Film reviews: different educational needs

April 12, 2024

Image by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pixabay

Exposure’s autistic author, Max Ferreira watches three films addressing different learning difficulties

When I watch autism related films like BBC Two’s Inside our Autistic Mind or Am I Still Autistic? on YouTube, I am fascinated to see the lives of young people and how they go through some experiences with similarity to my own autism.

However, I am also curious to know how young people with different learning difficulties experience life. So I found three interesting films, each of them focusing on an individual learning difficulty and conveying how different they are to each other.



Headspace, a 16-minute short film by Irish filmmaker Aisling Byrne, tells the story of a young man named Tony (Mark Smith) with Down’s syndrome struggling with his daily challenges and being around other people in the community home.

Down’s syndrome is a lifetime genetic condition where young people with extra chromosome, which are a small combination of genes affecting their body function and physical features, along with some level of learning difficulty at birth.

What I like about the short is how it represents growing up with the condition and how it affects Mark’s confidence when waiting to get into a paid job and being distracted by Michael (Daniel Ryan), another resident that Tony doesn’t get along with due to his behaviour.

To me it’s a bit like seeing two young people with autism spectrum disorder, where one has more complex needs than the other.

According to Aisling Byrne, “I work a lot with talented learning-disabled creatives and performers and an ensemble of actors at my company Run of the Mill. Mark Smith, the lead actor in Headspace is a close collaborator of mine and I wrote the film for him to perform in and with his consultancy across the script. He consistently challenges me to think about the things that I haven’t thought about, or communicated, and that is a really wonderful thing to have.”

Overall I found Headspace interesting, understandable and relatable

This means Aisling Byrne combined her interest in storytelling and the experience of young people with learning disabilities to create the film. Along with Mark Smith, other actors like Daniel Ryan and Jackie O’Hagan, with the same condition, did a great job in Headspace.

In fact, since its premiere at the 2022 Cork International Film Festival in Ireland the film has won the Oscar Qualifying Grand Prix Best Short award.

Like BBC One’s Ralph and Katie, a spin off drama from The A Word about the adventures of newlyweds Ralph (Leon Harrop) and Katie (Sarah Gordy), Headspace is about an individual with Down’s syndrome trying to fit in with other young people with the same condition, as well becoming an adult.

Overall I found Headspace interesting, understandable and relatable.

It is also a good tool for young people to learn that those growing up with a learning disability or condition experience daily challenges that can be more difficult than for others.


Sam Thompson: Is This ADHD?

Last year, when I was watching I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! I noticed one of the contestants, TV personality/radio presenter, Sam Thompson talking about his recent ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) diagnosis in 2023.

When Sam said he had ADHD I was curious to learn about it in his Channel 4 Documentary called Sam Thompson: Is this ADHD?

It’s about his life before and after his diagnosis, after people commented about him having ADHD based on his energetic behaviour. ADHD is a condition that affects the behaviour of young people, that leads to them being restless, unable to stay focus and having problems being organised.

What I like about the film is how Sam is beginning to understand about having ADHD and trying out different methods to control his condition.

One scene was really eye opening, when Sam went to see a psychiatrist for an ADHD assessment. Not only does Sam have ADHD, he’s also on the autism spectrum and has tic syndrome (TS), a condition of the nervous system.

As a young person with autism I understand about opening up about my learning difficulty

According to Sam Thompson himself, “I realised something was different with me and then, as I got older, a lot of colleagues and people that I worked with would be like, ‘Oh, you definitely have ADHD’ but I didn’t know what they meant. I need to be more self aware of myself and I feel like there’s loads of things that I’m struggling.”

This means so many young people like Sam are experiencing getting a late diagnosis, when they slowly starting to understand the symptoms of having ADHD, as well as accessing guidance to try make their lives easier.

It’s a bit like BBC One’s Christine McGuinness: Unmasking My Autism, where she understands more about her true colours ever since she got her autism diagnosis back in 2021.

As a young person with autism I understand about opening up about my learning difficulty and find possibilities to overcome our daily challenges in life.

Overall, I found Sam Thompson’s ADHD programme informative, funny and recommendable to check out.


I Am Dyslexic

When I hear the word dyslexia, it means young people who have trouble with reading, writing and understanding the sound of words. And what I found online is a short film designed to make us aware about the struggle with literacy called I Am Dyslexic by Mads Johan Øgaard and Katie Noel Wyman.

The animated short illustrates the mind of a young boy with dyslexia, struggling to climb up a mountain in a fantasy world, surrounded by thousands of pages with thousands of words.

What I found creative in the 6-minute short is how it gives an insight about young people living with dyslexia, based on Mads and Katie’s experience with the learning difficulty.

For example, when watching the scene when the mountain of books tumbled to the ground, it’s like an avalanche of anxiety and stress growing inside someone’s head.

With additional support and guidance, young people with dyslexia can now accomplish so much in life

But it’s really encouraging at the end to see a young girl in the short, who’s also dyslexic, help the boy succeed to the top. To me it shows there’s more than one person diagnosed with dyslexia and they are not alone to be able to overcome reading and writing.

According to film creator Mads Johan Øgaard, a Norwegian animator, public speaker and special needs teacher, “My aim with my work is to portray how individuals with learning differences feel, so they can use my content as a tool.”

This means Mads’ technique in showing how the condition can be made easier to live with.

With additional support and guidance, young people with dyslexia can now accomplish so much in life, just like Richard Branson and Jamie Oliver, who are both successful business people.

Overall it was a very imaginative and reassuring film that gives an insight on how young people with special educational needs think and see the world differently and how there are so many things now available to help them integrate into society.


What I learned from watching these films is how young people like myself go through similar scenarios and challenges in life. But everyone with a specific learning difficulty or with special needs experiences the world differently from each other.

We’re all human beings at the end of the day and we never stop learning.