I apologize for not getting to this earlier. My old and temperamental DVD player spat out the DVD screener I was sent and the sound was spotty on the Vimeo link. But I decided to watching it online and overlook the Vimeo problems. “Best Kept Secret” should be something everyone knows about. It’s something worth contemplating because surely you know someone with an autistic child or have seen homeless people. “Best Kept Secret” ends its run at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7 tonight, 12 Sept. 2013.
Not all homeless people are drug addicts and drunks. Some may have fallen through the system when the system fails and they fall off a cliff of public consciousness.
The source of the title is the greeting given to people calling JFK High School. JFK is “the best kept secret” and one of those secrets is that “for 40 years, JFK School has offered a public education for students with a range of special needs aged 10-21.”
Janet Mino, the JFK Special Education teacher, is the center of this story. She’s clearly patient teacher. The kind of teacher you hope your children and the children of your favorite people find. She cares and perhaps even cares too much.
The subtitles tell us that the area she works in, Newark, New Jersey, is one with many problems including 1 in 49 people living in autism which is the highest rate in the nation. According to the documentary, “Autism is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.”
Treating autism isn’t easy because “The spectrum of autism is wide and not fully understood.”
Mino teaches a class of six autistic adults and during the filming in 2012 her entire class is graduating. The kids are 21 and will be aging out of the public system and for parents of autistic children this is like “falling off the cliff.”
These children will not be moving on to college and can’t easily apply for a job. The question that haunts every second of frame of Samantha Buck’s documentary: What will happen to these kids when their guardians are gone?
Quran is lucky. Bradley and Doris Key, Quran’s father and mother, confess to the camera that Quran didn’t have a problem. Bradley had the problem. He had to allow Quaran to be who he was and not who Bradley wanted him to be.
Robert is less lucky. His mother is a drug addict and wasn’t properly caring for him. When his aunt Linda Coleman rescued him this tall young man was only 86 lbs. He was eating his flesh, giving him a peculiar smell. Now he’s a healthier 125 lbs.
Erik is sponsored by Maurice and Alyce Barnhardt, seasoned veterans of ten sponsor kids.
Watching these young men, you can understand how it’s almost cruel to consider them adults. They don’t perceive the world as most people do nor do they have the same ability to express themselves.
The agencies that offer places for these three boys aren’t perfect and won’t necessarily provide them with a means to be truly independent. Mino worries that her students will be given endless work without the enrichment of cultural or social activities. But isn’t that what real life is? Socializing beyond the water cooler and coffee break room can lead to socializing after work, but that isn’t likely to happen for these young men.
One of the programs was actually originally founded for senior citizens yet these men are large and still young. They have a physical vitality that needs expression. They are used to people helping them, aiding and conforming to their specific needs, but life outside isn’t like that.
Buck, whose first documentary, the 2009 “21 Below,” was a portrait of a middle-class family from Buffalo, New York. Two of the adult sister are pregnant–one with her first and another with her third. The sister with children already at home has a terminally ill child with a life expectancy of three years. Whereas “21 Below” seems to look at the family as a support system, “Best Kept Secret” looks beyond the family and how our system supports beyond the family when the children are terminally dependent.
According to IMDb, Buck might be better know to us as Susan Harriman from the 2007 TV series “Six Degrees,” or as Detective G. Lynn Bishop from the 2003-2004 season of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” or as Vangie Sundstrom from the 2000 season of “Third Watch.”
With “Best Kept Secret,” Buck takes a hard look at autism in adults. The documentary isn’t preachy and should open up a dialogue about how our health care system and social services deals with autism in all communities.