Following the public launch of Walk In My Shoes, we asked Erin Davidson to share her thoughts on the animation, why she wanted to create it, and what she hopes it will achieve.
The animation project “Walk In My Shoes” has been really important to me, and I know it will be for a long time. I hadn’t expected it to come so far. Originally, I was just an angry fourteen-year-old writing a letter to whoever was in charge. A letter I never posted, which I’m honestly glad I didn’t. Imagine the anxiety that would have caused.
For me this became a project that has become so important and special to me, a passion that I want to share with anyone who will listen and bombard it to those who foolishly refuse to hear it, and definitely need to hear it.
People need to see, recognise and understand the individualism of an autistic person; and I think this was a great way to do so. It needs to be seen that we cannot conform to social norms, and a lot of us don’t want to, as then we wouldn’t be ourselves, a bit like a Jekyll and Hyde but without the evil ‘twin’.
I hope this can be used as a tool to bring more awareness, and realisation to not just the people in charge of how the education system is, but to people living with autism themselves. For them to be aware that they are not alone.
We, as a collective (the neurotypicals and the neurodiverse) have to work together as a whole; in a way that binds our strengths together and supports our weaknesses, to bring knowledge and understanding to the world we live in.
All it took was people to hear my voice, or rather see my words, and give me a chance to make it into something.
I want this and hope it encourages other autistics to write, draw or tell their stories through their own words. I hope it encourages everyone to be themselves.
The number of autistic young people who stop attending mainstream schools appears to be rising. Government focus on attendance figures as an accountability measure has resulted in some schools pressurising these pupils to return to school or off-roll, often without understanding why they have left, and what needs to change for their return to school to be successful. My research suggests these absent pupils are not rejecting learning but rejecting a setting that makes it impossible for them to learn.
Making ‘Walk In My Shoes’ with the Donaldson Trust was an opportunity to share this message more widely and accessibly, based on the personal narrative of Erin, the amazing autistic young woman who wrote the original piece that initiated this project.
Erin and I worked together to explore the meanings and themes within her account, whilst Billy Anderson recorded our discussions pictorially to support her thinking. This process was emotional and tiring for her, but also positive and transformational. At the end of the first session, Erin described feeling ‘exhilarated’ and ‘proud’ about making her experiences ‘into something good’.
This powerful animation reveals that the barriers and solutions lie not within the young person, but in the school environment, its ethos and in peer and teacher relationships and attitudes.
Erin’s personal narrative exposes the reality of the anxiety, pain and distress she endured, and that are somehow overlooked, misunderstood or neglected by those around her. Crucially it shows how she perseveres in attending, despite being left alone to navigate the daily assaults on her senses and sense of safety, in the knowledge that it will all repeat tomorrow. This is courageous – but exhausting.
Erin’s experiences shine a light on issues beyond her control that could be resolved by others; by listening and by showing they care. She could not have done more. Telling young autistic people struggling to attend school to be more resilient is profoundly inappropriate, if what you are really asking is for them to keep going under circumstances they should not be asked to endure. We need to change the circumstances.
This film challenges schools to gain a new perspective; one that is recognisable by many other young people in Scotland and beyond, who are justifiably angry at the injustice of missing out on the education to which they are entitled. It demonstrates the essential nature of listening proactively and without prejudice to our neurodivergent young people. It is they who are best placed to express what they need to thrive in school. It is time for change.
Doctoral Researcher, Institute of Education, University of Reading