Written by Madeleine Buchner, CEO of Little Dreamers Australia
There is something equally weird and wonderful when you’re sitting in a movie theatre with 100 other people and you’re watching a movie that could literally be the story of your life. It’s a feeling that comes over you where you’re not quite sure if you feel comfortable that the way you felt 99% of the time growing up is now on screen for everyone to see, or if, in actual fact, having everyone see the way you felt is the most brilliant thing in the world. This is exactly how I felt when I saw the new movie Wonder earlier this year.Based on a critically acclaimed novel by the same name, Wonder took me by surprise, filling me with every single emotion possible, in a way no movie has done in a very long time. Dealing with a number of different issues throughout the movie including prejudice, self acceptance, bullying, friendship and the impact that children with special needs can have on the whole family. The movie has storylines that would hit everyone in the feels from adults who have a child with a special need, to children who have siblings with special needs, school age children, parents with children in schools and everyone in between. Wonder not only threw me into a pretty uncomfortable deep end of emotions but also provided both myself and the wider community with a new platform to discuss issues with families and young people that are often pretty difficult to tackle.
For the last 16 years I have spent every single day finding new ways to care for Australia’s Young Carers and Special Siblings, people who grow up in families affected by disability, illness or addiction. There are close to 500,000 of these young people in Australia alone, suffering from higher rates of unemployment, poor mental health, financial and educational disadvantage and social isolation. My long term vision? To create an international community of Young Carers and Special Siblings who feel empowered, engaged and supported to reach their full potential. Through Little Dreamers Australia we have supported over 2,500 Young Carers in Australia, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.While the movie centres around Auggie Pullman and the challenges he has going to a realschool for the first time when he looks different to all other children, the character that I could relate to the most was Via. Via is Auggie’s older sister, a role that I knew very well growing up as the older sister of my brother who has a range of chronic illnesses, learning difficulties and allergies. Via’s role in this movie so closely embodied everything that I felt as a Special Sibling growing up that it was almost terrifying watching things that had always struggled to express, be so eloquently expressed on screen. I would not trade my childhood for anything, but to know that there are other people going through the same struggles – lying about being an only child because it is easier, thinking that nobody cares about you, wondering if your parents would miss you if you disappeared – gives me hope.
I grew up extremely close to my grandparents. I would stay at their house whenever my brother went into hospital and still to this day I am forever taking shelter at their place to feel the calm that comes over me when in the presence of my grandparents. Via’s grandmother plays a similar role in this film, acting as the person who looks out for her when she feels like she has no one else. When I was little, my grandma told me that if I slept with my head in the middle of the pillow everything would be ok when I woke up. When things are tough, still, at the age of 25, I make sure my head is in the middle of the pillow when I go to sleep because when I look back on my life everything did turn out ok, and I’m pretty sure that theory and my grandparents had a big part to play in that.
There was scepticism in the caring community when this movie was released. Would it glorify carers, painting them in a happy picture or would it truly show the ups and downs of being in a family with extra needs. Down to my very core, I believe that this movie did the caring role justice – highlighting how hard it is for a parent to let their child out into a world where they can no longer 100% protect them, where a sister feels they need to fight for attention but at the same time wants to fade into the background, and where kids are learning to be more accepting of things that are out of the ordinary.
While I know that each person will take something different away from this movie, depending on who they relate to most, each person will definitely take away a much needed lesson. Choose kindness. Always. This movie teaches us that if you want to see who people truly are, all you have to do is look. The world is full with people making assumptions, judging a book by its cover, learning about people from the internet, rather than in real life. Wonder shows us that there is more to life than what it looks like from the outside. For people with disabilities, for their friends, for their family and for their carers – this one is for you.
Do you know a Special Sibling or are you a Special Sibling or Young Carer? Check out Little Dreamers Australia, Australia’s leading Young Carer support organisation.
Looking for some support if you or someone you know is being bullied? Chat to the amazing team at Project Rockit.