Reading time: 8min.

by Ceri Clark

The ‘a’ word

Every child is different, some maybe even more than others. So let’s talk about the ‘A’ word. And no I don’t mean some new swear word that’s been made up on some online forum in the depths of the internet (although I’m sure there is one) I’m talking about Autism. With the recent “quiet hour”, which is essentially an hour in the morning where shoppers are asked to keep noise to a minimum and the music is turned off, introduced in an ASDA store in Cheetham Hill, Manchester and a few episodes into BBC One’s The ‘A’ Word is it finally time to start talking about the previously viewed ‘disruptive’ or ‘problem’ child in the class?

Children with autism have difficulty in engaging in the give and take of everyday human interactions and at school tend to prefer playing alone this, in most cases, is due to their inability to interpret gestures or facial expressions meaning the social world can be bewildering. Sadly, this can lead to the child becoming isolated in the classroom with other children unable to understand why they are the way they are. Of course autism manifests itself in a number of ways and behaviours will vary hugely, in this case I’m focusing mostly on the way that the main character of The A word, Joe played by Max Vento, and my own experience of fellow class mates on the autism spectrum.

For Joe his escape is music. As is remarked by some of the experts that are bought in by his family he uses his love and impressive knowledge of his dad’s favourite music as a barrier. However, when this is taken away from him it causes a problem, as is evidenced by his birthday party fiasco in the first episode. This is where the main ‘social’ problem starts from then on the other parents begin to try and exclude and keep their children away from Joe, but why? Although it has not been shown to us whether the other children accept or understand his behaviour or not it is clear that he doesn’t seem to attempt in any way to interact with the other children.

When I was at primary school we had a girl with similar issues to Joe only alongside the Autism she also had ADHD and this made things much much worse, not only was there the issue of not being able to understand the ‘social rules’ of the class room she also became distracted and fidgety easily, now for me this was never a problem, my parents understood and if anything encouraged me to try and include her but for many others this behaviour was weird, funny, and sometimes even scary and this caused her to become a target. Parents complained about the disruption and the other kids laughed at her behaviour. She was extremely intelligent and picked things up easily however this meant that lessons quickly became a bore for her, and so distractions and disruptions became more and more of a problem.

As a sociological thinker I see the possibility of many factors playing in on this. My main belief would be is it all down to the social construction of suitable behaviour, or more plainly have we invented how we should behave in certain settings? For most, the idea of loudly exclaiming that the work is boring or that we already know it all may be strange, the same can be said of eating pages out of our note books or telling fellow class mates or work mates that they’ve done their shoes up wrong or that their jumper looks ugly. But in this individual’s case there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with this behaviour and who’s to say she’s wrong? Behaviour is deemed appropriate or inappropriate based on the society’s consensus. But should this really mean that at such a young age these children should be seen as so different and unable to join in just because of their alternative way of viewing the world?