FEATURE: Autistic children from Warwickshire create and star in their own film

Several of the children involved in making the film with Tessa Morton (far left). 13 children all took part in a four-day workshop to create the film.
Several of the children involved in making the film with Tessa Morton (far left). 13 children all took part in a four-day workshop to create the film.

Autism. Often associated with difficult behaviour and poor social skills, the condition is commonly misunderstood.

Teachers up and down the country can sometimes struggle to understand pupils who have the condition, and those pupils in turn are unlikely to fulfil their potential if their needs are not met.

Tessa Morton (right) speaks with one of the children involved in the film.

Tessa Morton (right) speaks with one of the children involved in the film.

But 13 secondary school children from Warwickshire who live with the condition have tried to help teachers in a different way to a standard training session.

The pupils have created a film showing the difficulties they face in the classroom and explaining how teachers can better understand them.

The film was created over four days in Warwick by the children as part of a workshop run by Act for Autism, founded by Tessa Morton and Jane Gurnett.

Act for Autism is a not-for-profit social enterprise which trains school staff to help them teach autistic pupils, often through drama.

And Tessa, a former actor whose son is also autistic, is aiming to use the film as part of Act for Autism’s training workshops.

The ten-minute film will be screened at the Bridge House Theatre in Warwick on Tuesday July 10 from 6.30pm.

Tessa thought the film was a great way for the children to express what they thought about their condition in a safe environment, and would also help teachers empathise with autistic pupils.

She said: “The film is a creative way to for the children to talk about autism, and produce something that can be used as a resource in our training.

“Some of the kids who arrived for the workshop on day one had caution about making a film themselves. But it gave them a chance to talk about autism with a peer group who were also autistic in a fun and safe environment.

“This resulted in a massive boost in confidence for the children. And autistic children vote with their feet - if they don’t like it, they won’t come. They all came every single day.”

The film is split into four scenes - a classroom where a pupil experiences sensory overload, a scene depicting the isolation a child feels when nobody around them understands autism, a scene where the children speak to camera telling a ‘teacher’ what they want from them, and finally the children explaining the positives of being autistic.

Many of the children who worked on the film felt it helped them grow as people.

One said: “Being involved with the film made me feel like I was making a difference with the education system.”

And two other children both expressed how being involved in the project helped boost their confidence.

Tessa felt the film was very important for teachers to see, especially as she thought cuts to school budgets meant teachers were finding it harder than ever to accommodate autistic pupils in their classrooms.

She added: “There are more and more autistic children in mainstream schools. They are being supported through nursery and primary schools, but there are less resources for special schools now and the pressure on secondary school staff is much higher.”

Anyone wishing to find out more should visit the Act for Autism website
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According to the National Autistic Society, autism affects roughly 700,000 people in the UK - which is more than one in 100.

It is defined by the Society as a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.

The Society, alongside the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, published a report in 2017 about how the country’s education system copes with autistic pupils.

The report found that there was still a long way to go before autistic pupils and their parents were fully satisfied.

Six out of ten young people, and seven in ten of their parents, said that the main thing that would make school better for them is having a teacher who understands autism.

Fewer than half of autistic children said they were happy at school, and seven in ten say their peers do not understand them.

Act for Autism’s workshops aim to improve these numbers by helping teachers understand autistic pupils better.