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Autistic Kirkwood Resident Tanner Craft Chronicles Mother-Son Journey In 'Diagnosis'

Twenty-one-year-old filmmaker and Webster University student Tanner Craft (at right), who was diagnosed with autism as a young child, joined Wednesday's talk show alongside his mother, Tanya Craft.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The first few minutes of Tanner Craft’s new film pair a seemingly everyday scene – a mother and her young son at a doctor’s office – with an unsettling soundtrack. There’s a looming, ongoing hum audible beneath the dialogue as the physician tells the mother that her son has autism spectrum disorder.

“It’s a developmental disorder,” the doctor says, the mother appearing overwhelmed. “It impairs his ability to communicate and interact with others.”

But “Diagnosis,” which Craft wrote, directed and produced, doesn’t stop there. The short film goes on to highlight a mother-son journey from early diagnosis, to learning more about autism and existing resources, to finding new ways to connect with one another and thrive.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with both Craft and his mother, Tanya Craft, about the film and about autism’s influence on their lives.

Tanner Craft, who is now 21 years old and headed into his senior year of studies at Webster University, said the idea for “Diagnosis” grew out of his involvement in a scriptwriting class at Webster.

“I was partially drawn [to writing the script] from the saying – a lot of comedians, I know, say this – which is, ‘Tell the jokes that make you laugh,’” he explained. “So I guess [it was], ‘Write the stories that you know.’ Sort of the same realm.”

Craft’s film was recently in the spotlight alongside other local films during the 2019 Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase.

He said he thinks that having autism gives him “a different perspective” in his filmmaking.

“I like to think it makes me somewhat more analytical, cause and effect, with it,” Craft said, “which so far seems to be working out for me.”

He added that his teachers have pointed to his work directing actors as a particular strength.

“I like to think my autism has a lot to do with that because, I don’t know, I had to teach myself empathy,” Craft said. “I wasn’t really born with it that much ... I like to think that the fact that I had to teach myself a lot helps me understand emotions better.”

His mother, Tanya Craft, has long been his advocate, particularly in terms of connecting with resources, getting an excellent education and leading a full life.

Both of them shared their perspectives with Fenske and also interacted with listeners during the show.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.