Thoughts on BBC Drama The A Word

Thoughts on BBC Drama The A WordThe much anticipated and talked about BBC drama The A Word is causing quite a stir among the autism parenting community.

Whilst I found episode one insightful, realistic and an honest portrayal of what life can be like for a family with a high function autistic child, episode two disappointed me.

I was originally going to save this post until the entire series (six shows in total) had been aired, but given that today is World Autism Awareness Day, thought I’d share my thoughts on the first two programmes.

*warning: contains spoilers*

The aspects I feel they nailed

The relationship between the parents. As painful as some of it has been to watch for me, because it’s so close to home, the parents are very believable as far as I’m concerned. They have only just had a diagnosis, and are desperate to find ways that will help their son. They are flustered, they are sleep deprived and they are beaten down by life. Their interactions with each other flit between being filled with genuine love, to sheer frustration. They make frantic and erratic decisions, and are clearly trying their best, but also make blindingly obvious mistakes. 

The older neuro-typical sibling. She appears to be taking everything in her stride; she is totally cool with her little brother’s diagnosis; she’s not judgemental, nor does she care for the idea of interventions and special schools. She is also, largely, ignored by her parents, while they focus their attention on their autistic child. Again, I can only relate this to my personal experiences, but it’s bang on the money. In our family our eldest daughter is autistic, which changes the ball game completely, but the outcome is the same. Our two younger children often get sidelined, and their needs are behind hers, because her needs are usually greater and more immediate.

They haven’t been OTT about the boys autistic traits. They could have quite easily have painted the 5yo boy as the next Rain Man, but haven’t, which is a good thing. Our girl is bright, but she can’t recite the alphabet in Mandarin and she didn’t memorise her times tables by the age of three. The main character has subtle quirks, such as closing and re-opening doors before walking into a room, and his music is his comfort blanket to the point of being obsessed by it. They haven’t gone over the top though, and he doesn’t look or (mostly) act like anything but a regular five year old would.

The aspects I feel let down by

The home education storyline. The way the mother pulls the boy out of school without consulting with the husband first is ridiculous. The way the granddad takes the boy to the pub is laughable, in a very unfunny way. I think they are (again) trying to convey the desperation that autism parents find themselves feeling, but their execution was exteremely poor. The BBC had an opportunity here to show how wonderful home education can be for autistic children, but instead have really let the home ed community down.

Hiding the autism from people outside of the family. They wandered into dangerous territory here. By the mother hiding the autism, and making up lies as to why she pulled him out of school, it is telling the watcher that she is ashamed of her son’s autism. I’m hoping that by the time all six shows have been aired, she will have had time to process the diagnosis and what it means, and will have come to accept it for it is. I find it hard to relate to parents that are in denial in this way, because our own diagnosis almost a year ago was a welcome relief. I’ve had the time I needed to go through the various stages of processing it, which they will more than likely do throughout the show (I certainly hope so anyway).

Is the sister-in-law’s affair necessary? I can’t work out whether The A Word is a play on words for autism alone, or autism and affair. Either way, I’m not entirely sure it’s a necessary part of the show.

I’m sitting on the fence here, and looking forward to seeing how it develops. 

So, that was my two pence worth. What are your thoughts on The A Word?

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