The “A” Word

In The α word, people are more than cyphers, and no-one gets murdered. There is hope for British TV drama yet.

Joe’s life revolves around his self-soothing activities. Autistic and five, he blocks his family out with his father’s loud music, repeating what people say to him word for word, and walking off down the Pennine lane. Who can blame him? His mother approaches with a ghastly grin on her face, pretending that some activity she wants him to engage in will be delightful for both of them, rather than perplexity and misery. So he learns to block her: if she asks him anything he will say “Well, let’s see-” but nothing follows.

She wants him to express emotion, and because he does not in ways she can recognise she imagines that he does not feel. Certainly he feels, but as everyone else in the family is more concerned with appearance than reality- what should we be feeling? Let us pretend to feel that, even to ourselves- he would have learned that it is not safe to feel authentically or express feeling anyway.

She wants him to be normal, and enjoy normal things. She spots him briefly in the school playground with two other low-status boys, and invites them over for a sleepover, without any preamble or getting to know the parents. This is a normal activity and it must be undertaken, whatever the discomfort for everyone involved.

She is enraged and terrified, and when something appears to help Joe she is desperate for it to continue. She hangs around outside offices until people agree to see her, then shouts at them.

-You really got through to him!
-It was just a technique, the speech therapist tells her.

At one point, other boys are having a football party, to which Joe has not been invited, and the family choose to have a picnic in the same park. They knew the party was going on, and in the Pennine town there will not be more than one park, so this is ill-judged. The father has a football, which he attempts to kick to Joe, but Joe evinces no interest in kicking it back.

(How wonderful! You don’t want to do it, you don’t see the point, so you just don’t! Yet if we can communicate enthusiasm within a family or group, then we can share it.)

For some reason they wander over to the other boys, rather than fleeing. Joe gets in the middle of the field but does his random thing rather than conforming or following instructions. I find this unbearable. I am weeping in embarrassment.

Andrea Vaccaro, penitent Magdalene

4 thoughts on “The “A” Word

    • I love little bits like Paul flirting with his former girlfriend, and his wife’s brother disapproving- it’s not wholly innocent, but how harmful is it? I loved his line afterwards about imagining himself without ordinary life and obligations for a moment. My Aspie friend hated it, which may be an accolade.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m grateful that my parents never pushed me into areas I was uncomfortable with. They supported me completely in whatever endeavours I was interested in, offered suggestions, but never demanded. Admittedly they had no idea I was on the spectrum (who did in the 1950s), but I don’t think they would have treated me differently had they known. I’ll have to keep an eye out for The A Word.


    • These parents have a very narrow understanding of what the child should be like, and also themselves; and enforce it, and deny evidence that it is not true. They were unconvinced until he went to school that there was anything unusual about him. It rings true to me. Of course not all parents are like that, but some are.

      Liked by 1 person

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