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.
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: