Entertainment > TV drama review: ‘The A Word’ – a family coping with autism

Posted on April 27, 2016

Joe Hudges has autism and lives in his own world

Joe Hughes has autism and lives in his own world

Exposure’s autistic author, Max Ferreira reviews a new television drama addressing autism
For the first time ever I have seen a programme on television that shows a character with the same condition as me. This new show explores the reality of a young boy diagnosed with autism. It is called The A Word.

The six-part BBC One drama, released in March, tells the tale of a family in the Lake District who have a five-year-old son called Joe Hughes. Joe is very different from the people in his life.

Starting with episode 1, Joe’s parents Alison and Paul are very worried about the way Joe is behaving. He is unable to interact with kids his own age even at his own birthday party. Joe is unable to communicate and has become isolated from family conversations.

Joe’s parents decide to go to see a specialist doctor to find out what’s wrong with their son.

The therapist tells Alison and Paul that Joe has been diagnosed on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This is a developmental disorder characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication and by restricted or repetitive behaviour.

In episode 2, Alison observes Joe being left out at school, so she and her family decide to give Joe some home schooling. Despite their best efforts, Joe is unable even to try and do some of the simplest things that they tell him to do; like reading for 10 minutes, away from his addictive habit of listening to music all the time.

Despite his problems, sometimes Joe feels comfortable when he’s with his older sister, Rebecca. She doesn’t get stressed like their parents. Even though she doesn’t have autism, Rebecca often gets neglected, due to her parents focusing more on Joe. They’re unable to spend some time with her.

Joe is isolated from family conversations

Joe is isolated from family conversations

It’s also one way to raise awareness of this learning condition and help a new generation of young autistic people with their future lives

I feel sorry for Joe who’s finding life stressful and isn’t having the right support. His parents are too busy as his father is trying to open up a restaurant and is under pressure to make it succeed. His mother struggles to help Joe, as she is not an expert.

Like Joe I’ve been through some of these difficult situations in my own childhood, like doing my own stuff repetitively. It’s easier to do this than to face certain social situations with other people, including your own family. It’s a real effort to address your weaknesses, like learning English and talking to people.

Unlike Channel 4’s The Autistic Gardener, this drama delivers the message of how a family copes with the behaviour of a young person who’s just been diagnosed with autism.

In an interview, actress Morven Christie, who plays the mother, said, “Alison has an animal response, wanting to protect Joe and didn’t want everybody to know.”

Actor Lee Ingleby, who plays the father, said, “Paul wants to let people know, let the school know, let everybody know and then we can deal with it.”

They both said that child-actor Max Vento, who plays Joe, did a great job.

“Max doesn’t constantly feel the need to perform, he’s very comfortable to have the camera rolling on him,” said Morven.

As someone with autism, I found The A Word very useful and I would recommended it to lots of young people and parents because it helps them understand a learning disability that they may never have heard of or experienced before. It’s also one way to raise awareness of this learning condition and help a new generation of young autistic people with their future lives.

You can watch The A Word the trailer below:

Max Ferreira
In his third year at college, Max Ferreira is a creative author. A regular at Exposure his autism helps him develop special creative ideas. He has published a series of stories about his experience with autism available on Kindle.


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22 Responses to TV drama review: ‘The A Word’ – a family coping with autism

  1. Sabrina Gardiner April 27, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

    I thought it was somewhat unrealistic in having Joe getting a diagnosis of autism at only 5 years old. Many people on the spectrum got their diagnoses very late – I didn’t get mine until I was 14.

    • Sophie May 5, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

      As the condition is becoming better known, by a wider range of people, thankfully accurate diagnosis is happening sooner. My nephew was diagnosed the day before his 3rd birthday.

  2. Julia Wilkins April 29, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    I thought this was a great review and I really identified with the parents reaction. I meet a lot of parents who children have autism and most of them get a diagnosis before age 5, but as Sabrina says, not all. Well written Max! Nice to see the series also through the eyes of someone with autism.

  3. Sarah April 29, 2016 at 5:53 pm #

    Great article …my little boy was diagnosed at 2 and a half so not to unrealistic at 5 X

  4. Melanie Gooding May 1, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    Well done Max. Great review. I am sure it will encourage more people to watch the programme and, in so doing, will improve people’s understanding about autism. Keep writing!

  5. Rita Mitra May 1, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

    Great review Max and well written. I also identified with the parents reaction and my son was diagnosed at 2 and a half also.

