Gareth D Morewood blogged here for two years, 2008-2010. Gareth's first eBook, The Role of the SENCO: An Insider's Guide, is now available from the Optimus Education shop.
There was a fascinating programme on BBC3 this week – The Autistic Me − which followed three young autistic men as they struggled to find their roles within ‘the adult world’. The focus of the documentary followed the fortunes of Tom (15), Oli (23) and Alex (24), all of whom have experienced significant barriers to being able to lead independent lives and find employment, particularly in the current climate.
Tom is a complex young man, struggling to find his role within a large family group and dealing with a complete lack of understanding from his peer group. It was also evident that many people involved in Tom’s life had limited, if any, real understanding of how to support his needs. This caused many uncomfortable moments in the film, and resulted in Tom being placed in a residential setting.
Most of the issues, in my view, were exacerbated by the fact that those people closest to Tom did not having a good understanding of how to support his needs. I am always conscious of how TV programmes can present certain views with clever editing, and while it appeared that Tom’s family was wealthy enough, with a large house and extensive grounds, there appeared to be no activities or trips away from the home to support the development of key skill areas for him. I do understand the complexities of communication and interaction within teenagers, but a proactive and supportive set of routines are an important part of teenage development into adulthood. I was left thinking that better family support may have provided some different outcomes here.
Oli seems an extremely likeable young man, with a good understanding of how he can operate within certain structures and situations. Drums and history are his passions, but the show seemed less interested in these positive traits and focused on Oli’s lack of employment after the termination of his temporary position as a book stamper at the British Library. Oli said that he will ‘miss the camaraderie and companionship’ of the job. This was such a positive comment, but again the edit concentrated on the negatives. I felt that Oli was a very employable young man − perhaps the programme's editor would have done better to offer Oli a job, rather than editing out details of his many positive attributes and clear sense of humour in a manner that left me feeling rather ashamed and very disappointed.
The third young man featured was Alex. Alex does have a part-time position working to his strengths in a security firm, and his employers appeared supportive and understanding. But again an opportunity was missed here − I wanted to hear more about the work Alex did and how that linked to his skills; to perhaps compare this position with Oli’s situation. But no. Alex’s segment focused mainly on his desire to find a girlfriend. Of course this is an important part of life for a young man, and Alex’s condition would mean he was challenged in this area − however the film finished after one initial meeting with a young lady who also had needs on the spectrum, and the edit didn’t allow for any observations. I was a little concerned again with the portrayal of this fledgling relationship.
However, I do think Alex had one of the most memorable lines in the show. As he got ready for his date, he said: ‘If I was any cooler, I’d be an ice cube!’
I think the awareness raised by the programme being made at all will support a greater understanding of autism and also make some people more informed. However, the narrow selection of topics covered, the editing and the somewhat negative perspective, left me a little disappointed as I felt it was an opportunity missed.
We have done a lot of work in order to ‘saturate’ our school with knowledge and understanding of supporting young people with needs on the autistic spectrum, and we have had some significant success. However it is not an easy task, being an ongoing process of constant information-sharing and support. And efforts made at school should not be the end − The Autistic Me highlighted the need for proper services in supporting young people as they leave school, and enter a world that is not as well-attuned to individual need as some supportive schools and residential environments.
So, in conclusion – well done for raising awareness of the wider condition and more specific issues connected to it, and on challenging people’s views on the subject, as even critical debate develops mentalities and moves society forward. I would, however, like to see a more balanced and informed edit in future please, BBC.