Autism is among the most poorly understood developmental disorders–professionals still don’t know what exactly causes disorders on the autism spectrum, and it can be difficult even for those close to someone on the spectrum to empathize with the autistic experience.
For their senior project at Ringling College of Art and Design, Marisabel Fernandez and Alexander Bernard combined video and animation in a short film, called Listen, which imagines life through the eyes of a nonverbal autistic child. The designers aim “to give a glimpse into the lives of children living with autism and, in any way we can, to inspire positive change through a deeper tolerance and understanding,” they write in their artist statement.
Their abstract 2-D and 3-D graphics are meant as a visual metaphor, not a literal depiction of what an autistic child might see. To convey the out-of-sync senses that are typical of an autistic mind, the designers fractured images from their larger context. Animated swirls of color on a dark background convey a sense of confusion. A therapist appears as a looming, strange presence.
The protagonist’s hyper-acute hearing means that the everyday sound of a ringing phone becomes a jarring, painful event, and the chatter of a woman speaking and a dog barking are perceived as cacophony. The feeling of one’s senses going into overdrive can make an autistic person lash out. Here, the character hits the ground while the therapist cheerfully urges “Stay with me.” It’s an original, compassionate visualization of an often baffling and heartbreaking condition.