Seven-year-old Michael Barth (Bradley Pierce) is severely autistic, seemingly noncommunicative, and prone to violent outbursts, and his mother Karen (Melissa Gilbert) struggles to cope with him. Her ex-husband Roger (Markus Flanagan) persuades her to put him in a residential school. At the school, Michael's behavior and abilities improve dramatically, with the help of his therapist Terry Wilson (Patty Duke) and his caretaker Jeff Mace (Peter Spears). Seeing his frustration with his limited options for communication, Terry teaches him facilitated communication, a controversial technique in which Terry supports his hand while he types letters on a keyboard. Michael uses the method to reveal a terrible secret, and is eventually required to testify in court using facilitated communication.
In real life FC is, to put it mildly, controversial. One side argues that most studies have found that in fact the facilitator is doing the typing, similar to an Ouija board; that many false abuse accusations have been made with FC; that some users have good fine motor skills otherwise and would seem unlikely to need support to point to keys; and that the user is often looking away while the facilitator is usually looking at the keyboard. The other side, which includes people such as Mel Baggs who claim to be part-time FC users, argues that the studies tend to have small sample sizes; that many autistics test well below their actual abilities; that facilitation can involve only touching someone's shoulder or holding up a letterboard, which would seem to make guiding the person's hand impossible; that one common symptom of autism is a fluctuating, wildly uneven skill set, including in motor skills; and that typing with one finger without looking is a learnable skill, no more impossible than ten-fingered touch typing. This wiki will not be taking a side in the debate.
Cries from the Heart contains examples of:
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Karen and Terry both ruffle Michael's hair a number of times.
- Casting Gag: Both Patty Duke and Melissa Gilbert played Helen Keller in different adaptations of The Miracle Worker.
- Desk Sweep of Rage: Michael knocks the laptop off the table, breaking it in half, the day after Jeff molests him.
- Eyes Always Averted: Michael looks all around, but rarely at people's faces.
- Foreshadowing: When Jeff puts his hands on Michael's shoulders, he shrugs him off, although he doesn't normally dislike being touched. This is because Jeff is a pedophile, and even though no molestation has occurred yet, Jeff's behavior is already making Michael uncomfortable.
- It's All My Fault: Michael has spent years blaming himself for his parents' divorce, because he broke a car window the day Roger left. Later, Roger blames himself for Michael's molestation because he was so insistent on institutionalizing him.
- P.O.V. Cam: In court, a shot from Michael's perspective shows everyone watching him, especially Jeff staring at him intently, causing him to have a panic attack.
- Rape Discretion Shot: Michael gets up in the night to go to the bathroom. Jeff is in the shower. He steps out and stands naked behind Michael. Cut to next scene.
- Tantrum Throwing: Michael does this often when he's frustrated, especially with blocks.
- Viewer-Friendly Interface: Michael always types using massive font. It could be that Terry set it up like that to make it easier for him to see, but in one scene, he starts typing in a document that's being used to compose a memo, and while the memo is in smaller letters, Michael's font is as huge as ever.
- Wham Shot: Michael types three letters on the keyboard. There's a shot of Terry gasping in shock, and then a close-up of the screen with the word "SEX."