  6. Maria May 1, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Great review .. I have a girl who was diagnosed when she was 4.
    Well done to the BBC to produce The A word!
    Keep up the excellent writing and reviews

  7. Helen May 1, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

    This is a well-written review of The A word. I did find the seried quite hard to watch at times because it feels truthful and the little boy gave a great performance. As Max says it could help lots of people to understand the condition.

  8. Robin Lomas May 1, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    Excellent review, Max. You have summarised the story brilliantly. I agree that the programme will help to raise awareness of autism and also, perhaps, the needs of young carers. Very true to life that different members of the family have different ideas about whether a diagnosis is helpful or harmful.

  9. Celine May 1, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

    Great article, very well written I will make some time to watch the series. My daughter was diagnosed at 3 she’s now nearly 5 and growing more precious each day.

  10. Diana David May 1, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    Very well written article. Well done Max! My little boy also named Joe was diagnosed aged 2.5 he is now 14. Keep up the good work.

  11. Motherofboy May 1, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

    As parents of a boy almost 5 with ASD we thought this was a great series to show people some of the difficulties and issues you have to deal with when someone in the family is Autistic. It shows how everyone is affected not just the child with autism. And we hope it will help people to understand difference more and be more understanding. As a NT parent I’m very glad to hear that Max thought it was a good portrayal too.

  12. Nick May 1, 2016 at 10:28 pm #

    Totally agree Max. Motherofboy and I have been out spreading the (a) word of this drama, not least to our extended family as it’s so important that those in our immediate circle can acquire an understanding of those with ASD. I really enjoyed this drama. Of course, it was unrealistic that there were no waiting times between appointments, diagnosis and Joe’s S&L therapy, but that little bit of fantasy is insignificant compared with the necessity of showing – even if just a little bit – just what we wonderful neuro-different and exceptional families go through. An excellent review Max, look forward to reading more. Nick

  13. Nick May 1, 2016 at 10:30 pm #

    On a separate note, did you hear the LBC phone-in this week about adults with ASD? Seems there’s plenty of adults not getting diagnosed until they are in their 30s and 40s.

  14. Sandra Barwick May 2, 2016 at 8:30 am #

    This is a very well constructed piece of writing, and I know what I am talking about, I was a journalist for 30 years and the former News Features editor of The Daily Telegraph.
    When I watched the show I really disliked the whole family, apart from Max, so I stopped watching it because I didn’t care about the characters. The backdrops were beautiful though.

    Did we all find we started talking to the television? I was saying things like: “Sit down and read to him! Find a story with music! Play him some different music!” etc.

  15. Elena Wolf May 3, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    Great review, you got me hooked to watch it! As a mother of a 6 year old boy, diagnosed at 3 on the ASD, I find the more information people can get the better to understand the disorder, the individuals in it and their families. Thank you Max.
    As someone comment I hope, I don’t end talking to the characters on the TV.

  16. Jenny May 3, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    Thank you Max for writing this review. It was very thorough. As a Mum of a 4 year old boy with autism I have been watching The A Word and think it is brilliant to have more exposure in mainstream media to raise awareness. I was particularly interested to read your perspective as someone who has autism. Keep you the brilliant work, you are a great role model and source of inspiration.

  17. Tom H May 3, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    Great review Max – I haven’t seen it yet but your review has motivated me to watch it soon.

  18. Ali May 3, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Great review Max. It’s really interesting to hear that you found it useful and also that all these parents also did. I am a speech and language therapist although nothing like the one in the series! I am part of a diagnostic team and will recommend it to some of the parents we see.

  19. Jo Bean May 4, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    Brilliant review of ‘The A Word’ – well done Max. I really enjoyed watching this programme as I always find it interesting to see how autism is portrayed on TV. It was interesting to read your review and to hear some of the parallels you could draw from your own experience. I look forward to reading your next review.

  20. Shakira May 9, 2016 at 6:51 pm #

    Just checking out the comments on this! (I’m thinking articles could have these more often.) This was a great article, Max!

  21. Shakira May 13, 2016 at 9:37 am #

    I read that this is the first TV show you’ve seen with an autistic character.

    I believe that TV and films and books should not just include more autistic main characters and people with other disabilities but also show what life is really like. This will help people understand through books and media. The A Word seems like a great example of this!


    > Disabled people have only begun to emerge from the shadows (what???) in the past 60 years, but they’ve **already started producing art of all kinds that reflects their lived experience**. **Maybe it’s time for some new stories.**

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