The story so far showed the impact that autism can have on a child’s behaviour and the proliferating effect of parents attempting to deny that there is anything different about the child. The parents were shown starting to blame each other as the need to address the
reality of this difference became clearer together with the fact that they had seen it but not acknowledged it for years.
Discussion about the programme on Twitter had most people agreeing that it portrayed realistically both an autistic child and a family's and community's response to that child. The following exchange was about the acutal "A word" demonstrates to me how even competent caring professionals can perpetuate stigma.
Parent " but he's not autistic?" Doctor "that’s not how I'd describe anyone with autism". It is hard to find a reason why you wouldn't call anyone "with autism" autistic, other than that the word is too terrible to mention. This implies that autism is entirely negative and is not a helpful attitude.
The autistic boy, Joe, was only five and his difference was quite clear and noticed by others who didn’t invite him to parties. I was particularly struck by Simon Baron Cohen's tweet in response to this “Not inviting the kid with autism to your kid's birthday party is like having a sign saying 'Kids with disabilities not welcome' (retweeted 232 times and liked 266 times). I find this an inappropriate response to the story. Joe was not particularly interested in other children and did not join in activities with them preferring to do his own thing. His birthday party seemed more of an ordeal than a pleasure for him, and caused stress to his family and others (his mother appearing to think it would be a good idea for him to be the centre of attention). The idea that it is necessary to pretend that an autistic child is like a typically developing child by treating them like everyone else demonstrates disrespect for difference not inclusivity and appreciation of diversity.
I would suggest that we need to be fighting the stigma attached to difference and not ignoring or disregarding the difference itself. (I’ll throw in a bit of self-promotion here - If you want to explore some of the differences generated by autism come to my session Exploring Invisible Autism on April 20th)