I’m 29 (nearly 30…) and several years ago, after some problems growing up, my mum’s (and dad’s) long-standing suspicion that I might have ASD was confirmed. However, as I was already an adult, there were no systems in place to offer any specialised advice. It was purely by chance that my dad happened to meet the CEO of the Donaldson’s Trust at one of the charity boards he sits on; she invited us to come and see her to explore whether they might have a potential use for me at Donaldson’s (formerly a school for the deaf) as it relaunched itself as a centre for neurodiversity.
Although I don’t hold a formal position at Donaldson’s, I have had a small role in meeting with Billy, the personalisation manager, to chat about (and air my opinions on) various papers and research he sends me. However, I was delighted to discover that Donaldson’s had also been involved in making a short film with a local animation studio. It’s based on a piece of writing by one of the young people there, called Walk in my Shoes, detailing the challenges she experiences in an average school day living with ASD. What follows are some thoughts on the film as I saw it.
A short film, by definition, doesn’t have long to tell its story. However, there are advantages to this: there isn’t room for fiddling about – the story has to be conveyed in the most efficient way possible, and this compression of force often makes for a powerful impact on viewers. I found this film certainly interesting, but also, in its own way, quite powerful. Aesthetically I thought it was impressively realised – it felt modern and low-key in its shades of grey, with none of the intense (and nauseating) colour saturation that seems to come with most cartoons (although I have to admit, I don’t watch many. Or any, actually). The fact that the colour palette didn’t bother me actually made it easier to focus on what was being said. What was being said, or rather the way it was being said was quite unusual. The vast majority of writing is either first person (I, me, we, us) or third person (he, she, it, they), but in the animation, the narrator addresses us directly, and uses the second person to do this (you). It’s not enough to tell us how she feels, or for us to imagine how A.N. Other might feel – she wants us to take on her experiences as our own: ‘you start to tremble’, ‘you try to distract yourself’. It’s a very effective technique.
Initially, I thought the more brightly coloured segments in the kitchen let the film down – they seemed clumsy and garish in comparison with the rest of the cartoon – but they serve a useful purpose as well. They give breathing space from the grim stuff and break the intensity of the story a little; they give the audience time to process what they have been watching, which has all been so close-up. Also, they remind us that the grey figure in the film is not a character trapped in a screen, but someone real, who exists in this world with all its noise and colour and complexity; someone who just has to get on existing and working through all life’s nonsense like the rest of us, but who is invisibly a bit hamstrung.
And this is where the real impact of the film could be felt, were it to be more widely viewed. It gives us the voice of someone who is actually living this invisibly hamstrung life day-to-day – not an outsider’s impression, or a research paper, or something filtered through ten different health professionals. This is the voice of one person living the reality, on the ground with ASD and trying to cope, but she will speak for many others who are undergoing the same, often brutal, challenges of just trying to get through a day at a time. People who, quite possibly, have much to offer the world if only they didn’t keep falling through the cracks. The first step in stopping them from slipping through the crack is to start listening – so listen.