Girls with autism
For six months Limpsfield Grange School for girls in Surrey opened its doors allowing the cameras to film their teachers and students, the majority of whom have autism.
The school, which offers boarding, takes a unique approach to preparing the girls for life after the school, using tough love and vast amounts of patience. Head teacher Sarah Wild explains how their staff are willing to go to try anything to engage their girls. Animals are brought into the classroom, and going for dog walks mid-lesson is not uncommon.
The girls themselves are an eclectic mix of personalities, demonstrating the diversity found amongst individuals on the autism spectrum; as Ms Wild explains ‘once you have met one girl on the spectrum, you have met one girl on the spectrum’. Sixteen-year-old Katie has both Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and ADHD. She is also obsessed with boys; her parents recently discovered 1160 versions of the same image of an unknown boy on her iPad and she is filmed bursting with excitement over the end of term Disco with a nearby boys’ school. Beth, who is 14, has both Asperger’s Syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance. Reluctant to fit into the school where she reports feeling more alien than she did in her mainstream school, Beth often self-harms and has previously attempted to commit suicide.
Polar opposite to these two students is Abigail, who since discovering her mother’s cancer diagnosis has become selectively mute at the school and difficult to engage with. Whilst at home she is filmed being very loud, Abigail mocks the hair loss her mother has experienced from her chemotherapy and seems to find her illness funny, however, her struggle to deal with her concern and empathy for her mother is evident.
What is most apparent from all these girls is their intense anxiety, and also their strong desire to form friendships, many compensating with imaginary friends. It is fascinating to watch the special relationships these girls form with their fellow students, teachers, and the care staff. With female autism viewed by many as a rarity, this documentary demonstrates many of the common misconceptions about autism we have; these girls showed both genuine empathy and creativity, two abilities believed to be impaired in autism. This documentary is an eye opener for not only teachers and carers working with individuals on the spectrum, but also the general public in raising awareness of difference in our society.
- Reviewed by Hannah Belcher, who is a PhD student studying females with autism. Watch now on ITV player.
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