The first season of The A Word came to an end this week, and it’s fair to say it’s been more than a bit controversial with autistic people. If I have chance I would like to do a blog just talking about the show as a whole, and what impact I think it might have on autistic people, and how they are viewed. But for now I just want to address some things that I picked up on while watching episode six.
Joe is overloaded again: At the opening of the pub it’s clear that Joe is finding it hard to cope. The family said that he was enjoying himself, but it looked to me like he was overloaded with all the noise and talking. I think the programme was trying to show this, even though the family did not understand it.
Joe runs away: No shock there. I mean he walks off, it`s what he does. But this time because he left from someone else’s house, and not theirs’s it becomes a big deal. It also becomes clear in their hunt for him that they had no clue where he was going in the mornings. It becomes apparent that he had been going to the lake, but the parents had no clue about that. I understand that him running off, and them not knowing where he is, is a big deal. Of course it is! But it’s not that much different from what happens every morning. It’s just that there is less chance of him bumping in to someone he kind of knows.
Reaction: When they tell the police chief that Joe walks around by himself in the morning he seems shocked, but they also play it off by going on to say that Joe is autistic. As if that somehow explains away why he is out by himself so much. As I have said before that’s not OK for any child of that age. I think most police officers would have something to say about it.
Embarrassment: The whole family seem to cringe with embarrassment when they think about telling anyone else that Joe is autistic. It’s something they have avoided at all costs over the run of the show. Again it’s not an issue I have with the show itself as I can imagine some people would react in this way. In fact the issue of parents worrying about their kids being labelled as autistic, or odd is a big one. But this is how I see it; people bully, and they make fun not because someone has a condition, but because of how they behave. Joe will get picked on at some point just for being quiet, or liking the music he likes, or how he opens/closes doors before he can go through them. Not being labelled as autistic will have zero impact on that. Also I think when they try and hide it they make his autism something to be ashamed of. Something that should be hidden away, and not talked about. In fact it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s just a part of who he is. The fact that they even debate it when they know that telling people might help to find him is poor parenting in my view. But again I think it’s a fair reflection of how some people might behave in real life.
Witch hunt: A man with Downs Syndrome is the last person to see Joe before he goes missing. He is questioned quite a lot, the implication being that because he is disabled people are more willing to believe he might be a risk to people. I think it’s fair that he be questioned – I mean anyone should be if they are the last person to see a missing child – but I do think it’s over the top that they took his laptop, and to tell the truth I am not even sure they would be able to do so within hours of Joe going missing. The point that disabled people can become victims of police and community witch hunts is a valid one. Over the years countless disabled people have been forced or tricked in to confessing to crimes they have not committed. Autistic people often fall foul of this, and that is a point well worth making. As I say, it might be a bit over the top in the show as it all happens within such a short space of time, but that’s just what happens when you have to tell a story in a one hour show.
They say they don’t want to change him: While they are hunting for Joe his Mum says that she just wants him back. Just the same as he is now, and will stop trying to change him if she finds him. It seems that they might be learning. They also use Joe’s music to help find him, thereby showing that they understand how to communicate with him on his terms.
Grief: After Joe has been found he is in bed with his Mum and Dad. The Mum goes to take off his headphones, but the Dad asks if she can leave them on for a bit. Then when he knows Joe can’t hear him he goes on to talk about how he feels grief as there is a boy stuck inside Joe who they could have had as their son. Again I don’t mind the show putting this in as a lot of parents and professionals say it. But I still have to talk about it, and how wrong it is. There is no `child you should have had`. Think of it this way: If a grown man imagined when he was younger that he was going to marry the best looking woman in the world, and he spent a lot of time imagining how his life would pan-out with this made-up women, and all the things he would do with her. He hits thirty, and ends up married to a normal looking woman, and realises that he is never going to be married to the best looking woman in the world, or be able to do all the things he made up in his head. So after they are married he turns to his wife and says. “I love you, but you need to give me some time to grieve for the wife I should have had.” Just think about how you would react if someone said that to you. The fact is there never was anyone to grieve for – the parents haven`t lost anyone. All that happened was life turned out differently than the image they`d had in their heads. That tends to happen. You need time to adjust to that, fine. But it’s not, and never should be, time to grieve for someone who only ever existed in your head. But like I say I don’t mind the show bringing it up as it is something people would say in real life.
So those a few of my thoughts. What did you think of episode six, and of the show overall?
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
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