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Neurodiversity Through Film – Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

This movie is the story of a creative boy named Rafael “Rafe” Khatchadorian who works to change an unfair and ultra-authoritarian, rigid, and neurotypical system in his school.

Rafe is an avid and extremely imaginative artist who creates all sorts of amazing works and characters. He draws whenever and wherever he can, and often imagines his creations in real life. However, Rafe is put in a difficult state of mind after his brother Leo passes away from cancer. He gets kicked out of several schools, spends most of his time in his own world, and even imagines his brother as if he were still around. All this can be considered behaviors and/or actions from a neurodivergent person, especially one in bereavement.

The people around Rafe are also put into difficult positions. His mother tries to help him the best she can but is often preoccupied and manipulated by her boyfriend Carl who everyone else hates and jokingly refers to as “Bear” due to his obnoxious and immature behavior. Meanwhile, Rafe’s little sister Georgia also has concern for her brother and bereaves Leo but hides it behind a mask of maturity, though she still tries to help Rafe whenever she can.

Things get interesting when Rafe arrives at his new school known as H.V.M.S and finds that it is a very strict and depressing place, with the students walking in slow moving straight lines and no art or any real color. The school has so many rules that restrict any form of creativity and/or free-will and is run by a guy known as Principal Dwight who ruthlessly enforces these rules and often makes up new ones, along with shutting down anyone who says otherwise. This principal is also obsessed with a standardized test, the Baseline Assessment of Academic Readiness… or just B.L.A.A.R. which reflects a maladaptive and unengaging curriculum, and that is just no good for neurodivergent students. Dwight will literally do anything to maintain his control over the school and enforce the rules, even if it means breaking them himself.

H.V.M.S. is a truly reprehensible place (in a way, a sort of opposite to Landmark). There are a few exceptions such as a teacher named Mr. Teller who is much more relaxed and fun loving, and another student named Jeanne who wishes things would change. Even so, basically no one in the school can actively oppose its overly strict environment. For a while, H.M.V.S. remains another one of the worst environments for neurodivergent folk, and many other kinds of people for that matter. Fortunately, a large part of the film showcases Rafe aiming to change things for the better.

Throughout the movie, Rafe along with an imaginary Leo start Operation Rules Aren’t for Everyone, a play on the formers own name and an insurrection to go up against the principal. As the B.L.A.A.R. draws closer, every one of the school’s rules are broken in the most creative and interesting ways possible. For example, post-it notes are plastered all over the school in artistic designs (Rule #11 No loitering in halls), Principal Dwight’s hair is dyed pink (Rule #35 No crazy hair color), farting noises are added to the bell (Rule #12 No tampering with school equipment), and the school’s trophy case is turned into a fish tank (Rule #34 Don’t touch the trophy case).

To top it all off, the movie ends with the movement being a rousing success. Though there were some threats such as Principal Dwight attempting to use what happened to his advantage, he ultimately gets fired and the school’s authoritarianism along with the B.L.A.A.R. are finally gone for good. Rafe’s mother breaks up with Bear and Rafe even enters a relationship with Jeanne which breaks Rule #86, no public displays of affection.

This movie revolves around the importance of friendly and flexible environments for people like students in all sorts of schools, along with not being afraid to try and change things for the better. Even though there is a chance one might get shot down, they should never give up, strategize, and work to solve problems like the ones in the movie because if they do not do it, then who will?

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