It was all over my twitter and Facebook feeds. The A Word, a new series about a family whose young son is diagnosed with autism. Most of the comments I saw were positive, with parents relating to the drama and feeling emotional as they remembered going through all the same things.
But that's one of the main reasons I didn't want to watch it.
I don't want to revisit the past, and remember what life was like before the diagnosis. I'm still working on accepting life as it is now. I don't want to relive the years when my son's behaviour puzzled me, all the meetings with the school, the relief of the diagnosis and believing that the worst was then over, and that parenting and life events hadn't contributed to his difficulties. These days I only watch a programme on autism if I think I will learn something to improve my parenting or understanding.
The A Word did make me wonder about the best way to portray autism in the media. Often words like 'suffering', 'burden' and 'cure' are still used and that makes some people very angry. At the same time many parents feel even more isolated when they see the sanitized version of autism that usually features in such programme: the version with the cute quirky kid, or the adorable non-verbal child who has a special talent. Autism doesn't only look like that. It can be a lot more difficult for both the child and the family. And how can the autism community fight for better services and supports if it is presented in the media as a mild social and communications difference?
But there would be consequences to showing the extremes of autism, at both ends of the spectrum. It might stigmatize those with a diagnosis, and it might frighten the parents of newly diagnosed children.
And who was watching this programme anyway? It would be great if it did lead to more awareness and acceptance of autism in the wider population. But did the audience extend much beyond families who already have a child with autism? Or who work in the area? I would not have been interested before I had children with special needs, but maybe that's because I never watched much telly anyway.
Rather than segregating autism to specific programmes, wouldn't be better to have characters with different types of autism featuring in storylines in existing shows, such as soap operas, that have dealt sensitively with a variety of issues in recent years. Let's aim to make autism unremarkable, in all its guises, just another facet of everyday life that we see on the streets and on our screens.
What do you think?
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