We can’t wait to watch the second episode of The A Word on BBC1 at 9pm tonight. Staff from our campaigns and media teams have been working with the producers to make sure that the portrayal of autism fits with the experiences of real autistic people and their families. We’re hoping this new series will help viewers to understand more about autism. Jane Harris, our Director of External Affairs, highlights these four things:
1. The world of confusion
Like the characters of Alison and Paul Hughes, parents of autistic children are often completely baffled when they find out that their child is on the autism spectrum. They don’t know how to react or where to turn. That’s because our basic knowledge of autism is very low as a society. According to the Israeli team behind the original series, Yellow Peppers, which The A Word is based on, knowledge is even lower in Israel. Every year over 4.4 million people come to our website to get information about autism. We provide this information, but we would also like to see schools and the media doing more to educate people about the basics.
2. Autism and happiness can go together
Autism doesn’t mean that your world ends or the end of happiness. Joe in The A Word is often very happy indeed – when singing his favourite songs, watching his fish or spending time with people who love and understand him. Every day we see autistic people of all ages thriving in our schools, adult services and in the activities our volunteer branches provide.
3. The lack of support hurts
What causes deep distress for autistic people and their families isn’t autism, but a lack of support. In The A Word, Joe isn’t diagnosed until he is five, and he and his family have to go to Manchester from the Lakes to be assessed. But many people – including in Cumbria – often have to wait years for a diagnostic assessment. Our branch in the Lakes often meets families who have waited years for a diagnosis and then cannot get any appropriate help. Without any help to understand autism, both autistic adults and families can suffer deep distress. In fact, adults with Asperger syndrome (a type of autism) are nine times more likely to die by suicide than the average non-autistic adult.* Autism may make some things more difficult in life, but it doesn’t stop people being happy – lack of support can, though.
4. Other people’s reactions matter
Deep distress can also come from other people not understanding autism or avoiding autistic people. One of the most heart-breaking scenes in the first episode is when Joe isn’t invited to a birthday party, despite his parents making great efforts to connect with his friends’ families. Some of our members have told us they feel like they end up living in an ‘autistic bubble’, because people without knowledge of autism just don’t understand them. Whole families and adults of all ages can end up isolated from their friends and extended family members.
While no one portrayal of autism can capture everyone’s experiences, we think The A Word will make a massive difference to the public’s understanding of what it’s like to be autistic or to love or care for someone on the autism spectrum. Please tell your family and friends to tune in and of course talk about it on social media. This is a huge opportunity to get more of the public to understand a little bit more about autism – and we’ll be doing even more to improve understanding during World Autism Awareness Week.
*If you have concerns about your own or someone else’s health, you should speak to your GP and make sure they know that you are on the autism spectrum, or that the person you are worried about is on the autism spectrum.
You can also call our Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104. If it’s an emergency, you should call 999.