP) in which I was able to get case managers and help with math that did allow me to do better in sixth grade and beyond. More importantly, years later in the summer of 2017, I came across my Psychoeducational Evaluation Confidential Report that listed my autistic traits that allowed me to self-discover myself as autistic, and through research about autism I was able to realize that the reason why I always struggled with math is because my brain takes a while to process information, which is common for some autistic people. Then when I started Community College of Philadelphia, my mom used to think that she would be going to college with me because she underestimated my capabilities and thought that I would need help from her so much for everything and that I would be dependent on her in terms of work.

Referring to the movie, Wendy decides to take matters into her own hands when she decides to run away to Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles to submit her script on time for the Star Trek writing contest. Throughout the movie, Scottie, her son, and Audrey go on a wild goose chase trying to find Wendy, but towards the end of the movie Scottie and Audrey have a very important conversation about Wendy. When Audrey is worrying about Wendy’s safety, Scottie tells Audrey what a capable person Wendy truly is and that she’s improved so much overtime when she states, “She's a very resourceful girl. To tell you the truth, I'm kind of impressed. She used to be afraid of everything.” Then Audrey responds with the most important quote of the movie, that sums up the purpose of this blog in a nutshell when she states, “Maybe I underestimated her.” Finally, later in the movie, Wendy is finally reunited with Audrey, Scottie, and her son and Wendy was able to submit her script on time. Then Wendy and Audrey have a conversation with one another that is the most important conversation in the movie, that also represents the purpose of this blog post in a nutshell. Audrey expresses to Wendy how proud she is of her for what she accomplished when she states, “I'm so proud of you. You turned in that script all by yourself. You said you wanted to show them... and you did.” Wendy responded back by explaining what her true mission was in entering the writing contest in the first place when she states, “But I wanted to show you.” In the end, Wendy didn’t win the contest, but she won something more valuable than money: she proved people wrong and was able to finally show people what she was truly capable of. I highlighted the term underestimated for a reason, because for many autistic people that’s exactly how we are viewed and treated by our peers, family members, and society. We are often underestimated about what we can and can’t do for ourselves and other people, simply because we’re autistic. In the end, when we work hard enough, we end proving everybody wrong and show them that we’re truly capable of anything. After I started college, I had my moments of struggling to get by with math (and some other subjects) when it came to understanding the material because my autistic brain struggles to process information, so it takes a while for me to understand the material. However, in the end I was able to persevere, work hard, and pass all my classes (and other classes) without needing my mom’s help and my mom has said moreover how proud she is of me for being able to do so well in school on my own and that this proves how I’m very capable of being a successful independent worker for my career in journalism. On my own, I even won a writing contest this year that I didn’t even know I was competing in. It was the 2022 Keystone Media Awards which is a contest that recognizes high school and college student journalists that provides relevancy, integrity, and is also initiative in serving readers. In terms of participation, students from any public, private or parochial Pennsylvania high school, college or university who’s had their material published in the school newspaper can enter the contest.

Students who’ve also had their work published on a digital news site can enter the contest as well. The day after my birthday, I received a phone call from Ms. Blackwell informing me that I won first place for the category of Ongoing News Coverage, and for me it was my ongoing news coverage about people’s attitudes around the COVID-19 Vaccine. Next month in April, I did a phone interview and was interviewed by fellow Student Vanguard Journalist Angie Bacha about my award, being a writer for the Student Vanguard, and being a blogger for the Verge of Independence Project: Multimedia Autism Advocacy Organization. If you would like to read the full interview, please go to the homepage of the website, and immediately you’ll see a newspaper article from the Student Vanguard that is titled, Vanguard Writer Wins Award and Addresses Autism Awareness Month. Just click on the newspaper, and it will take you to another website where you’ll be able to read the full article up close.

In conclusion, Please Stand By (in my opinion) is a positive representation for the autism community because it teaches people not to underestimate what autistic people can do. It’s a true poetic love letter for the autism community because it encourages autistic people to not underestimate themselves and believe that they can do anything that neurotypical can do as well. This movie is a positive representation and love letter to me as an autistic individual because it’s a mirror reflection of how far I’ve come, and even though I still have a long journey left to go I’m capable of tackling through many challenges that come my way. So, I hope this blog gave you something positive to think about in terms of autism media representation done well, and I hope this encourages you to not only watch and support this movie, but also look at other positive autism movies that empowers you to believe that you can do anything you set your mind to as well. Thank you.

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