Last night, like thousands of other people in the UK, I tuned in to watch the BBC’s new Drama ‘The A Word’. Actually, if I’m honest, I watched half of it last night. I fell asleep halfway through it and watched the rest this morning.
The falling asleep is no indication of the quality of the programme by the way, I’m just tired and not very well at the moment.
Before I watched the first episode I didn’t know much about it, just that one of the main characters is a young boy with autism. The A Word is the story of a family who have been working around their young child’s differences for so long that they find it difficult to admit that he might have a significant problem. When Joe’s parents are forced to entertain the possibility that there might be something ‘wrong’ with their son, their reaction, and those of their friends and family, make for an emotional drama that will feel familiar to many of us who have first had experience of neurodiversity.
Joe’s story is very different from that of the autists in our family but I recognised some of the emotions, behaviours and situations.
The boy who plays Joe is a very good actor; he’s not autistic himself but he is very convincing in his role. One thing to remember though is that if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person, They are all so different. Not many people would pick out my daughters as autistic but one has a diagnosis, one is in the process of getting one. In fact I have had many people express surprise if I mention it. ‘Are you sure?’ is an often asked question. There are less girls with autism than there are boys, and they are harder to spot, but they are out there.
Joe is shown as a musical genius, listening to music through headphones at all times and having an encyclopedic knowledge of songs and lyrics. Not every autistic person has a special skill. Some children with autism are savants and have these ‘special talents’ but many others don’t. Some have below average abilities, some are average, and some are above average. Special skills make for good TV in this case and do allow the use of an excellent soundtrack for the series.
I also thought the process of diagnosis was portrayed unrealistically as most families I know have had to wait for months, or even years, for a diagnosis. We were turned down for assessment twice for DD2 before we had to get CAHMS involved. From there we were granted a referral and then a diagnosis. And for us, it wasn’t actually a shock at that point, it was more a relief that we could get some help.
Of course, what help is available depends on where you live..
It’s going to be a good series, I think and well worth a look even if you don’t think you know anyone with autism. Because actually, you might one day, and more importantly you might learn something. And with knowledge comes tolerance.
Did you watch The A word? What did you think? Did it remind you of your experiences?
The A word shows on BBC1 on Tuesdays at 9pm or is available on iPlayer.