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Ballyroney schoolgirl provides voice for CBeebies cartoon

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Ballyroney schoolgirl provides voice for CBeebies cartoon thumbnailRachael with a cutout of her character, Mouse, and creative director at Paper Owl Films, Grainne McGuinness who came up with the idea of Pablo after watching her autistic nephew playing with his cousins.

INSPIRATIONAL Rachael Dickson from Ballyroney is a star of the small screen! Rachael has given her creative input to a new children's television show starring and written by young people on the autism spectrum.

Rachael is pursuing her dreams and is "delighted" with the new children's show - the first of its kind.

The show named 'Pablo', after Picasso, was aired last Monday (2 October) on both CBeebies and RTEjr. The 52-episode and 2D animation series was created and produced by Co Down production company, Paper Owl Films.

Pablo is the first ever television programme with an all-autistic core cast and its content is entirely authentic with every episode grounded in the real-life experiences of autistic children, each one devised, co-written and voiced by young autistic talent.

The show is an animated pre-school series which follows the story of a creative autistic boy who draws imaginary animal friends that come to life to help him handle situations that make him feel anxious or confused.

A daughter of Jim and Pamela Dickson, 18-year-old Rachael voices the part of 'Mouse', one of the show's main characters, alongside Pablo star Jake Williamson, an 11-year-old Holywood schoolboy.

Speaking about how she got involved, Rachael told The Outlook: "My eldest sister saw a post on Autism NI's Facebook page asking young people with autism to audition for a new show. I enjoy drama at school and my mum thought it would be fun to apply." Rachael said she was "over the moon" when she received the news that she was going to be a part of the new show and assist with writing the programme too.

"I wrote some stories and dialogue for Andrew, the main writer, to use. He adapted one of these stories into Facts and Mistakes which will be one of the episodes shown soon. I also gave the director ideas on how to animate my character Mouse.

"I loved Mouse when I first read the information about her, she is so like me. We both hate loud music and strong smells, surprises and the dark. We like to be organised and have a routine. I love her gentleness, cuteness and how close she is to her friends, just like me!.

"The show is a very honest portrayal of autism and will help everyone understand a bit more about autism and not just children on the spectrum. Everyone should learn something from the adventures of Pablo and the book animals," Rachael added.

Rachael has made lifelong friendships with the other children from the programme and it is clear that the programme is something she is extremely proud to have been a part of: "I first became friends with Rosie who plays Llama, Rosie has appeared on two other shows; MyAutism and Newsround. I am friends with the rest of the main cast and their families too.

"The Pablo team is like a family which includes everyone involved in the production and we are very honoured to be a part of it." A member of Ballyroney Girls' Brigade, Rachael obtained her Brigader brooch in March 2016. She was also awarded an endurance award this year by GB NI which was a "great honour" for her.

Speaking about her interests and hobbies, Rachael said: "I have a great interest in Japan and I love collecting Japanese toys. I like playing with my DS and reading and writing stories. I attend an autistic specific youth club and through this have been going to a drama group which is a lot of fun." Rachael was diagnosed with autism at the age of three when she attended Banbridge Nursery School. She then spent P1-P3 in the autism class before moving onto mainstream school at Kilkeel Primary.

Rachael is now in her final year at Beechlawn School in Hillsborough and Rachael's mum Pamela said her daughter has "benefited from the excellent teachers and classroom assistants throughout her school life who have all contributed to the confident girl we have today".

Speaking about the process and how the show has made a positive impact on her daughter's life, Pamela said: "I had been with Rachael throughout the audition process and have seen how much she had enjoyed it so I was delighted when I heard she had got the part. Working on Pablo has given her so much confidence and helped her in so many ways such as interacting with her peer group and attending events which can be noisy." Pamela hopes the show will help people to understand the challenges faced by autistic children and their families.

"Sometimes as a parent it is hard to understand what has upset your child. As the show has been written with such a large input from people on the spectrum it gives us an insight into the things that are difficult for our children such as shopping in the supermarket or someone dressing completely different to usual." Pamela also feels that the show has not only benefited her daughter, but it has also helped her understand life from Rachael's perspective.

"Being a part of the whole experience has helped me to fully appreciate how little things to us can be huge to a person on the spectrum.

"All children, regardless of whether they are autistic or not, will love the characters on the show due to their simplicity and the fun they all have together. I really believe that the show will help everyone to see that people with autism just see things a little differently. For children with autism it will maybe help them to realise that they are not alone in feeling the way they do and perhaps give them confidence to try new things." Rachael's two older sisters Rebecca and Catherine say they are "very proud of Rachael and think Pablo is a great programme that will help everyone to understand a bit more about autism".

A second series was commissioned by CBeebies in November 2016, a year ahead of delivery which is a first for the children's channel.

Speaking about her future aspirations, Rachael said: "I'm not too sure what I am going to do when I leave school but I really love writing and acting and I hope to continue with this. I have enjoyed the whole Pablo experience and I hope everyone will continue to support me and my character Mouse."

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