I was excited to hear about the new BBC drama The A Word which focuses on autism. These are my views after watching the first episode.
First, you have to remember this is not a documentary about autism, it is a drama, and although autism has featured in dramas before it’s never actually been the main focus of the program. With a title like The A Word, and A obviously meaning Autism, you expect the dramas main focus on autism and how the family involved deal with it.
It’s always good to raise awareness of Autism in whatever way but it is even possible to make people aware of all the features that the autism spectrum has and how it affects everyone in different ways. Creating awareness through a drama has it’s setbacks, many will say that the child with autism is nothing like their child, and many with children with similar behaviours will start thinking, does my child have autism.
The A Word focuses on a family living in the Lake District so we given some wonderful back scenery to the drama. Alison and Paul are the parents of a five year old boy Joe, who receives his autism diagnosis in the first episode. Also featured are Alison’s older daughter, Rebecca (from a different partner), her Dad, Maurice, her brother, Eddie and his wife, Nicola. The family member’s all have their own dramas going on. Maurice has an unwanted admirer and Eddie and Nicola have marriage problems after Nicola’s affair with a colleague at work.
The drama starts with Joe’s fifth birthday party and it’s obvious that he’s not really taking part in it like the other children, he doesn’t join in the games and goes into sensory overload when all eyes are on him for the birthday song and candle blowing. How does he cope with the sensory overload? Well, he lies face down to block it all out.
My son would lie face down when faced with sensory overload, and not just on the carpet, he’d do it in the street, in the shops and even on public transport. When he was small we could just pick him up and remove him, this became harder as he got older, quite simply, he didn’t want to be moved.
Autistic children react differently to sensory overload, some will lash out, some will run away, there are lots of way to get away, or distract yourself.
We see as the drama evolves that little Joe misses out on birthday parties.Invites are handed out to all his classmates but not him. He doesn’t seem to have any school friends and is very much secluded.
It’s not always the case, my son was very popular at his friends parties, but my daughter, now 10, has only ever been invited to one school friend’s birthday party, and no-one turned up for her sixth birthday party. We fool ourselves by saying it’s because her birthday is in the school holidays.
Joe has a love of music and is seen often with his headphones on. It’s the perfect distraction, we all know how you can put on your headphones and the world goes away. A lot of autistic children do not want to be part of the world around them, they don’t join in with other children, take much notice at school, listen to what you are saying to them. They live in their own little world and this can be displayed in many ways.
My daughter has developed a little imaginary world with imaginary friends and creatures, it used to feature much more when she was younger, and sometimes the only way to get through to her was to join in with her world. It’s less of a feature now that she is older, but she still remembers it.
After the parents, Alison and Paul, are given the diagnosis of autism for their son they are obviously distressed. They know that their lives are changed forever and are fearful of the future for their son. Even when you are already convinced that your child has autism, when the diagnosis comes it is always distressing. It’s something that’s very difficult to get your head around. I think this part of the drama was handled well.
Overall, I’d say it was quite an under powered episode. Autism is a powerful subject and needs careful handling, you can’t sweep it under the carpet. I do think the drama will grow and improve though. There seems a gentle build up to a lot of more powerful drama to come. Well, I hope so anyway.
|Alison (Morven Christie) and Paul (Lee Ingleby) with their son Joe (Max Vento) in The A Word. Photograph: BBC/Fifty Fathoms|