Our friend, the blogger Matt Davis, reviews a workshop with The A Word’s award-winning writer Peter Bowker and the first episode of the new series.


Of all the intelligence imparted by writer, Peter Bowker, at this somehow intimate event of over 100 people, there was one nugget I’ve selfishly appropriated such is its sparkle of truth and insight: “You can’t write a universal drama about autism.”

Which I interpreted as meaning experiences are just too personal to individuals and families; the spectrum is just too head-scratchy in its variance. Sure, he was able to, and did, osmose close friends’ wildly different autism narratives whilst pondering The A Word. Ultimately though, an airtight autism drama is neither possible nor what he set out to produce.

As if to drive home the point, in articulate tones particular to him, Bowker emphasized not wanting to “fetishize disability.” This chimed crisply with everyone there – a diverse and inclusive gathering of souls.

So suitably fortified by the nugget – I must not, I must not, I must not attach my personal autism filter when viewing. I left the workshop inspired by a brilliant writer, and open to watching the first episode of series two for what it was: a drama as much about a family who can’t communicate as it is about a boy who may or may not be able to.

The A Word could kick-start a conversation around autism, it could be a catalyst. But a definitive autism drama? Definitely not.

As a drama, like series one, it is cracking, with a script sizzling with authenticity.

And as a drama, like series one, it is cracking, with a script sizzling with authenticity. Some of the dialogue should come with an emotional health warning so wrought are the characters, so real and trying their lives; way beyond the interactions where Joe, our autistic seven year old, is at the epicentre.

Of course humour, some dark, some light, is here, there and everywhere. Divorcees undressing in front of one another was hilariously excruciating. As was dad and his awkward attempted bonding with his step daughter’s boyfriend; majorly swerving the cul-de-sacs of cliché is something I knew would happen effortlessly.

Christopher Ecclestone, with his delicious rambunctiousness as grandpa, is always on the cusp of robbing the scene. In a good, pulsating way. In fact his handprints are everywhere. As a character cackhandedly but honestly handling anything 'different' he’s brilliantly universal and relatable I’d suggest.

In fact, what this first episode revealed to me is that he could become the vital lightening rod for anything, most things, autism impacted. The conduit to the emotions and therefore our comprehension. In human form he is able to carry the autism sensibility through the show somehow. The journey from denial to autism understanding is epitomised by his reactions, which can be confounded, brutish, extraordinarily sensitive, surprising – the whole gamut.

Whether incredulous that Joe doing something atypical and dangerous at school seems to not being dealt with, or deciding that a practical hand can sometimes do the trick, his frontline approach to autism is accessible. Being aghast at Joe’s parents contemplating a special unit, struggling with the semantics; why not give someone with Down's syndrome a job? Why the hell not. His responses are raw and visceral, unanalytical, and unreconstructed meaning he manages to liberate autism and unshackle it from its baggage.

The viewer subsequently expects him to take the punch and act predictably unpredictable. Any hovering autism story will at some time make its way to him. His human response will be illuminating.

The themes are all there anyway. Acted with aplomb by all the cast, the rational stuff is solid. The judgemental parents and challenges with mainstream school. Support groups. Mum becoming militant. Truths communicated wholly and effectively.

I did fall at the final hurdle though. I couldn't help myself just once letting the personal prism take over, blurring an objectivity:

A thread during this opening episode is mum and dad attempting to explain to Joe that he is autistic, that he is different. This is something that dips in and out of my dialogue with my ten year old son. With non-specific, ever changing results. Different, therefore to what I see in the show. As I'd expect, because after all, The A Word is not meant to be a universal drama about autism.

Watch the first episode on iPlayer