July is Disability Pride Month, and that makes it a great time to release a documentary about a boy with autism from the Philadelphia area who grew up to become a fashion designer.
"Let Me Be Me" tells the story of a mom and dad who found a way to communicate with their young son and help him thrive as an adult.
His name is Kyle Westphal, and I learned a lot from this movie, which is streaming now.
To understand what makes this special, one first should learn about neurodiversity.
The Harvard Medical School states that it is "the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways," and we should honor those differences.
"Let Me Be Me" is a bid for understanding and also a window into the world of those who live with autism.
"It's really a story about family," Westphal said. "It's about acceptance. It's about love. It's about coming together."
Listening to him today makes his long journey seem all the more impressive. The young boy we first see in the film is subdued and disengaged and doesn't make eye contact with anyone.
Westphal describes his autism, in part, as an extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
"Everything feels a little bit more in your face and sensitive in a way," he said.
This would explain some of the childhood behavior that made him feel more calm.
"I used to cover myself in blankets, hide myself underneath blankets, to sort of create my own little world," he said.
It's heartbreaking to watch his family try to connect with him. He kicks and screams, but help came in the form of a program called "Son-Rise."
Whereas older treatments for autism had emphasized behavior modification, Westphal explained this one was very different.
"It wasn't just, 'Oh, we're going to get Kyle to stop this behavior,'" he said. "It was, 'We're going to understand why Kyle is doing this behavior, why this is happening, and we're going to keep trying until we get an answer.'"
It required a special room be built in the Westphal's suburban basement, and volunteers were enlisted to go one on one with Kyle when family members could not.
Results came slowly, but surely.
"One day, he just woke up, and he was like, 'Let's go,'" his mother Jenifer says in the film.
Kyle eventually managed to emerge from the room and blend into daily life.
"It's really becoming comfortable with things being sensitive so they no longer feel that way," he said.
The link between the child who draped himself with blankets and the fashion designer Kyle eventually became is fabric.
He says in the documentary that he, "used to see fabric as a way to hide myself, but now it's become a way for me to show myself."
As the cousin of a man with autism, "Let Me Be Me" was deeply moving to me.
"This is one story about autism," Kyle said.
He hopes the film helps others understand that neurodiversity means there is no right way of thinking, learning, and behaving.