James Cox wanted to raise awareness for the special needs community by creating a mini documentary. His subject of choice was a thoughtful one: Lizzie has a heart of gold and the story of her and the amazing relationship with her warrior-for-a-cause Mom will both enlighten and uplift.

Following this mini-documentary, Aspergers101 spoke with both the filmmaker and mother about the film, its meaning, and the amazing story of Lizzie.  

Aspergers101: What is “Lizzie’s Smile”?

James: “Lizzie’s Smile” is a short documentary about a young lady, Lizzie Oveland, who despite her disability, lives a normal life. It took me a few hours to film the actual interview and another month to edit it. To add a special touch to the story, I asked Lizzie’s mom, Debbie Oveland, if she would send me some still photos from when Lizzie was little. She also used her cell phone to record Lizzie while they shopped at Walmart.

Aspergers101: Tell us about your daughter Lizzie.

Debbie: Lizzie is blooming every day. She is patient, kind, loving, and giving. However, with that said, she is no one’s fool. She self-advocates and learning more every day about self-advocacy. Lizzie has a great sense of humor. She is very sensitive. She draws me up short when she notices, in the car, for example that I am pre-occupied or mulling something over in my head. She will break the silence, or, stop chattering, if she has been telling me a long tale about a dream, or extensive details about a show or event, and say quietly:

“Look at the sky, Mommy. It’s a beautiful day.” In other words, to me, she is insightful and telling me, “Hey. What’s going on? Be in the moment.”

Lizzie loves her older brother Chris, who is like an angel to her. They “fight” like any siblings, but she is always concerned about him or interested in what is going on in his life, even though he is rarely around now that he is 23 years old. She mentions him daily. There is so much to tell you about Lizzie. It is difficult to know where to start or end.

Aspergers101: How did the mini documentary on Lizzie come about?

James: The short documentary came about because a mutual friend of both Debbie’s and mine, Yolanda Ayala, was putting on a Short film festival. It was to honor her own daughter’s memory and to help raise awareness for the special needs community. Her daughter lived with autism her entire life and passed away a few years ago. Having a personal connection, because my nephew is autistic, I wanted to be a part of the film festival.

Debbie: I received a friend request from a Mr. “Jim Ne Cricket” on FB with a message explaining that he wanted to learn more about young adults with disabilities and visit about doing a video to submit in an international film festival, “My Love Michelle.” Ironically, the founder and executive producer, Yolanda Ayala, Picturesque Media, of the film festival, named after her daughter, Michelle, who is in heaven, had reached out about a year before and asked Lizzie and I to participate on the planning committee.

Jim (James Cox) and I discussed that. I disclosed to Yolanda that someone had reached out to request that Lizzie participate in a video to make sure that her participation would not interfere in any way with the competition or potential award that Jim might receive, without disclosing his name, and she said the judging would be done independently of the committee members on the project, and it was not a problem.

I learned that Jim is a disabled veteran and this type of project was a first. We scheduled a meeting, he videod, we exchanged photos and short pieces of footage, which were then produced. He is one of the most calming, kind, endearing individuals I have ever met. So present and generous with his spirit. Jim and Lizzie were a perfect match!

Aspergers101: What effect, if any, did this documentary have on you while making it?

James: At first, I was nervous about talking with Lizzie and asking her question. I wasn’t sure what to expect or didn’t know how difficult it might be, but after just a few minutes, I was at ease. While listening to Lizzie talk about her life, I was in awe of her. I remember thinking to myself that I wasn’t that active with my city or friends when I was her age. I was impressed. It wasn’t until I actually starting putting it all together to tell a story, that it really began to affect me. Listening to Debbie tell the story about Lizzie and hearing everything that Lizzie has overcame in her life, really inspired me and touched my heart.

Debbie: I think it gave her (Lizzie) an outlet to say, validate to herself, and the world, that she is “special.” She likes that term and is not offended. She has heard it all of her life and feels “special” to be special. Her translation, in the video, to me, is that she is like anyone else and can do anything she sets her mind to doing. That is very wise, profound, and true.

I love that Lizzie knows that people are people, not defined by their labels or descriptive words, but by who they are in life. She is very centered and grounded, in my opinion, which is wonderful!

Aspergers101: What message are you hoping is conveyed by Lizzie’s Smile? What do you hope parents of those with an Autistic/disabled child walk away from after viewing it?

James: I hope that other parents will see “Lizzie’s Smile” and be inspired to make a plan for their child’s future. And if other kids or teens see it, I hope they will be inspired to never give up. I also hope that they realize that they can accomplish anything when they put their minds to it.

Debbie: I hope that parents walk away with hope for their child and less fear or worry. I hope they find comfort in the fact, as Lizzie explains to Jim, through his thoughtful questions, that she is Lizzie! People are people. Lizzie has a sense of worth, purpose, and knows she has potential, and is happy about it.

Aspergers101: What effect did the documentary have on you?

Debbie: It drew me up short, again. I was tired and had been rushing around, per my usual, not exactly living in the moment, so it was good. It made me stop and think. When Jim shared the video with me, I sobbed, not out of sadness, but out of the grace and humility of both the director/producer, James Cox, and Lizzie.

Aspergers101:  What are your plans for Lizzie’s future?

Debbie: My current plan is to step back and stop planning. (Laugh)! I have had all kinds of ideas for what Lizzie might do “when she grows up” as she transitions to being an independent person. Finally I have begun to stop trying to control and listen to her more. I have been listening, but I am going to listen more, go with what makes Lizzie truly happy in life, and help her in helping herself in any way that I can.

I am going to wait before I jump in and offer, or just prompt her periodically, to ask what, if anything, she sees as a priority. We expect our young adults with disabilities to have life sorted out with a plan and package by age 22. To some degree, it is justified and I strongly support planning for lifelong learning opportunities, employment, hobbies, friends, and a super great social network with financial security. But I am more relaxed and I trust others to give input, support, guidance, and take the lead, with Lizzie as the real leader, of her own life.

Aspergers101:  What advice can you offer for anyone raising a child with a disability?

Debbie: As difficult as it is, for any parent, of any child, I advise people to slow down, put the oxygen on themselves first, so that they can provide better care and positive support of their child. I can preach it and teach it. I am finally learning how to do it.

Aspergers101: What is the best way for people to view Lizzie’s Smile?

James: The best way for people to view “Lizzie’s Smile” is to watch it on YouTube on a full screen. And to also watch it with their children, special needs or otherwise.

Aspergers101: Tell us a bit about James Cox. Any future projects?

James: I was medically retired from the U.S. Army in 2008 after 18 years of service. I’m married with 2 boys, ages 12 and 14. I got into filmmaking in 2012 as a production assistant and I decided shortly after that to make my own films. I’m currently working on a short drama and hope to make another documentary in the future.

by Jennifer Allen

Debbie Oveland is a nurse practitioner in San Antonio Texas. She  is the CEO and Founder of Call Debbie O where she makes connections in a vast network to work efficiently and creatively, for people with disabilities and their families! 

James Cox  says “I have been blessed over this past year to achieve my lifelong dream of acting in movies. I’m also very passionate about bringing technical accuracy to the San Antonio Film Community, by offering my Law Enforcement and Military Expertise to various film productions.”

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