Let’s Talk About Autism – Using Film to Raise Awareness

27 Mar 2017 BY Beatrix Clark

4 mins
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To mark Autism Awareness Week (27 March - 2 April), we hear from film club member Bethany, who talks to us about what living with autism is really like, and take a look at how film can be used to raise awareness of a condition that is more common than most people realise, affecting 1 in every 100 people in the UK.

"Imagine having all five senses multiplied by one hundred. Many people with autism, myself included, have never experienced complete silence. Imagine being seen as rude when you do not get the gist of social norms. Imagine struggling to catch a ball, hold a pen or do anything that involves fine or gross motor skills. We are the children that run with a gait, who are always picked last for the team, whose handwriting ranges from scruffy to illegible. As autism is known as an invisible disability, people think we are not trying hard enough, children laugh at our mishaps, we feel left out and like a failure on many occasions."

Bethany has autism and doesn't mind talking about it - in fact she's keen to share her experiences, so that the rest of us can gain a greater understanding of the condition and how we can better help those who are diagnosed with it. She is also keen to highlight that, while being on the autistic spectrum means being different, it isn't necessarily a bad thing:

"The best scientists (Einstein, Edison, etc.) that changed our world and way of thinking were rumoured to have autism, along with such famous faces as Daryl Hannah, Tim Burton and the legendary Temple Grandin. We can go on to do the most amazing things if our self-esteem isn't shattered."

There are several great films in which autism is a key theme, and encouraging your pupils to watch and discuss one in class or at your school's film club can help them see the world through the eyes of another person, increasing empathy and dispelling common myths about people who have autism.

Recommended titles include: 

  • X+Y (12) In which an autistic teenage maths prodigy struggles to fit in, until he's chosen to head to China to take part in the International Mathematics Olympiad
  • Mission to Lars (E, recommend for 12+) A documentary tracking the attempt of two siblings to help their autistic brother meet his idol, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich
  • A Is for Autism (E, recommended for 11+) An award-winning documentary created by people with autism
  • Mary and Max (12) This touching animation follows a pen pal relationship between a middle-aged New Yorker and an eight year-old girl, both of whom are autistic 
  • The Lost Prince (12) Shows how attitudes to autism have changed through history.

Relevant titles for older students include:

  • The Black Balloon (15) A tough but optimistic drama about a teenage boy charged with taking care of his severely autistic brother
  • Ben X (15) A Belgian drama about an autistic teenager who finds an outlet in playing role-playing games.
  • You could also watch the youth-made short film My Not So Ordinary Life which won Best Live Action: 13 and Over in the Into Film Awards 2017.

A great example of how film itself can help people who find communication difficult - and coming soon to the Into Film catalogue - is 2016's coming-of-age film Life, Animated. This partly animated documentary explores the extraordinary effect of Disney films on the personal and social development of young autistic man Owen Suskind, who, through his deep connection with the films, overcomes great challenges.

The messages in these films may make those of us who haven't experienced autism feel more inclined and better equipped to reach out to those who have - which for Bethany, and others like her, could make a real difference:

"Make every day autism awareness day. Try to make a safe space if somebody with autism is on edge at a party. Gently nudge them if they say something wrong. Pick them for your team if playing sports. Smile and say hello in the corridor. Small gestures matter. Often, they can speak louder than words ever could. Please, be autism aware. Thank you."

For further information visit www.autism.org.uk and www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk

Beatrix

Beatrix Clark, Communications Officer and Journalist

Beatrix Clark is a freelance communications officer and journalist. She has worked with Into Film for 8 years and frequently writes for education media about uses of film in education.

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