The A Word: How the BBC is Dramatising Autism

Thoughts & Musings on the BBC’s Drama: The A Word, currently running on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC1.



Parents to a child with an ASD diagnosis, or doing their Diagnosis Duck Waddle, are like bees to honey when it comes to new info on how the World Sees Autism. It’s personal you see. We want to scout out what you think. Are you judging? What’s the view like from the other side? Do you understand? Do you care?


You see, perspective is damn near impossible for us. Because we live it. Autism is there, in our lives, day in day out whether we like it or not. It’s there when we’re making our 1001th prediction of parenthood for the day, in a bid not to let the goo of Autism crap on the whole family from a great height. Even if we laugh at the chaos.


So along comes something in mainstream culture, and us Autism parents, we’re gonna come flocking. And that’s what The A Word is – a mainstream portrayal of Autism in one family. But just as the saying goes: If you know one person with Autism, you know one person with Autism, the first episode of The A Word didn’t quite hit the Autism spot for me, for my experience of Autism. And I wonder if it’s ‘got it’ for anyone other than those who haven’t lived with Autism.


I Want to Bash Some Heads Together

Seriously. I want to get the Mum’s head and bash it in to the Dad’s. I want to get the Grandad’s head and smash it in to a table. A non-Autistic boy would be flailing in the midst of that chaos. Get a grip parents and pull your socks up. But, that wouldn’t make such interesting mainstream viewing.


Joe, Joe, Little Joe

And then conversely there’s Joe, the Autist himself. And yes, maybe it’s in recognition of just what Autism has done to our perception, that Kiwi Dad and I looked at each other and said “he’s not that bad is he?” You see, the lying on the floor ‘meltdown’ of the party wasn’t so much of a ‘melt’ as it was down. I could handle silent lying in the middle of the floor meltdowns, over trying to rip his own ears off whilst screaming meltdowns any day.


Then there’s the music. Now that is pretty like Boo. When he was just a tot he would hear a song on the radio and say the artist. He loves music, lyrics, tunes. Don’t mess with them. Being somewhat more morbid than Joe however, his ‘recollection of random facts’ is to tell you whether the artist is alive or dead, and if they are dead, the year that they died. It’s a conversation killer.


But that’s what’s also missing in The A Word. The fact that sometimes, quite often in fact, Autism is just plain funny. Get me, I’m laughing at the Disabled Kid. But I’m not. He’s laughing. He’s there seeing the world differently and making it hilarious in the process. His take on the world, and ability to make people laugh, is what lightens the load. And well Joe, he just ain’t funny. Yet.


Spectrum Meets Mainstream

And therein lies the conundrum. The spectrum that is Autism encompasses such a vast range of characters, traits, quirks and behaviours, that it’s gonna be a tall order to depict in one series. But it does do something good: it raises the profile of Autism. It raises the intricate dynamics that come in to play. It makes us, the mainstream us, think about Autism. And for all of us out there treading the Autism eggshells, that’s a good thing. Get it out there, get it acknowledged, get it seen.


However, as this Review points out – The A Word, so far, is too dull to be a true representation of the crazy ride that is living under the same roof as Autism. “Autism may be many things, but it is never, ever dull”. The drama in The A Word is in the adult’s and the usual Drama-Mix-Up of affairs, lack of political correctness and relationships. Not Autism.


But like the Bee to Honey that I am, I will be back for more. What are your thoughts on the first episode of The A Word?




6 thoughts on “The A Word: How the BBC is Dramatising Autism

  1. A very measured post, and I’m astonished that so many of us thought to blog about this! From what you say, I think I too would have been a bit annoyed by the mildness of the child’s behaviour, but then I think that any fictional portrayal of autism would be an emotional watch for me.


    1. Thank you 🙂 I think so many blogs got underfoot because really it is ‘new’ ground for a drama, and that is both exciting and daunting. Episode 2 saw a little more of Autism fiesty-ness that we know, but I did have to laugh at the calm ‘trashing of the lounge’ – the producer’s need to come round here when Meltdown is in full swing 😉


  2. I thought is was great that autism was being shown on prime time TV, but the actual drama was dull quite frankly which was a shame as I ended up turning over. I agree Chrissie, the lying on the floor at the party wasn’t that bad and wasn’t dealt with properly by the parents. Sammy can be hard work sometimes, although not on the ASD spectrum, and I have to deal with him differently, and I can deal with his oddities in our own way and was thinking that when I saw that scene. Interesting to watch, glad its out there, good to educate people. Loving your blog xxxx


  3. I agree that it is great that Autism is out there as there is still a stigma surrounding it and a lot of people that don’t seem to ‘get it’. (I heard that inside out’s inspiration was that the screenwriters child is on the Autistic Spectrum but a mainstream children’s hollywood film about that…) ASD is a really personal experience but I agree that the filmmakers have used dramatic licence a lot, the diagnosis came very quickly!!! and the device of Joe wearing head phones makes it very easy for the adults to talk about him when he’s in the room. So far the drama that carries the theme that adults often have social and communication difficulties themselves seems to be taking away from Joe’s story (the brother and his cheating wife subplot is awful). I feel that so far Joe portrays the subtleness of autism well which can make it difficult to believe your child could be ASD (the way he can’t play musical statues and loves looking at fish and the way he looks a bit lost) but I want to see more of Joe’s difficulties and more from his perspective and like you said more of the difficult side of ASD. So like you I will keep tuning in hoping that the A word will deliver.


    1. Yeah the diagnosis came unbelievably quickly! Obviously not a similar experience to most people! Your take on the headphones is interesting – of course it makes sense that they ‘need’ to be able to talk about him in the room. I however overlooked that bit, and did see it as ‘Autistic’ as it is very like Boo… I wonder if there will be a split between those with ASD in close quarters wanting to see more of the Joe/Autism/Struggle/ASD-humour element, and those without, tuning back in for the stereotypical drama of a ‘drama’. Thanks for posting 🙂


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