Acting Autistic

I have been told by some people associated with the TV show ‘The A Word’ that the following thoughts are ‘just’ my opinion. That is true. Nevertheless, my opinion is no less valid than any other opinion and I believe it is worth writing about. 

I have enjoyed watching the show ‘The A Word’. It is a very accurate representation of how some neurotypical people react when their child is diagnosed as autistic. The acting in it has been incredible. Very convincing.

 Except… except for the neurotypical boy who plays the autistic character ‘Joe’. On the whole, he does a good enough job. But certain scenes were less than convincing. I am referring to the scenes where he kind of depicts a meltdown. When he throws himself to the floor at his birthday party. When he sweeps his cereal off the table. When he throws a tray in the Gastropub. These are just a few examples, there are more but it would be tedious to list them all. I feel you cannot accurately depict a meltdown unless you’ve actually experienced one. (I’m not suggesting actually provoking and filming an autistic having a meltdown. That’s unethical. But I feel an autistic can inform their acting by their experience. )
This is not the fault of the actor’s age. It’s an impossible task for a neurotypical 6 year old actor. It would be an impossible task for a neurotypical 60 year old actor. It’s not a question of age or experience, but of neurology. 

And so, I contend that an autistic actor should have been used, to be truly authentic. They used an autistic teenager, and that’s to be commended, but it was a very brief role. The character of Ralph was played by an actor who has Down Syndrome. It would have been obviously offensive not to. But, until the last episode, we only caught a glimpse of him. A good start towards being inclusive but not enough. So, why could the character the show is supposedly based around not have been played by an autistic actor?

The author claims, in an interview, that it would have been ‘unethical’ to do so. Unusual, and I believe inaccurate, word to use. Yes, it would have been more difficult. Yes, it would have been more expensive, as patience and accommodations would have been required. But I’m not sure where ethics would come into it, anymore than working with any child. 

I believe hundreds of boys were auditioned for the role. Why not a single autistic? I find it hard to believe there wasn’t a single autistic child in Britain who could have played the part. They might have had to expand out, and not limit themselves to a six year old white boy. And if a great autistic actor were  found, but they were ten, or black, or a girl, or any other variation, the show could have been re-written to reflect that.  And would, in my opinion, have been the better for it. 

Yes, The A Word is a very good show. But it could have been so much better.  It could have featured an autistic actor playing the central character. It could have broken the stereotype of autistics only being six year old white boys. 

But what does my opinion matter anyway? It’s clear to me that those to do with the show don’t care about the opinions of this adult autistic. Hopefully, some of my readers do. 

[ image is of a bright yellow background, with the words ‘Acting Autistic’ written in black ]

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