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Web series focuses on Waterdown teen's life on the autism spectrum

Event this Saturday will raise funds for the project, which highlights the importance of intensive behaviour therapies
Michael Whitell makes his acting debut starring as himself in Dear Grandpa, It's Michael.

Michael Whitell defied the odds and proved to himself, his family and friends that he can live a healthy, regular life while living with autism. 

Whitell and family friend Tyrone Greenidge are partnering up for a web series based on Michael’s life, focusing specifically on his relationship with his grandfather, titled Dear Grandpa, It’s Michael.

“I’ve known Michael since he was four years old, and we were all told he wasn’t going to be able to have any independence, let alone speak,” Greenidge said. “He’s smashing all expectations, working at Terra Greenhouses and attending Conestoga College.”

Whitell, a Waterdown native, is not only the focus of the feature, but also the star. Having never acted in anything before, the only experience he had with being in front of an audience was school presentations. 

Whitell, who's now 18, says that he’s enjoying being in front of the camera, and has an audition lined up for a feature film. 

“It’s something I plan on doing in the future,” Whitell said. “But right now I’m focusing on deciding between engineering and technology at college.”

A new trailer for the web series will premiere this Saturday, April 6, during a launch party and fundraiser at Joe Dogs in Burlington. 

During the party, Greenidge said, there will be raffles, fundraisers and speeches from the cast of the production. 

“I’m looking forward to it; it’ll be my first time there,” Whitell said. “I just don’t know how many people are going to be there to watch me do my speech.”

After the fundraiser on Saturday, Greenidge is shifting to a GoFundMe page to help raise money for the next stage of production – the next part of the web series that they hope can kick off in October. 

“The film in October will be about Michael's first words, because of how important applied behaviour analysis and intensive behaviour intervention therapies are,” Greenidge said. “The waiting list for these therapies is at 60,000 right now, meaning a child may have to wait until they’re six or seven years old.”

Greenidge added that when working with a limited budget, it’s important to celebrate the milestones, but to look to the future as well and find a way to get the message to more people. 

Greenidge is hoping for a feature film about Whitell to take off when the web series finishes production. 

“I have a writing partner who has worked with CBC, written four or five movies, and he helps to fix my writing,” Greenidge said. “It’s all about collaboration. Even on our set, 30 to 40 per cent of the people on this project are on the spectrum, and they’re walking in with talent.”

Greenidge said in his time working with people on the spectrum, he’s found that every new age milestone brings a new set of challenges with it, whether that be learning to speak, bullying in school, or finding work. Having a cast and crew made up of people on the spectrum is helping to develop skills and break stigmas each step of the shoot. 

The screening of the new trailer is taking place April 6 at 2:30 p.m. at Joe Dogs in downtown Burlington. The event will also include an art show and family games room, and attendees will hear speeches from Michael and the Dear Grandpa, It's Michael team. For more information, click here. 

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Chris Arnold

About the Author: Chris Arnold

Chris Arnold has worked as a journalist for half a decade, covering national news, entertainment, arts, education, and local features
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