How a cartoon hedgehog is helping us understand autism

 
 
 

Growing up, Rita du Plessis felt enormous pressure to fit in. She has Asperger Syndrome, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. Though not uncommon, it's still widely misunderstood. Today, Du Plessis is drawing up her own definition of belonging with the animated film, Sam the Hedgehog. With her insightful critters, this artist is reframing ideas of normality.

The stop-motion film tells the story of a hedgehog growing up in a family of sheep. “He is a little bit prickly and does not act like the other lambs,” Du Plessis says. “But by the end of the film, we realise that the world has a place for him too – prickles and all.” With expert skill, Du Plessis animated the environment, identities and expressions of the characters. To refine the script, she’s worked together with autism experts and the team from MAAN Creative.

The film is a mark of progression for South Africa. “Just because a person is autistic, doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t pursue their dreams,” Du Plessis says. Through her work, the talented artist is creating connection and reshaping perspectives. “After seeing this film, I hope children and parents will get a better understanding of what it’s like to be autistic,” Du Plessis says.