The John and Lorna Wing Foundation was established by Dr Lorna Wing in her lifetime to support research that would make a difference to the lives of autistic people, and which involved autistic people in that research.
As a Trustee of the Foundation I became aware of the work of the Donaldson Trust in a topic of great interest to us, namely that of the difficulties experienced by autistic children in school. This tied in nicely with another of our projects concerning social exclusion by PhD student Ruth Moyse at the University of Reading, who was researching the needs of autistic girls and unauthorized absence from school. There was therefore a great synergy between the projects, and it was good that Ruth was able to lend her support to both.
The term ‘school refusal’ is widely used to describe the unauthorized absence from school children and young people. Since the 1930’s attempts have been made to distinguish school refusal from other forms of truancy, but this remains a little understood topic.
In the UK there is concern that ‘school refusal’ disguises underlying issues related to child mental health, but parents are often prosecuted for failure to send such children to school rather than being offered support.
Typically, the views of the children themselves have been ignored, second guessed or superimposed by adults. This is increasingly recognised in the case of neurodivergent or autistic children, many of whom are girls where their non-attendance at school is not ‘school refusal’ at all but a coping mechanism to protect their mental health. To make sense of and give them some control over a chaotic, hostile and often terrifying experience.
In fact, many of these children are desperately keen to attend school but it must be the right school – so we need to better understand the child’s experience and what such a school might look like.
This short film, Walk In My Shoes, is the result of listening to the voice of the young person.
The team behind it is to be congratulated for managing to capture the essence of the autistic experience of school and making this accessible to a wide audience of professionals, parents and children themselves.
The title Walk In My Shoes is perfect. In co-sponsoring this excellent film with the Donaldson Trust, the trustees of the John and Lorna Wing Foundation believe that translating lived experience and making this widely accessible is one of the most effective ways of developing understanding and empathy.
We have confidence that this beautifully crafted and moving film, based on this powerful and compelling narrative of the autistic voice has a vital role to play in how we prevent and deal positively with this growing national and international phenomenon.
Prof. Richard Mills
The John and Lorna Wing Foundation