When Dina— a documentary about the relationship between Dina Buno, who has autism, and her husband Scott, who is also on the spectrum—debuted at Sundance last year, it resonated with critics and earned the Grand Jury prize.
After watching the documentary, it’s no surprise that Dina, which is now available to stream, stood out. At a time when representation of people with special needs is slowly expanding, Dina gives us a rare glance at what a couple with special needs really looks like. We are able to see the characters’ lives unfold without any sit-down interviews; it’s just reality, which is probably the most important trait of the movie.
I spoke to Buno on the phone last week. We talked about how she feels about the current representation of autism in the media, the decisions that went into the making of the documentary, and advice for other people who have the developmental disorder.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you feel about the current representation of autism in the media right now?
Well, it’s very big in the media right now. There is ignorance in the world and to bring it to the public eye is really big. Still, there’s people who are not very skeptical or they think [autism] is a problem. Or when they have kids...they don’t say, “Well, that’s ok that they’re different because I love them because they came from me.” I think ignorance is the worst part so it’s very important to me.
For some people on the spectrum it’s hard to be in a relationship. In the film, we were able to see how that brought up concerns for you and Scott. How did you first learn to navigate through being with someone who had similar problems?
It’s still a lot of work. I’m a very emotional person. I’m a hugger. I’m very forward, so talking it through with Scott was just very open and honest. And I am still talking it through. It’s not completely solved. You know, people watch the movie and there’s the after the movie and before the movie. I agreed to everything that went into the movie [and] people still have a hard time thinking...that I got my message across, but it takes work. You know what I mean? It takes a lot of work. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but I know that he was worth it so I kept at it, you know what I mean?
Was there something that you hoped had been in the documentary that wasn’t included that you wish people had seen?
For example, the therapy session that I had with my therapist. Or [a] scene with the psychiatrist and the medication. I’m a human being that has a very full life. [Directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini] didn’t want to make me out to be like this person that had a condition. They didn’t want to make [the movie] therapy sessions and interviews. I watched documentaries and sometimes I think they’re really good, but also they wanted to make it more like a movie. So, at first I thought I would have liked the therapy to be in there, but then I changed my mind.
How do you feel like you were an inspiration to other people who have autism?
I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been told I’m an inspiration for many years because I’ve been speaking in public. And I had thought about doing a play about people on the spectrum to bring awareness as well because I’m involved in theater and writing. I’m working on articles and my book and everything. A lot of people said that I was an inspiration because they’d be like, “maybe my child will be able to get married in like thirty years,” if they’re like five years old and already diagnosed. Or maybe a 10-year-old might be able to get married in 22 years. Or whenever they find the right guy, you know what I mean? It gives parents hope is what I’m saying.
How important was it for you to be so open and honest about how you went through domestic violence before the documentary was filmed?
Well for one, I’m very different from most people. I’m very outspoken and I had no problem telling people that this happened. Not that I wanted to brag about it or have people feel sorry for me. I don’t think that I’m a hero, but a lot of people say you’re a hero in your own right and you’re helping people know that it’s not their fault and it happens to people not just on the spectrum. I was very open because I wanted to help people and I was already speaking on my story on autism and domestic violence.
I had many interviews with Dan and Antonio. We thought it would be like I’m a real person: that I suffered tragedy, but I bounced back and that I didn’t let it stop me from falling in love again. I had a loss of a husband who I loved very much and was very good to me. Then, you know, about a year later I got involved too quick I felt. I did like him very much. I probably loved him. But he became—then I stopped loving him. I stopped loving his behavior. I realized that. In some of the scenes I’m emotional. Certain things, certain phone calls, certain hurts from people triggers a moment of PTSD. So, anything sounds, smells, can trigger it off.
What do you hope that people will learn from your experiences?
I think that we’re just like everybody else–that’s my theory. That we’re just like everybody else because it’s a free country and we’re allowed to act any way that we want and communicate the way that we want. Watching the documentary [people are] gonna say, “Hey! Well look they have a social life” and all of that kind of stuff. I always felt that I was like everybody else except for when I get frustrated at times, but I feel like I hang around a lot of typical people. So, I get frustrated at times when people say, “Well maybe these people won’t like you.” When I’m like, well who cares? I’ll give it a shot because maybe they will. So, you know I hope that people that watch this documentary will take away that we’re just like people. We like to socialize. We like to party—well, some of us do. We want to find a partner. And we want to work, possibly, or volunteer or have a big thing in the community.
What would you tell someone who has autism and might not be able to live on their own right now, but sees that you were able to do it?
Well, I think that all they need to do is try if they really want to. And think, hey maybe I am able to live on my own, and that everybody’s got difficulties. Try living on your own. There’s steps above living with parents and living in a group home. There’s, you know, somebody coming in maybe once a month or once a week and setting up different supports—possibly hiring people depending on the money factors. Maybe hiring people to come in and look in [on you], you know? Those are some ideas. Also, that it’s very important to stop putting labels on people because that hinders you. Know what I mean? That really hinders a person.