Why I didn't watch The A Word

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?


28 comments:

  1. This is my issue at the moment, why can't people with disabilities just exist on TV without it being a thing? The only real example I can mention is Stella where there is a lad with Down Syndrome and it's just a non-issue. I watched the A-word out of sheer curiosity, it didn't reflect me or my family really at all especially the diagnosis which for me just happened, I never felt the nee to "deal with it." I did write this just before the show started as I needed to get in there first lol https://parentingbynumbers.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/465

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    1. I haven't seen Stella, but I would be interested to check it out.

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  2. I haven't seen this programme either and I usually don't watch because it always portrays the extremes and I really can't relate. My son is just average, with no special talents (unless we haven't discovered it yet!!), just issues with social interactions, understanding and speech. I have watched a few French documentaries that portrayed different types of autism and it was the same so I don't really bother anymore. I trust the speech therapist, the psychologist, the teachers and the SNAs when they give me advice. That's all I need really... The only movie I enjoyed was "Temple Grandin". I know the woman was special, but the movie had an interesting take on how she perceived things differently...

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    1. It sounds like you learned something new from the movie Temple Grandin, and that makes me want to watch it...

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  3. I watched a bit, then lost interest. It didn't seem to portray the fights you have to fight to try and get a diagnosis. Turn up at the clinic, Preston, a cancellation and you get it. Your brother's girlfriend knows someone. Check, my sister in law is a psychiatrist and she couldn't really help.
    I didn't feel particularly vulnerable last night. It just got me about the way the diagnosis was done

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    1. I was very lucky here in that I didn't have to fight: with the support of the school he was put on a waiting list and diagnosed less than 6 months later.

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  4. It did bring back lots of memories for me. I agree that it'd be way too difficult to show the whole range of children in a drama like this - just as it is difficult to show a whole range of children in a soap such as Eastenders, for example... and the trouble with just having them in other programmes is that the 'general public' just wouldn't understand the characters as it is a hidden disability unlike Down's Syndrome - and that's one of the biggest issues we face, along with the fact it's such a huge spectrum. Like you though, I've asked who was actually watching it - can't imagine many without some sort of link to autism would have tuned in.... x

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    1. I think you could probably do diagnoses stories in soaps, both of children and adults. during a soap, but I guess you would need to include reminders in the storyline because of the hidden nature of autism.

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  5. I watched it and couldn't identify at all. Blogged, and then got into a bit of a row on my FB page about it all, with people not understanding how I could complain about yet another stereotypical representation, saying it all raises awareness. I don't think it does, I think it cements misconceptions, and now people will think getting a diagnosis is easy. Gah.

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    1. Yes, there were a few people on Facebook who didn't like my post too, and I get what you say about the possibilities of cementing misconceptions.

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  6. It wasn't shown here, although if it was, I probably would have watched it for curiosity sake. But as you say... who would have watched besides those people who live it and the professionals interested in autism.

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    1. Apparently some did, but I still wonder how many x

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  7. I have a feeling that the programme is more about the family dramas and how the autistic son impacts on them, rather than the other way round. The fact that the poor boy is surrounded by squabbling adults doesn't get mentioned in the diagnostic process either.

    And yes, the process was entirely unconvincing, and it doesn't help that they condensed it into the last 20 minutes of an hour-long episode. I can't believe that someone would diagnose autism in one visit (it took several visits for mine) over the top of parents who were playing down his difficulties. Wearing headphones is sometimes found in autism, yes, but it's found in other chronic illnesses (like ME) as well, or it could have been his way of shutting out the arguing (and bonking). And how convenient that it was a middle-class family (as that's the only type of family that exists) that had convenient access to specialists through family connections.

    Still, it was 9pm on a Tuesday and we must now have our fix of northern drama, now that Happy Valley's finished.

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    1. I do know of many children who are diagnosed in one visit (sometimes very quickly indeed) and you would wonder sometimes about the process, but often the child clearly has autism and just needs a piece of paper from a (usually highly paid) specialist in order to access services. A bit of a racket sometimes perhaps.

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  8. I'd like to see temperaments other than sanguine represented. What about the melancholic child who eyes themselves with contempt despite making a lot of progress? What about the choleric child whose tenacity is unrivaled among their peers? What about the phlegmatic child who doesn't stand out in any particular way, but needs to be noticed? Autism can affect the way temperament manifests and vice versa. Does this show even make an attempt at showing the subject's temperament?

    Choleric-Sanguine "ChlorSan" ESTP SLE 8w7 873

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    1. I'm sorry but I can't answer you as I still haven't watched the programme - I don't think I will at this stage.

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  9. I've linked this page to a discussion about this programme on fb amongst my friends. some of whom have children with autism. I also linked Jax Blunt's blog. There is certainly a lot of discussion about autism on social media today so there must be some awareness raising going on - even if the portrayal in the programme was not 100% accurate.

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    1. That's good to hear - awareness is a great start.

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  10. I fear it may be true that people may not watch the programme unless they have been touched by autism. I also feel that it is beneficial to those of us with kids on the spectrum for the likes of that drama to air because if it even hits one person who will come across our children in school then it has done its job. I personally like to reflect on my pre diagnosis time and i like to question why i was in denial why it affected me that way as it is important for me to understand that for personal growth. Yes it was painful both times we had a diagnosis here but I have definitely learned from the whole experience and I am in deed still learning. Excellent post by the way x

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    1. Thank you for your kind comments. WRT diagnosis, I think everyone deals with it differently. x

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  11. Excellent post... we chose to watch it, but it resulted in very mixed feelings. However, I do know lots of friends and family who are watching it who haven't been touched by ASD. So at least it's helping to raise the profile. But it was frustrating too. Mixed bag.

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    1. Well I think if people untouched by autism are watching it, then that is an achievement both for the programme and for autism.

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  12. I watched about half of it, but it seemed mainly to focus on the family drama side, which made it more of a soap. Like many, I have mixed feelings, but I'm glad it raises awareness. I just hope viewers realise that all children with autism are different and not necessarily like the child in the drama.

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    1. Perhaps as the drama unfolds the family will meet other families with autistic children.

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  13. Autism not being a 'thing', is exactly what the series actually addressed... including the painful initial stages of mistaken attitudes and approaches.
    If you were relieved, as was I, to see the critical resolution of the "problems" in the final episode, you would accept this premise.
    Let these children be who they are... and they WILL adapt to their environment, just as all children do.
    But it's a question of accepting that they may not adapt in the same ways. So what!!?... we're all different from each other, anyway! ��

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    1. Glad you were happy with the way it resolved

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  14. im a walking autism and it was a pretty dank programme???

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