Proving a newfound confidence, Theo Finderup has walked away from the cushions he once hid under and down an unofficial red carpet at the preview of his new film.
The 11-year-old has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and has spent the last couple of months working with a filmmaker putting together a documentary highlighting his experience with the disorder.
On Monday, he arrived at New Plymouth’s Event Cinemas on the back of a Harley Davidson motorbike for the premiere of the short film, Theo’s Trigger For Change.
There, he was met by a crowd of cheering classmates who all offered him handshakes and high fives as he entered the building.
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A far cry from the Vogeltown School boy who, when he did end up going to school, would spend much of the day curled up in the corner covered in cushions.
When under stress Theo would retreat to his classroom corner for safety where he would hide away from his peers.
But the past few months has been a time of transformation for Theo, who now regularly attends school and is socially and academically thriving.
Together, the school, Theo’s family and his support worker, Di Hoskin of Resource Teachers’ of Learning and Behaviour came up with strategies to help the youngster.
The change was so dramatic Hoskin felt it needed to be documented.
The film will be shared around educators, including the Ministry of Education, in an effort to bring awareness to how to interact effectively with children with ASD.
At its premiere, Theo spoke to a near-capacity theatre about his hope for the film to help others with autism.
Following the debut he said it was “amazing” seeing himself on the big screen.
“I think I was quite brave doing the film,” he said.
“I hope it helps other people…I know it will.”
Bridget Pasefika, Taranaki’s outreach co-ordinator for Autism New Zealand, said the film had given her goosebumps.
It would help people better understand autism and should be widely shared, she said.
“It should be part of the teacher’s learning curriculum.”
Among the audience was Serena Combes who has a 15-year-old son with undiagnosed autism.
“I think the film was just great,” she said.
“Not just for autistic kids but for any child who doesn’t fit the norm.”
Combes said the film celebrated the fact Theo was different.
“And that’s a good thing, and it was exciting that that was a good thing.
“It’s really worth sharing so other children know being different is OK.”