“Get to know someone on the spectrum and your life will truly be blessed!” Stephanie L. Parker
Over the long weekend, I finally caught up on the buzz surrounding The A Word, a 6-part drama about Joe, a 5 year old boy on the autistic spectrum. Through this BBC drama we see the Hughes family’s highs and lows as they come to terms with Joe’s autistic traits and how his diagnosis has an impact on their lives.
The one thing that struck me about The A Word, was despite all the family dynamics, misunderstandings and emotional upheaval, there was a lot of love and affection for Joe. Understandably, the family felt confused and overwhelmed at the realisation that their little boy has been, in their words, “labelled” autistic. As a viewer, I could see Joe’s support network cared passionately about doing right by him at all costs.
In my opinion The A Word, has helped raise awareness of autism on national television, particularly from the parents point of view and how isolating it can be for the child and the family. This is particularly as around 700,000 people in the UK have autism which often goes unrecognised or misunderstood. However, although I commend the BBC on dramatising this content on primetime television, I found parts of the programme difficult to watch due to overdramatised storylines to boost ratings.
As a special education teacher, I work with autistic children and communicate with their parents on a daily basis. In the programme Joe was diagnosed with autism pretty much straight away after seeing a consultant. I have personally seen parents go through the lengthy diagnosis process with several external consultants and fight their way through the legal system for the local authorities and schools to recognise and support their child’s needs. Granted, this is on a case by case basis, but The A Word did not reflect the reality of diagnosis in the UK.
“We need to find ways to speed up diagnosis and to help identify those left isolated for too long.” Jon Spiers, Chief Executive of Autistica
In my job I communicate with a range of therapists to create IEP targets, social stories and visual aids to help autistic children with specific learning, social, emotional, therapy and behavioural needs. In The A Word I felt it would have been ideal to see a more accurate portrayal of therapists’ intervention strategies and how they can help Joe. Also, by putting more focus on the school to explore Joe’s classmates’ reactions towards him and the teachers’ efforts
to understand him or their struggle to accommodate his needs would have been an interesting angle for viewers to explore.
I was surprised at Joe’s regular bouts of wandering off for walks on his own. Autistic or not, an unattended 5 year old roaming the streets on their own, is simply dangerous. Although Joe didn’t understand the potential dangers, in reality, the potential threat needed to be honed in to Joe both verbally and through visual prompts to help him understand.
“Growing up with autism can be difficult but we’ve seen how understanding and support can make a huge difference.” Carol Povey, Director of the Centre for Autism
Music was shown as Joe’s favourite pastime – his way of tuning out and tapping into his inner world. Joe’s interest in music was nurtured by the family as this may turn out to be a talent in later years. I felt Joe’s continued desire to listen to and control the music he listens to could have been aided with adult support through sensory integration, music therapy and social emotional targets/rewards to carefully schedule when and how much time he spends listening to music. That said, it was early in Joe’s diagnosis with the parents still coming to terms with his diagnosis.
Again, I commend broadcasters for highlighting real issues affecting children and adults with autism. If another series is commissioned of The A Word I strongly recommend the BBC undergoes thorough research, consults with autism experts and watches how other programmes have tackled and highlighted similar issues.
“There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do.” Dr. Temple Grandin
In contrast to The A Word, it’s been just over a year since the final broadcast of Parenthood, a U.S. television series which brilliantly portrayed the life of Max, a boy growing up with Aspergers. The producers really thought out the social, emotional and wider impacts of his diagnosis. The show explored Max’s early experiences at school as he tried to fit in, his family’s heart felt emotional journey with him and their sheer determination to keep things going during tough times in order to pave the way towards a life Max can be proud of.
I hope more broadcasters continue to follow suit to raise awareness of children and adults on the autistic spectrum. But most importantly, I urge the media to accurately portray the real impact and intricacies of autism, as this can help increase public understanding and make a positive difference to inclusion.
Miss H ♥
To read a post about one of my amazing autistic students click here