Ausnew Home Care | Lights, camera, access: These neurodiverse teenagers are using their skills in film and on TV

Lights, camera, access: These neurodiverse teenagers are using their skills in film and on TV

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At the age of four, Carys Wisdom was mimicking actors on screen in her living room while the rest of her family watched on.

A year later, she stepped onto a real stage for her first school production.

"When I started acting, I really liked how [it made] the crowd and my parents happy … And that kind of made me feel happy," Ms Wisdom says.

It didn't take long before the Coffs Harbour local was cast in her high school's musical of the 2005 film Madagascar.

"When I got the lead role of Gloria, I was excited but nervous at the same time. But Mum always told me: 'If you have confidence in yourself, you will feel confident, and the audience will feel it too'," Ms Wisdom says.

Ms Wisdom lives with autism, a developmental disability that can impact the way a person experiences an environment and interacts in social settings.

She also lives with a receptive speech and language disorder that has been a challenge throughout her education.

But it never got in the way of the now 19-year-old's dream of being an actor.

A smiling older teenage girl wearing a bee outfit for a theatre production.
Carys Wisdom in costume for a community theatre production of Jack and the Green Pork.()

In fact, she says her autism made it easier for her to remember her lines. "As long as I watch [a film], as long as I read the lines over and over again — it becomes so natural to me that I know the words just like that," Ms Wisdom says.

Dr Sally Clifford, a Sydney-based clinical psychologist who specialises in autism, says this is a strength of many neurodivergent people.

"They're significantly more able to focus for extended periods of time on things, meaning they can commit 100 per cent to a passion," Dr Clifford says.

Dr Clifford says they can develop a sort of encyclopaedic type of knowledge on certain areas.

And while the arts are a great way to showcase a neurodivergent person's memory, Dr Clifford says there's an element of safety in there too.

"I think scripted performances allow a predictability within interactions, which then kind of brings about a bit of safety and comfort to explore things that autistic people don't always get straight away," Dr Clifford says.

Ms Wisdom is now studying Accessible Film Studies at Bus Stop Films, a pioneering, not-for-profit organisation that uses filmmaking and the film industry to change community attitudes about people with disability and their rights and contributions to society.

"I'm really excited to see what comes in the future and I've already got some brand-new ideas for my own stories," Ms Wisdom says.

Melbourne student unleashes his talents to the world

Melbourne high school student, Josh, discovered his skills in the arts while also performing in his school's musical production.

"We did have to stick to a script, but by the end of it, it was pretty much ad lib," Josh says.

"It was my first time being a main character in a stage show!"

Josh features in the ABC's two-part documentary series This Is Going To Be Big, which follows the six-month journey of neurodiverse teenagers from the Sunbury and Macedon Ranges Specialist School's Bullengarook Campus as they prepare to stage a time-travelling, John Farnham-themed musical.

YOUTUBEThis Is Going To Be Big (trailer). The award-winning documentary is now available to watch on iview.

The film has already premiered in Melbourne, and on the international stage — something Josh says caught everyone at his school by surprise.

"[The film's] been over to London, Estonia and most of the European countries. It's just recently landed in the US at the True/False Film Festival, and that got a standing ovation," Josh says.

Earlier this year, This Is Going To Be Big won the Best Feature Documentary award at the Australian International Documentary Conference, following on from its success at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), where it won the Audience Award and the MIFF Schools Youth Jury Award.

"Nobody realised the impact we'd have … just being this one rural school that nobody knows about, to becoming this global sensation," Josh says.

Josh, who lives with Asperger's syndrome, says he hopes more people realise the vast capabilities of people living with a disability.

A male teenager in a magenta, collared school t-shirt sits outside against a fence.
Josh hopes more people realise the vast capabilities of people living with a disability.()

Advocacy for every ability

Mish Graham, 38, is an Australian Sign Language (Auslan) film and TV coordinator, and she says she chose to study film on the Gold Coast because of the support of her encouraging drama teacher.

The neurodivergent Queensland local later moved to Melbourne for the arts culture, but when she arrived she struggled to find work.

"I kind of made this list of everything I would ever want to do and Auslan was in the top five [things]," Mish says.

As someone who is not deaf or hard of hearing, Mish says learning Auslan was a fusion of her love for creativity and communication.

She's gone on to work in the Deaf department of schools all over the world, including London, New Zealand and Samoa.

A smiling Australian woman stand among a group of Samoan young people at a school.
Mish Graham in Samoa.()

"A lot of my friends who are deaf just feel like they use a different language. They don't feel like they're disabled. What makes them feel disabled is a culture that doesn't know their language," she says.

Dr Clifford says this is something neurodivergent people experience as well.

She says people with autism often must hide or disguise parts of themselves to fit into social settings, a behaviour also known masking.

"This model, the social model of disability, suggests that it's society that places the limits on a person, not their disability."

Dr Clifford says, at times, masking is a means for survival.

And she says it doesn't need to be, if more people create an accessible environment where people living with a disability can flourish and be themselves.

"It's now about learning how to unmask in those social settings and the settings where those individuals feel most safe to bring about that choice to pull that sort of mask off [and know] 'when I choose to do so, I'm safe to do so,'" she says.

This is something Ms Graham now enables in her job, bringing a team of people together to create safer working environments for deaf actors in Australia.

Mish says her job allows for a more accurate representation of people from the Deaf community in film and television to be showcased.

For more stories like this, check out This Is Going To Be Big on ABC iview.

Gladys Serugga is the associate impact producer at ABC Sydney. She previously worked as a multi-platform reporter at ABC Adelaide and a TV reporter for Behind The News. She started at the ABC in 2021 as a radio presenter and producer through a Regional Traineeship at ABC Gippsland after completing her master's in journalism at the University of Melbourne.


Source: ABC

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