Currently available on HBO NOW and HBO GO, “How to Dance in Ohio” is an endearing feature length documentary chronicling the experiences of a group of teenagers and young adults with autism spectrum disorder in Columbus, Ohio, as they prepare for their first spring formal dance.
Directed and produced by Alexandra Shiva, the film stars numerous young adults but focuses primarily on three young women: Marideth, Caroline, and Jessica and their unique challenges and social triumphs. Shiva takes viewers inside their family homes and notably into their group therapy sessions with Dr. Emilio Amigo of Amigo Family Counseling as they practice a wide range of social skills in preparation for the dance.
Since media and medical research groups tend to center much of their attention on children with autism, “How to Dance in Ohio” is a powerful film from an advocacy standpoint because, as children are known to do, children with developmental disorders eventually grow up. This film shines a light on some of their faces, their families, and the invaluable nature of resources like those at Amigo Family Counseling, which provide services to teens and adults that sadly aren’t available in all areas of the United States.
Beyond age, “How to Dance in Ohio” educates by showing how complex the manifestations of autism are. There is one exchange in the film that I particularly liked when Dr. Amigo is counseling a group of older teenagers and brings up the subject of spectrum diversity:
Dr. Amigo: “You know, there’s a saying that goes something like this, ‘If you meet one person with autism, you’ve only met one person with autism.’ Do we not know it expresses itself in many different ways, right? In many tremendous positive ways, and some other not-so-positive, more challenging ways, right? So, I think the spring formal is gonna be a great chance to be like, ‘Wow, we all share certain challenges, but look how cool it is the way we’re all so different, too.'”
Teenage Boy: “Like multi-colored M&Ms.”
Dr. Amigo: “Yeah. You guys are all like multi-colored M&Ms.”
Whether your life is personally touched by autism or not, “How to Dance in Ohio” is a tender coming-of-age story that will pull at your heart and create greater awareness of the breadth of the disorder that affects so many families in a multitude of ways each day.