September 25, 2008

Free Film Festival Focuses on Siblings of Children With Special Needs

By Amy Moellering

By Amy Moellering

LIVERMORE -- Relationships with siblings are often the longest lasting relationship during a person's lifetime. But what if one of the siblings has a disability? How does that affect them? Jace King, 13, and Taylor Cross, 19, are brothers who have the usual sibling struggles, but with the added challenge of Taylor's autism.

"For nine years they were estranged and often couldn't even be in the same room together," said their mom Keri Bowers. And then one day Taylor offered his brother Yu-Gi-Oh cards; they began trading, and a bridge of friendship was built.

Both boys have expressed their feelings about their situation through films.

Taylor's highly acclaimed film, "Normal People Scare Me," shows interviews with autistic children sharing their feelings about being different. The film asks, "What is normal anyway?"

Jace's film, "The Sandwich Kid," contains interviews with children who have siblings with disabilities, and examines the emotions and pressures these kids experience. It is estimated that worldwide 650 million children have disabilities; the number of siblings impacted is incalculable.

The brothers, who live in Southern California, will be in Livermore on Saturday when their films will be shown free of charge at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

In "The Sandwich Kid," Jace explains his title: "I'm in the middle of everything that goes on with the disabilities my brother has, and I don't get as much attention." His film shows interviews of siblings from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from ages 6 to 59. They describe the effects of teasing from other children, and their concerns as their sibling grows older.

"A lot is expected of these kids, and they often grow up more quickly because they are afraid to make waves or express their needs," mother Keri Bowers said. Although "sandwich kids" can harbor a lot of anger and resentment, studies have also shown that they can become mature, compassionate leaders who want to protect their families.

Saturday's event is sponsored by the Tri-Valley Exceptional Needs Network. Founded by parents in 2001, the group provides assistance to families with special needs through conferences, summer camps at the Taylor Foundation's Camp Arroyo, mini-grants to local special education teachers, and resources.

"We believe local parents need to have access to specialists in the field," said Susan Houghton, a member of the group's board of directors.

Saturday's film festival is designed specifically for siblings. "We want to give them ways to work through how they feel about their developmentally delayed sibling," Houghton said. "We want them to know they are not alone."

After the films are shown, participants are invited to stay for a discussion with Jace, Taylor, and their mom.

Through their films, the boys have traveled the world, promoting awareness and understanding about disabilities. Bowers, who was a former paralegal for the entertainment industry, has been a dedicated disabilities advocate since 1998 when she began Pause4Kids, a Southern California nonprofit organization that serves children with disabilities.

At the insistence of her son Taylor, the two teamed up with Joey Travolta in 2006 to produce Taylor's film. Since then, Bowers has begun her own film company Normal Films.

In addition to global speaking engagements and workshops, she is producing her third film, "Possibilities, Disabilities and the Arts." The film, which will be released Oct. 29, shows how drama, painting, photography, writing and dance help special-needs children connect with the world and develop social skills.

Taylor is currently learning how to travel without his mom and how to fulfill his dream of becoming a filmmaker. "I want to be a filmmaker, and at the same time I want to help people and develop my own skills," he said.

Jace continues to help siblings through his film when he can take time off from school. "At first I was in this for my mom, but now I like how it makes me feel," Jace said of his travels.

The film festival is provided free of charge thanks to a grant from Lawrence Livermore National Security. Seating is limited and participants are encouraged to arrive early. For more information, visit the Exceptional Needs Network's Web site at or call 925-443-3396.

The Bankhead Theater is located at 2400 First St., Livermore. Film showings begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

Originally published by Amy Moellering, VALLEY TIMES.

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