If I had to critique The A Word at this early stage then all I could say is that I commend it for the robustness and complexity of all the characters and their stories, for the humour (genuinely LOL funny) and of course, the excellent music. I’m looking forward to next week.
What it is going to do for autism awareness/understanding/acceptance/equality, I don’t really know…
I was privileged to get to see the first episode previewed last week at the BFI and so, already familiar with the script, I was able to simultaneously ‘enjoy’ watching reactions online and from my 8 year old autistic daughter with whom I watched it again.
It was a stark contrast.
Twitter and Netmums were full of parents talking about “how it brought it all back” for them. I do get that, I felt it too. Another group of parents seemed completely caught up in critiquing the tiniest details, seemingly lamenting how The A Word didn’t represent “their story”. The mainstream media coverage yesterday morning said it all, pages of quotes from autism Mommas, laughing and crying all over again, totally owning it.
As us parents rave about The A Word, reliving our early experiences over again; or bash it too much, getting lost in arbitrary details like how autistic the autistic kid is, whether he should have been a girl, or played by an autistic actor, how clueless or clued up the parents are, whether their diagnosis process was quick or not, we are missing the point.
As the writer, Peter Bowker, himself states:
“You won’t understand autism by watching The A Word although you might understand some small aspects – I’d really like people who are properly interested to go off and look into it deeper.”
…and when people do decide they want to go deeper, I sincerely hope they speak directly to autistic people, not their parents.
To be very honest, throughout much of the programme, I was feeling quite devastated as I saw it through my daughter’s eyes – her disbelief at how they skirted around the reality, the fear and reluctance to embrace autism, the sadness and blame – she looked at me shocked and heartbroken, how on earth could I ever justify that? I didn’t know what to say other than:
“that’s why I blog, that’s why I try and do things to campaign for autism awareness – it’s not their fault – if they understood autism, they would not be so sad or worried, would they? That’s why I choose to share our stories, that’s why I would like you to choose that too, to help people understand autism so it gets better in the future…”
…and the contradictions in that really hit me. Hard. And doubly so, as I knew through my first viewing I too was caught up reliving my own emotions. Not a thought for hers…
I agree with those who say that there’s a chance that autism is the new baking and I understand why some say we should be worried about that, yet I sort of also hope that it is.
Maybe if autism is the new baking and the various media organisations and content makers/commissioners are driven to seeking out the new, different, bigger, better, funnier, naughtier, sexier manifestations of autism then perhaps, probably, they’ll tire of the parent perspective once and for all.
I am not criticising The A Word for taking that perspective, nor should anyone, it is a piece of drama, it is not a neurodiversity equality campaign broadcast.
I get it now. Parents are the ones who are perpetuating the “bad” stuff about autism, the huge emotional weight of autism, even if they don’t mean to, even if they are just trying to make things better: I’m increasingly aware of how overnight, I went from mother to dedicated autism scholar and, frankly for a lot of people, bore.
I hope for a world where parents don’t sit in shocked disbelief when they are told by a medical professional that their child is autistic, that they wouldn’t say things like “I didn’t want to pin a label on him that big”, but until all of us other parents shut up, they will.
I have read SO many blogs by autistic people telling parents to move over and shut up. I have thought about it really deeply several times and worked out how to justify my own blogging ‘urges’ and double-triple-checked myself for appropriateness in how I “represent” autism as a parent.
But after watching The A Word with my daughter, I actually feel like, yes, I should just shut the F up.
I increasingly understand and believe that parents hold the key to the world accepting autistic people without prejudice (or fear, guilt, grief)… but not by telling their own stories, but by NOT telling their own stories. By stepping back and letting their autistic children speak for themselves (as far and as soon and as often as they are able) and by gently encouraging and insisting that people listen to their children directly, not to them.
My daughter sees, feels and articulates things totally differently to me, with a gentle candour and wisdom way beyond her years, anything she has to say will have the inherent honest appeal of any first-person account and deserves an audience. Frankly, she rocks, she doesn’t need me to represent her, maybe just give her a leg up onto her own stage.
That’s going to be hard sometimes. My daughter’s life story and mine are so entwined and almost one and the same in places… it’s easy to mistakenly think that I can tell that story as she would.
And it’s my story too, it’s hard to give up what feels like a significant portion of my life story to be told in someone else’s words, her words… but then I remember that this is only what I am guilty of doing… of taking her story from her.
So please meet the gorgeous Beatrix, “the daughter” has a name and a voice of her own, she’s going to feature on here, in her own words, a bit more from now on…