Reposted here from http://www.donaldsons.org.uk/walk-in-my-shoes/
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 Davidson, 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 (from Donaldson’s Trust) 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.
With huge thanks to Professor Richard Mills and the John and Lorna Wing Foundation.