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Matt and Ed Asner on their autistic sons and the AutFest Film Festival

Ed and Matt Asner at the Oscars
Ed and Matt Asner at the Oscars
Courtesy Matt and Ed Asner

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Off-Ramp host John Rabe talks with actor Ed Asner and his son Matt Asner about their sons who have autism, and about the AutFest International Film Festival.  Tickets are on sale now for the festival, held at the AMC Orange 30 on April 22 and 23. The fest includes awards for actor and filmmaker Ben Affleck and Pixar animators Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera.

"The treacherous thing about autism is that you show one view of autism and you are going to piss off a lot of other people. You are not showing their view of autism; you are showing one person’s view of autism or one element of autism." -- Matt Asner

You know the basics about Ed Asner — "Mary Tyler Moore," "Lou Grant," "Up!," and his aversion to spunk — but you probably don't know that he has an autistic son, Charlie, and three autistic grandsons, and has become an autism advocate. The grandkids are his son Matt's kids.

Matt Asner has long been an autism advocate. He started the AutFest film festival, which is working to alleviate one of the big problems with autism: although 1 in every 68 people are on the autism spectrum, they're "invisible," Matt says.

From the Off-Ramp Archive: John Rabe talks with autistic journalist Robert Moran

Use the audio player to hear all of our interview at Ed's house, but here are some highlights:

What Ed Asner has learned from his autistic son, Charlie:

"He has taught me patience. I have to even improve far more on that. I tend to snap and rush things. You have to plod through the explanation and make sure that each word counts and each thought counts."

What Matt Asner has learned from his autistic children:

"I think you learn something from meeting someone with autism that no one else can teach you — to look at life a different way. We neurotypical people are the ones that have to do the changing.  There has to be a paradigm shift because there is 1 in 68 people with autism. We are a better place, it's a better world, because people have autism."

Why Matt Asner started AutFest:

"I honestly have always wanted to do a film festival relating to autism. I think it’s a subject that needs to be done. You look at all the films that are in this incredible festival … and it's amazing that they have all come out within the last two to three years. And it’s because it’s a part of our life now. It’s a part of everyone’s life — it’s invisible — and that’s why I think awareness celebrating the way we work in film with autism is important. It’s not just about content; it’s about people working in film who are autistic. The festival celebrates both those things."

 What can AutFest change:

"I don’t think if you go to someone on the street and say, 'What is autism?' that they are going to tell you, 'It’s a spectrum disorder' … they aren’t going to say that. They are going to say, 'It’s "Rain Man"' — what they saw about autism … that’s what they are going to say. I want the world to see autism as it is."

Among the short films at AutFest, "Even in Death" and "The Adventures of Pelican Pete: A Bird is Born," have autistic writers and directors. The feature films include "The Accountant," with Ben Affleck; "Asperger's Are Us," a documentary abut four friends on the spectrum; and the animated Pixar movie "Inside Out." Check out AutFest's full schedule online.