The A Word Review

The return of the BBC drama ‘The A Word’ has been welcomed by many. The series focuses on a family who, in the first series, received a diagnosis of autism for their son, Joe, and showed the reaction of the family and community while beginning to explore the challenges of accepting the diagnosis. In the second series, the drama continues to explore these theme – the family trying to work out how to do their best, choosing to send their son to a specialist school after he struggles to fit into the mainstream school.

Where ‘The A Word’ really succeeds is in the portrayal of Joe’s parents – second guessing themselves and struggling to come to terms with the meaning of autism for their son and themselves. No two people with autism are the same but parents may find comfort in seeing a similar experience played out on screen, parents asking themselves the same questions and with the same doubts and fears.

Highlighting the challenges families can face, the show also paints a full picture – there are moments of joy and laughter too, just as every family experiences. It explores the challenges the diagnosis puts on Joe’s parent’s relationship and the struggle to meet the needs of the whole family. Joe’s sister feels ignored as the A word takes over, and the family tackles the difficulty of explaining the specific needs and behaviours of their child to relatives and the wider community.

The drama sits under the weight of a history of on-screen portrayals of autism and makes a good effort to show that autism is a spectrum. The experience of Joe and his family is not portrayed as universal, but gives an insight into more universal challenges. The show should also be commended in employing a young man with autism, Travis Smith, to play one of the parts in this series.

There are short comings, a TV drama can’t possibly begin to cover the full range of experiences having a child with autism can include, or some of the more mundane aspects – including the hours of form filling on your child’s behalf. However, overall, it is a refreshing programme that may help to educate others and increase understanding amongst the general public.

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