Cary Brown is a recent college graduate and full time videographer. Growing up with autism, he challenged himself to overcome many traits associated with his diagnosis. We sat down with Cary recently to discuss his life along with his award-winning autism documentary “Suitcase”. You can watch the full documentary of “Suitcase” below.
So Cary, when were you first diagnosed with Autism?
My parents had known something was different about me from my infancy and had been taking me to doctors for tests since I was 17 months old. But they were always told that I met the standard developmental milestones from that time. Their persistence paid off when I was diagnosed as “high-functioning autistic” at the age of seven. While I cannot remember the day itself, I do remember the time spent with my parents traveling to many different doctors. If you were to ask anyone who knew me in my childhood, they would say the classic signs of Autism fit like a glove.
We were told that I would probably never graduate college, get a job or live independently. As I grew older and matured, I realized that I could push myself into an easier lifestyle by training and retraining myself in everyday situations. With this changed mindset and unending support of my family and teachers, I started excelling in my education and social life.
Before I entered high school in 2005, my doctor decided that I no longer had enough traits to fit the diagnosis of Autism and changed my diagnosis, saying that I had only “minor learning disabilities.” From that time to today, I still battle challenges that are on the spectrum, but with an accomplished goal of exceeding above and beyond others’ expectations of my future. Autism is very much a part of my personal identity and I do not take for granted the gift that God gave me in living with it.
Can you tell us when your interest in film started? How did it come about?
It was early at my high school in the suburbs of Chicago, Wheaton Academy, that I decided I wanted to help people. I fell in love with digital media. I started with photography and graphic design before I moved on to film. I realized I could share others’ stories to inspire and educate people in a global community.
Tell us more about your documentary "Suitcase".
“Suitcase” is a documentary short that I directed my senior year at Huntington University. The idea came to me in 2009 to make a documentary about Autism, but I decided to wait until I had more experience and support to start production. Originally, I thought the story would be about overcoming challenges in my own life, but I thought it best to find another student with a similar story. My family and friends supported me and I found a crew that loved the idea just as much as I did. We located Jacob Luchtenburg, a high school freshman with Asperger's Syndrome who was excelling in his therapy with the National Institute for Learning Development, the same educational therapy program I had used during my high school years.
Through the production of Suitcase, I saw from a third-person perspective the positive influences that the autistic community has on those around them. I believe Dr. Kathleen Hopkins says it best: “Every time a child with a disability is born into the world, the world becomes a better place.” If you believe this too, please watch “Suitcase” in its entirety and share it with your friends so that they may pay it forward also.
As a self-advocate, could you tell us a bit about some of the experiences you've had helping others on the spectrum?
While I obviously developed a friendship with Jacob while we were filming, I find it best to generalize my experiences advocating and encouraging others because no one instance is the same. Anyone really familiar with Autism knows that no two people are at the same place on the spectrum. Every individual was raised in a different community and environment. Their mindsets and even their parents’ mindsets are different, based on their unique exposure to the world. I often run into students who keep their challenges hidden from others. If an individual is open to talking with me in private, I encourage them to tell others about their life experiences and tell them that doing so will only make them grow as a person.
Through my life thus far, I have realized that it is only once someone becomes comfortable with themselves that they can achieve their greatest goals and excel at a higher level through life’s milestones.
What's next on your plate Cary?
After being told I would probably never achieve a higher education and live independently, I graduated from college in May of 2013 with a Bachelors of Science in Digital Media Arts - Film Production from Huntington University in Huntington, IN. I moved to East Tennessee from the Chicago area in October to become a videographer for The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), after previously interning with them during the summer of 2012.
Next year, I will continue traveling internationally to film and report the good news happening around the world. I also hope to have a family some day. While it can still be difficult to find friends that fully understand and embrace my unique personality, I plan to immerse myself in the East Tennessee community in order to continue encouraging and inspiring others to excel in their own lives.
Cary would like to thank his supportive parents and sister, Callie Brown for all the help they have given to him over the years. For more on Cary, you can find him at michaelcarybrown.com. You can also learn more about his documentary at documentaryaboutautism.com.