Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Students discover world of autism

  • April 11, 2021

An immersive film showing the world through the eyes of non-speaking autistic children is sparking class discussion on difference, communication, empathy and kindness. 

Based on a bestselling book by the same name, The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida was virtually screened for staff and students at Marymount Academy in Sudbury, Ont., as part of the school’s kick off to Autism Awareness Month in April. Afterwards, students took part in classroom discussions.

The film tells the story of young people with autism from around the world through the dialogue of a 13-year-old boy from Japan with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

As Ontario’s education system works to become more inclusive, Marymount staff see teaching on differences in learning as a vitally important part in Catholic education. It helps facilitate character and relationship building among students of differing abilities and promotes an environment where ASD students feel free to be to be themselves. 

“Patience, acceptance, inclusion, kindness and compassion — these are all Catholic virtues that that are woven within our Catholic teachings on a daily basis,” said English and religion teacher Tammy Jutila. “As the ministry moves towards more inclusive classrooms, I think it becomes more important to educate students about everyone’s different abilities to learn and how we see the world differently.”

Through powerful imagery and dialogue, staff say allowing the audience into the mind of someone with ASD shows what people might be going through while expressing what could be perceived as socially awkward behaviours. 

“We all have our little quirks and we’re all different and I think it’s just really important to build a culture and environment where students feel safe to be themselves and express themselves,” said principal Cassandra Tenbergen.   

The Grade 7 to 12 all-girls’ school has seen an increase in enrolment of students diagnosed with ASD over the past few years. Staff consulted students with ASD and their parents prior to screening the film to determine comfortability levels. Paula Burnard, whose daughter Cassandra is in the seventh grade, says the day was “impactful.” She feels it was especially helpful for those who may be inclined to negatively personalize the behaviour of children on the spectrum.

 “I think from Cassandra’s point of view it was helpful for the fact that there were some kids that were really standoffish thinking, ‘Well, she doesn’t like me because she never talks to me,’ ” said Burnard. “That has nothing to do with why she’s not talking to you. … (The film and discussions gave them) that insight into empathy, which I think should be true for everyone whether on the spectrum or not.”

Jutila says as students witnessed the inner reality of autism, it helped to foster a safe space in the online classroom to share their own experiences and feelings of difference. 

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