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Silver screen beckons for Midlands autism campaigner's life story

A man from Stoke-on-Trent who has spent his life campaigning for autism awareness is having his story of growing up with the condition transformed for the silver screen.

The short film follows Kevin Healey’s childhood struggles with bullying, his obsessions, and his family's battle to get a diagnosis - and people from across the UK, many with difficulties and disabilities of their own, have auditioned for a part.

Video report by Charlotte Cross:

Kevin, aged 41, and his twin brother Shaun both have autism - but while doctors recognised Shaun’s non-verbal form of the condition early on, Kevin was not diagnosed until the relatively late age of 27.

Doctors and teachers ignored his family’s pleas for help, he says - and as a result, he spent much of his childhood suffering at the hands of bullies and being scolded by teachers for his unusual behaviour, which they interpreted as naughtiness.

On one occasion, I was being picked on in the classroom, so I remember the teacher one day saying to me, 'Kevin can you come and stand at the blackboard and write something on the blackboard'.

I took that very literally - and still do as an adult, take things very literally - so I went over to the blackboard and lay down on the floor and put my feet on the blackboard.

– Kevin Healey
Kevin Healey campaigns for autism awareness Credit: ITV News

He decided to write down his story as a way of raising awareness - and eventually, thanks to director Andrew Dobosz, who has Asperger's, it was picked up and will be translated into a short 20-minute film.

Among those to attend auditions at the Queen’s Theatre in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, this week was local man Clinton Taylor, aged 30.

Having grown up partially deaf and with learning disabilities, he told ITV News Central he was delighted to see a production which welcomed more people like him.

“This is absolutely fantastic. Filmmakers should do a lot more with people with disabilities,” he said.

“I feel it isn't open enough to everybody with all disabilities. People who are making films, or plays, or other activities should be open to the talent that’s there.”

(L-R) Janet Boulon and Clinton Taylor were among those to audition Credit: ITV News

Janet Boulton, 52, also from Stoke, added: "I think it's awareness of it, and there's more positive signs of things, and it should be brought to life much sooner than what it has."

And 13-year-old Callum Westbury, who has autism himself, travelled with his parents from Walsall to audition for the role of a young Kevin.

“I think it’s important for people with autism to be able to take part in things,” he said.

“I wanted to show people what I can do, and I wanted to act.”

He began with a monologue from Harry Potter, before reading lines from the film's script.

Callum Westbury auditioned for the role of Kevin Credit: ITV News

The production is also being supported by psychologist and anti-bullying campaigner Dr Pam Spurr, who said she welcomed the opportunity for people who may find interaction difficult to get involved in something creative.

I hope from this production people take away a message that 'let's be kinder to each other, let's be more understanding of people who may have some sort of issue or disability' - or even just people who don’t behave in a way you think is normal.

It's a wonderful way to express yourself in a creative way when you might have difficulties in social circumstances.

– Dr Pam Spurr
Kevin and his brother Shaun both have autism Credit: Kevin Healey

The film, set in the 1980s when Kevin and Shaun were growing up, will be shot on locations around Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire starting in July, and will be staffed entirely by volunteers.

All profits will go to the Staffordshire Adult Autistic Society - and as well as raising awareness of autism, the production team hope it will help budding actors from all walks of life take their first step towards a career on-screen.

“It's really inspiring because people are coming forward who've got autism, different types of challenges and conditions and disabilities, who want to be part of this film,” Kevin said.

“Andrew is a great person to be involved as well, so I'm really excited about it."