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Anna and the Substitute Teacher premieres at the Fringe Festival focusing on Autism and Bullying

By Adam Schwartz

The feeling of belonging is something children need to grow up feeling good about themselves. We all want to see ourselves reflected in the stories that we read. I too wanted to belong but having autism made it difficult to fit in. What made this even more important was that I was bullied because I was different. This bullying took many forms from physical, verbal, as well as social since I was often excluded from parties and other gatherings which really stung. One experience I remember vividly, was when one of my soccer teammates was having a pool party, and another teammate was about to mention it to me when the guy having the party cut him off in order to make it clear that I was not included. Kids can be cruel!

The good news is that there has been lots of great work on reducing bullying in the Winnipeg schools. Ending bullying, however, is not enough. My hope is for actual acceptance and understanding as exclusion can be just as painful as other forms of bullying. I don't think the problem is that people are bad, however, I believe the problem is lack of understanding and awareness.

Therefore, I teamed up with my friend, Aimee Beaudoin who has been nominated for a Gemini for her writing work in the past on the Television show "Caution May Contain Nuts" to try and create something that we thought would be empowering for autistic children. The show we have created, is funny and heartfelt, and focuses on an exceptional day in the life of a charming young lady with Autism. When Anna's beloved teacher, Ms. Cobweb, is replaced by a spooky substitute and Stephanie the bratty bully becomes the new teacher's pet, it's up to Anna to save the day! Which "spoiler alert" she manages to do using her autistic qualities, such as not making eye-contact.

We hope that this show not only entertains, creates a better understanding of autism, but, also an understanding that everyone in our community is special and brings with them their own strengths and weaknesses and that together we are stronger than we are alone. That in the right situation, a quality we usually assume is negative can in fact be a strength and finally that we are all more similar than we are different. We all want friends, acceptance and friends to play with.

I feel creating shows about autism and other disabilities, where the child with a disability is in a position of strength, for young children is crucial. After all, the only children's show about Autism is "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night" which is about a 15 year-old-boy, not about a child in elementary school. In addition, most of the interactions in that play do not take place between the protagonist and his peers but only between himself and adults.

Anna and the Substitute Teacher premieres at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival which takes place July 17-29th and then in Edmonton from August 15-25th

Visit our website for more information on time and place

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Anna and the Substitute Teacher premieres at the Fringe Festival focusing on Autism and Bullying

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