What Are You Doing?
By DAVID BALFOUR
Autism Awareness premiered their new educational film ‘What Are You Doing?’ late last month, with plans to screen it at primary schools across Australia later this year.
Senator Jan McLucas, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, said the film “addresses some of the fears and misconceptions children may have about autism, and teaches them how to be a friend to a person with autism.”
Keelan Kahlner is in his final year at school, and often has to help care for his little brother who has severe autism.
Keelan said that about four years ago, the special needs children at his school “were treated really badly”.
“People swore at them, threw stuff at them and made them cry,” Keelan said.
However, Keelan says, “It’s changed a lot over the past few years.”
“They just seem like normal people”.
Keelan believes the most important step was mixed socialisation.
“The teachers tried to get them to participate in things like Sports Day and encouraged students to cheer them on,” he said.
The school organised several camps where special needs students were placed into groups with other students.
Keelan said that he had friends that “were quite surprised that the special needs children weren’t so weird, and actually became friends with them.”
Lorrae Head has taught autistic and other special needs students on and off for eight years.
She says that when she first started teaching, there was an autistic boy in her class whose behaviour frequently disrupted class time.
“He wanted to touch my hair… and he also started to sing Beatles songs because he could hear my English accent, and he’d go through all these Beatles albums,” she said.
“All of the boys would laugh… In all I remember the boys being quite accepting of him.”
Lorrae agrees that socialisation is integral.
“It’s very important that they should mix in public and be accepted,” Lorrae says.
Lorrae takes her students on weekly excursions to get them used to being out and about and help them develop their independence.
She said that “the majority of people I’ve noticed do not want to get involved”, and “children with these disabilities are fairly ostracised, and treated quite differently in the public arena.”
“Any time where a special needs student can be part of a mainstream group or in an everyday situation I think would be very, very beneficial, but the detriment to the others is a big concern also,” Lorrae continued.
“I’ve heard of teachers that are absolutely struggling in a mainstream classroom who have one or two special needs children, and they’re really struggling to the point where they can’t cope.”
Lorrae says the What Are You Doing video will be crucial for educating children about autism.
“Any education is really, really important,” Lorrae says.
The trailer for ‘What Are You Doing?’ can be seen at http://vimeo.com/24156028
Image is Snapshot from ‘What Are You Doing?”