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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Swim Team is an inspiring documentary about a team of swimmers with autism who are coached by a remarkable, devoted couple who taught their own son with autism to swim, helping him achieve more than doctors predicted. Their success prompted them to help other kids with autism achieve through athletics. While much of the movie is very kid-friendly, one of the young swimmers also has Tourette's syndrome, which causes tics and occasional explosive utterances of words like "f--k" and "bitch." And one team member reports to his mom that he learned about sex and HIV in a high school health class. But several adults model compassion, empathy, patience, and strength as both they and their children persevere, come together as a team, and work to accept the diagnoses that shape their lives.
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What's the story?
One of the most touching moments in SWIM TEAM -- a heartfelt documentary about a swim team whose members are all teenagers and young adults with autism -- comes early on. "I'm not like other teenagers," Mikey McQuay tells the filmmakers. "I'm autistic. When I'm swimming, I feel normal." Many of the featured kids' parents had heard from doctors that their children would never speak, never mind swim competitively. This movie is a tribute to the swimmers' grit and determination to overcome their challenges and fears, as well as to their parents, most of whom suddenly found themselves required to become instant experts on autism, occupational therapy and training, and exercising monumental patience and serenity in order to help their children negotiate life (not to mention the public school system). Standing out among these dedicated moms and dads is Mike McQuay who, with his wife Maria, formed the New Jersey Hammerheads, a swim team for kids like Mikey. They reasoned that if kids with autism could learn to swim and compete, surely they could learn many other important life skills. The love, nurturing, and encouragement that McQuay shows his team members are beyond exemplary. All audiences will marvel at his unflagging advocacy and support for the swimmers. He believes in them, so they believe in themselves -- which may be why, in their first year of competition, the Hammerheads took first place in New Jersey's state summer games.
Is it any good?
This film is a compassionate, inspiring documentary about compassionate, inspiring people. Director Lara Stolman makes Swim Team from the point of view of an advocate, and you can feel her rooting for the young athletes as she records their dramatic swim meets and equally dramatic personal moments. Some are almost too painful to watch -- viewers are invited to watch a mother telling her 18-year-old son the reason that he's different from other kids. Understandably, he doesn't want to talk about it.
The parents worry about what will happen to young adults who can't cook themselves a simple meal or tie their own shoes (Coach McQuay takes the time to painstakingly teach Mikey to make scrambled eggs). As the movie ends, one 18-year-old gets a summer job caring for zoo animals. Another swimmer gets work as a janitor. Another wants to work in design and is continuing his schooling. The movie captures their optimism about their future. And it emphasizes that these kids with autism were lucky to have caring, dedicated parents.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what Swim Team has in common with other sports movies and how it's different. Why do you think many people find sports stories inspirational? Do you?
Who are the role models in this story? Why?
The kids in Swim Team face a variety of challenges. What are your own obstacles? What do you do to try to overcome them?
Find more movies that help kids build character.
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