A new film starring White Rock-raised actor Jonathan Simao explores the real-life experience of being on the autism spectrum.
The 22-year-old Elgin Park Secondary grad plays a teenager named Kayden who has autism spectrum disorder and is non-verbal, in a film called When Time Got Louder.
The film follows Kayden’s family, with the lead character of Abbie, Kayden’s sister, played by Willow Shields, most notably from the Hunger Games franchise.
As he is on the spectrum himself, Simao’s goal as an actor is to “accurately portray neurodiversity in film,” reads a Surrey Schools release.
It came as a learning opportunity for the actor to attempt to portray non-verbal people who are on the autism spectrum.
“I actually found it a lot easier to play than some other characters I’ve portrayed over the years because I understood it on a deeper level,” Simao said.
“A lot of the behaviours that some people on the spectrum have… I’ve had to hide those in my life. So it was very relieving to be able to go back into those and be able to embrace them in a character.”
Tackling stigma surrounding neurodivergent people is important for Simao. Once people meet or see one person who is on the spectrum, they often associate everyone as being that way, he says, which is not accurate.
“Even if you put two neurotypicals in a room, who they are and how they’ve experienced life is completely different. It’s important to show that people who are on the spectrum are not so different than neurotypicals.”
What initially began as an interest in voice acting around the age of four, soon evolved into pursuing acting classes and roles in school plays when Simao was 13. From there, he was involved in every school production possible, only increasing his love for acting.
Simao’s mom, Lyssa Asselin-Simao, an education assistant for the Surrey school district, has been an integral part of her son’s success, taking him to auditions and signing him up for roles.
“She was aware I was on the spectrum, but my parents didn’t really let that be a factor in a lot of things. They mostly treated me as if I was a neurotypical – I think that really helped me understand to communicate more clearly.”
Bringing strength and encouragement for other people with autism is Simao’s hope for those who watch the film that was screened at Vancouver International Film Festival this past weekend (Oct. 8 and 9).
“I want them to know they’re not alone and that you don’t have to be ashamed of who you are,” he said.
“You don’t have to have that hold you back. Be proud of it. You have stronger sense of empathy, you’re able to understand people on a deeper level than most.
“It’s not something that will bring you down, it’s something that, I believe, will build you up.”