Tuesday 14 November 2017

The A Word - real life autism?

So last Tuesday was the first episode in Series 2 of The A Word on BBC One, and I sadly missed it because I was out having fun with some very good friends (on a school night, how very dare I?!). I managed to watch it on catch up later in the week though, and I couldn't resist sharing my thoughts on it.
beach with title The A Word

There was some controversy around this show back when the first series aired last year, and I wrote a couple of posts about it then - Autism is the A Word and True To Life?

I say controversy; what I actually mean is that some of those in the autistic community were not happy as they felt it showed only one side of autism, and an experience nothing like theirs. On the other hand, some parents could relate to parts of it and were pleased with mainstream exposure for autism in any way. Guess which group I fell into?! There are also some parents of autistic children who would find it too emotional, or who feel they are surrounded with enough autism every day and don't want to spend free time (if they have any) watching an entertainment show about it. I get that too.

If you read my previous posts, you'll see that I loved it the first time around. That's not to say I don't understand those who didn't; I know what they mean about the risk of having the general public who would otherwise know nothing about autism thinking that all autistic children are like Joe (the young autistic boy in the programme). 

However for me, the plus points of getting autism 'under people's noses' as it were, far outweigh the issues of some feeling it's not a fair representation. Although I felt like Joe was nothing like my girl (she doesn't have an obscure special interest like Joe's music, although she does have an amazing memory and could tell you lots about Skylanders or Pokemon), I could see that some of the family experiences were similar, and I was especially interested in how the sibling relationship would pan out (Joe has an older sister).

So back to my thoughts on Series two. 

It's probably no surprise that I loved it all over again! 

Joe is only slightly older now, but it instantly feels like the parents have moved on quite a lot. They are more understanding of him and seem more accepting of their situation in general.

I was gripped from the start of this episode; Sasha has never climbed on a roof like Joe did, but she had got to the point where I had to be called to school because she wouldn't return inside after playtime, or where she had locked herself in the toilets because of some misunderstanding. A lot of this boils down to a reduced ability to communicate, an area which Sasha will continue to need much learning support with, just like Joe.

In this episode, the parents reached a point where they felt the need to explain Joe's behaviour to the other parents en masse. For us it was slightly different as I'd tried to explain Sasha's diagnosis in an email to all parents of the children in her class, back at the beginning of her first year in school. We've had brilliant support from most parents ever since and I still feel lucky that Sasha remained in a class with the same peers all the way through school. Of course, that's not to say all those parents feel the same and were happy to have Sasha in their child's class... but that train of thought can take you to a place you don't really want to go. The A-Word did go there a little bit, though.

We reached the point in June this year where Sasha indicated to us that she could no longer cope with mainstream school. Joe was communicating a similar feeling, albeit it in a different way and at a younger age. So I watched with teary eyes as Joe's parents made the difficult decision that some kind of specialist provision would be more suitable for him.

He was instantly transferred to an autism base, which is a specialist unit trained in autism within a mainstream school, and I believe tonight's episode is going to follow his start at this new school and all the emotions involved with that.

This part of the show, of course, is where our story differs wildly right now. In our county (I may have mentioned before) there are NO autism bases within mainstream schools at secondary age. Our only option for Sasha is an MLD school (Moderate Learning Difficulties), also known as a Special school. Sasha's paperwork went to a provision panel (anonymous professionals who decide who can go to which school) last month, and they turned her down for this type of school on the basis that her academic ability is too high. Which it's not, but that's a whole other ranty post which could follow soon. The fact is that Sasha absolutely could not cope in a mainstream secondary school for a variety of reasons, and so we currently wait for her case to go back to the provision panel this month to request that same school, which she clearly needs.

Anyhow, back to the programme.... I loved it! Despite the experiences being different in some ways, there were so many of the emotions I could relate to. Joe's older sister returns from a trip away and her protective feelings about Joe also rang true - if you haven't seen our older daughter talk about her life with Sasha yet then you can catch up on that over on my Facebook blog page, and here's a sneak preview of my next Siblings photo, due out tomorrow!
Stephs Two Girls

The actors are all brilliant and really draw you in to a family story whilst explaining what autism can be like for some at the same time. I am honestly so grateful to the BBC for airing this programme and I'm already hoping there will be a third series. Maybe there's some scope to look in more detail at the other families whose children are in the autism unit with Joe. You never know, one of those children might even have Pathological Demand Avoidance (she says hopefully).

Watch The A-Word on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesdays.

If you enjoy reading my blog I would be so happy if you would consider nominating me in the BAPS blogging awards - nominations for me or any other amazing SEND blogger can be made on this page: www.myfamilyourneeds.co.uk.

 Full details on what BAPS are in my recent post 'What on earth are the BAPS?'

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