College students win design award for short film on autism (VIDEO)

Oct 14, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Image: AADA Gallery/Vimeo

Ringling College of Art & Design students Marisabel Fernandez and Alexander Bernard found common ground in a mutual interest in autism spectrum disorders. Their short film Listen has been awarded the grand prize in the 2014 Adobe Design Achievement Awards. The thoughtful, moving film imagines life through the eyes of a young girl with a nonverbal autism spectrum disorder.

Young filmmaker Alexander Bernard recalls having a fear of autism. "I was afraid of it because I couldn't understand it," he says. He set to work with fellow student Marisabel Fernandez. As they researched, Bernard began to wonder why children with autism are sometimes pulled out of their own worlds and made to integrate into a neurotypical reality. Fernandez and Bernard believe every individual experiences his or her own reality.

Their short film imagines the reality of a child with autism who cannot communicate. The jarring phone conversation in the background is a reminder that many parents of kids with autism struggle to get the support they need. It's implied that the little girl has been kicked out of school for her behavior.

Meanwhile the sounds and expectations in the child's environment cause her deep distress, depicted in violent splashes of color and shapes. The touching film, while wholly imagined, is a reminder that children with autism who appear to be misbehaving may be interacting with a reality different than the one we can see, feel and touch. These kids deserve compassion and understanding — and we need to remember that they don't need to be "fixed."

Neither student had experience with autism before embarking on their project. As they researched for the film, they discovered many issues surrounding individuals with autism, including access to adequate health care and services. "We realized the ignorance we ourselves had towards a topic as important as this one, and felt we needed to share this story with as many as we could, to not only inform society of what these people have to go through but create more tolerance and understanding," says Fernandez.

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