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The A Word – a BBC drama about family life, tactfully written – oh yes, and a lead character happens to be autistic (ASD/ASC/Autism)

by | Dec 7, 2017 | News & Views | 0 comments

I have been compelled to mention BBC TV’s excellent ‘The A Word‘ TV programme on Spectra.blog, in case anyone who’s considering watching it has been put off for some reason, and needs a little push to watch it on Catch Up, or on BBC TV.

Created by Peter Bowker, the drama series is now in its second series in the UK. I hadn’t watched it or wanted to watch it, as I’d read some reviews and viewpoints from the autism community that put me off. I was expecting a tawdry soap-type-drama that used autism as some kind of crutch, made by people with no clue about what having an autism spectrum condition (ASC) meant, or what parenting someone on the autistic spectrum involved. However, Peter Bowker, described by Radio Times as a former special needs teacher, has created a masterpiece.

Tact and skill

The BBC’s The A Word. (Credit: BBC)

Writing in the UK’s Telegraph, Benji Wilson hits the nail right on the head. “Bowker’s approach [is] to keep things light. It requires writing of great tact and a lot of skill to do so.” (It’s also worth praising lead director Sue Tully, better known to many as Susan Tully as an actress in BBC TV dramas.)

Actor Christopher Ecclestone, surely the comedic lynchpin character in The A Word, told the UK’s Daily Mail that fans of the show often stop him with praise. “People say, “Thank you for making it, because my son, my daughter, my grandson, a friend of a friend has someone on the spectrum.” They say thank you for making it positive and funny. [The A Word] is not a soapbox piece; it’s actually about the positivity that [the main character, a seven year old autistic boy] Joe’s condition brings, and how families rally round and have to look at their own behaviour.’

In series one, Joe’s mother Alison is depicted as being quite manipulative and, dare we say it, unpleasant, but in series two (set two years later), she’s mellowed and become more empathetic. Interviewed in the same article, actress Morven Christie said: “Alison is in such a different place in this series. She’s still a bull in a china shop but she’s not afraid any more. It’s important that in telling stories like this you don’t shy away from things that are ugly or clumsy.”

Lee Ingleby, who plays Joe’s Dad in The A Word, sums up the series’ success in the article, when he says: “The A Word… is just about a family – about love, loss and communication.”

Although some critics of the first series rightly pointed out that the process of autism diagnosis for the character of Joe was wildly inaccurate, suspending our belief for a while, what is important to take on board is the quality of the drama, and the tactful, funny writing. The A Word is a drama about families, and one of the main characters just happens to have autism. The acting is first class, and there are many, many tender and funny moments throughout.

Of course, Joe doesn’t represent autism, or represent a typical autistic boy – all autistics are different, the condition being a spectrum, so we are just seeing one boy and one family. Do all autistic children have Joe’s special gifts for memorising song lyrics? No. Are all children on the spectrum at a similar level of functioning as Joe? No.

But, whether you’ve an interest in autism or not, it is worthwhile watching The A World if you can, especially if you’re able to catch series one, which creates the back-story. It is wonderful to see autism being represented accurately and sympathetically, and the programme really is a joy to watch. Visit the BBC site for info.

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