This paper lands on your doormat in the middle of Autism Acceptance Week, as promoted by the charity the National Autistic Society, writes Michael Taylor.
(Tameside Reporter column, 1 April 2022).
Without going into details, I think I’m fairly aware of autism and what it means for how someone with that diagnosis lives their life, battles the education system and locates support.
The mission statement of the charity points out that there are currently around 700,000 autistic people in the UK. Their work seeks to create and contribute to a more inclusive world: a world where autistic people are accepted in society and able to live a life of choice and opportunity. During the week the charity has been sharing lots of information and ideas on how everyone can play their part in making this happen.
Crudely, we are all on a spectrum of how our brains are wired and how our senses interpret, communicate and signal to us how we respond. People on the autism spectrum find many of these processes challenging.
When it comes to encouraging acceptance, TV can play a huge part in doing the heavy lifting for us all.
There’s a great video on the NAS website by Alan Garner who presents a series called The Autistic Gardner on Channel 4. He makes the point not just that people on the autism spectrum face their own challenges, but that they are so frequently misunderstood and therefore unable to live a life where they reach their full potential.
One of the best TV drama series I have seen is the BBC’s The A Word. It brings to life the complexities of a family challenged by the sinking realism that their beautiful son Joe has autism. His Dad encourages Joe’s love of great music which forms a vital part of the soundtrack, but for me the best part of the series was the rest of the annoying and complex characters around him. Life is like that, and if these lot can accept Joe and all his differences, then so can you.
I didn’t need a TV drama to know what effect a child with profound special educational and emotional needs has on a family. It's uncomfortable, the shock, the stages of comprehension and the allowances you make are all there.
I read somewhere that the series didn't speak a truth about one reviewer's autistic brother. Maybe so, but that's not the point. It didn't try to be the last word on autism any more than it is about the tensions of succession in family businesses.
It can be annoying telling people that autism doesn’t mean maths genius, card counter, or music obsessive. Each person is unique, but several core communications challenges require the rest of us to be more understanding.
Which brings me to the main thrust of this week, awareness, yes, but also acceptance and appreciation of people on the autism spectrum.
Having worked in a university, a media company and been part of social activities around music, football, politics and the outdoors and I can tell you firmly that I meet people all the time who have a way of communicating that others bristle at, because they don't understand the other person's wiring.
I am not qualified to diagnose, and I don’t claim to have any kind of super power, but I find myself identifying behaviours that if that is a possibility that someone is on the autism spectrum then maybe those of us who are neuro typical have to meet others half way.
We say it at the end of each show, look after each other out there.