The A Word: The Autism is Silent

The original title I had was “The A is Silent” which was a fun reference to Django but I wasn’t sure if it was clear enough. So I went with the above instead. Either way the point is the same. The A Word claims to be about autism but it’s not really. It’s not informative as it claims to be either. I didn’t expect the last few episodes to be a significant improvement on the first few. In retrospect I should have expected it’s cringe worthy ending. There were plenty of enraging moments in the first few episodes, so many in fact I was starting to think the A should stand for anger rather than autism. But with the last episode they really outdid themselves and not in a good way. I should have seen they were gearing up to some kind of big cheesy reveal which is what they did.

The whole thing makes no sense whatsoever, they’re content to let Joe wander off each morning walking on the road but they freak out when he actually wanders off. Why in the hell would they let him wander like that in the morning anyway, you wouldn’t let a NT child wander off let alone one who probably has little sense of stranger danger and road safety. It just makes no sense whatsoever but then little about the show does. Like the fact we’re supposed to believe all this happened in just over a month. The final diagnostic appointment, the speech therapy assessment, the school fiasco and all the rest of it. For one thing it’s unbelievable they’d get seen that soon.

There was nothing good about it, the scenes where they were talking about what to tell the police made me want to throw up and to punch all of them. Even his sister who seemed to be the most level headed of them in regards to the diagnosis was being an idiot. Talking about how if you tell everyone then he’ll be the village freak forever. They don’t seem to get it, people will know he’s different whether you tell them he’s autistic or not. As for being the village freak I think you’ll find you don’t need to have a disability for that to be true. It’s ironic really because I think the sister has more chance of being the resident freak than her brother. As do the whole family. The idea they’re talking about what’s normal and what isn’t when they’re all so screwed up is quite insulting really.

The fact they even had that conversation is disgusting, if had something like asthma, diabetes or epilepsy would they be debating whether or not to tell the police? His safety was at risk and all they could think about was how it would look to other people. When all is said and done none of them are sympathetic characters. But then I lost any sense of sympathy I might have been able to have for the mother after the third episode. In that episode Joe was sick and because of it he was acting differently. Or as his mother likes to think she got to see the real him. She just doesn’t get it, there is no real Joe. There isn’t a normal little boy there being hidden by the big bad autism, there’s just Joe. And if she just spent five minutes trying to understand him rather than obsessing over whether he looks normal or not and how fix him then she might get to know him a little better. Part of the reason she’s so distant from him is because she can’t accept him the way he is.

In the final episode the show raises the issue of acceptance and awareness of disability in general. One point it makes clear is that Joe’s family aren’t alone in their ignorance. The attitude of the local police officer is nothing short of appalling and his comments about Ralph even more so. Even worse is the way Joe’s grandfather and mother responded to it, the latter in particular. After having a go at her father she then proceeds to go and interrogate Ralph. She’s such a hypocrite and she can’t even see it. She wants people to accept her son yet it’s ok for her to treat someone else’s son that way. In a few years it could be her son faced with such a situation yet that doesn’t seem to occur to her.

The idea didn’t bug me, him acting differently because he was sick. I’m familiar with the such a thing happening. At least it’s not complete fantasy like the rest of the show. What bothered me is his mother’s reaction. They were looking at photos and Joe actually engaged with them, he asked questions and shared some of his own thoughts. Commenting on his empathy and the way he engaged with the photos his mother said “He’s not meant to be able to do that.” And there it is, just in case I didn’t hate her enough already there’s the line which completely killed dead any sympathy I could have for her. Whoever said that, that he’s not meant to be able to do that. Hasn’t that myth been debunked already. Besides how would you know what’s capable of, you have no idea what’s going on his head.

Which is the main problem with the show, not once does it attempt to show or consider what’s going on in his head. The audience is left completely uninformed about his point of view. Save for that final shot where he seems to be talking directly to the camera. And that I really hated, the line is obviously supposed to be meaningful, about loneliness being too much to bear. It’s just perpetuating the stereotype of autistic people being locked in their own world and how they need the nice NTs to help them out of it. I’m just glad Joe’s fictional and he doesn’t really have to grow up with that family. The one attempt at giving some insight into his perspective comes from the sister in law, the GP who picked up straight away there was something different about him. When they’ve got him back home she points out they’ve all been talking about Joe running away when they have no idea what he’s thinking, they’re imposing their narrative upon him. Which is just about the only good point the show made over the six episodes. Because it’s what gets done to autistic people all the time. People assuming because you’re by yourself that you’re lonely, that you don’t join in because you can’t. To be fair they aren’t exactly wrong, I really didn’t have the social skills to but that’s beside the point, I really didn’t want to. Time and time again you see autistic people being cajoled into social groups and other such things, without anyone ever stopping to ask do you actually want to socialise. They just assume you’re lonely because you’re alone, because they would be.

The most bothersome aspect of all this is that people who know nothing of autism are watching this and now thinking they know what it’s all about. Wrongly thinking that it’s not so difficult to deal with, that the diagnosis process is easy,  that help such as speech therapy is easily accessible and worst of all is the impression the show gives that autism is something which occurs in dysfunctional families. It’s not something they state outright but the implication is there. Just in case autistic people and their families don’t have enough ignorance to combat and deal with.

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