Channel 4 takes a refreshingly honest look at autism, in a reality TV programme that shows youngsters out-luvvying the luvviesby Peter Bazalgette / April 26, 2010 / Leave a comment
I once employed an extremely creative man who had a healthy sense of his own value. He requested a bonus of £500,000 on one occasion, explaining, “I have Asperger syndrome, you see. I can’t bear uncertainty. So I must have the money.” After that I took a keen interest in autism, not least because of what it might save me in future negotiations.
Since Rain Man, in 1988, writers have explored autism in different ways. A few years ago Stephen Poliakoff made The Lost Prince (BBC1, 2003), a touching evocation of autism in the royal family. He also invented an apparently autistic boy in his more recent television drama, Joe’s Palace (BBC1, 2007). And wasn’t Channel 4’s Ali G—not only pig ignorant but also blind to his interviewees’ sensibilities—inspired by the same theme?
In print, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy has recently given us an Asperger heroine, Lisbeth Salander. Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch (1992) and High Fidelity (1995) showed sympathy for obsessive men who love lists and statistics. And then there was Mark Haddon’s bestseller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003). This convincingly entered the world of Christopher, a boy with Asperger syndrome. In one of the most revealing scenes, he is given a matchbox by an educational psychologist and asked what’s in it. “Matches,” he replies. Then he opens it revealing a small plastic jewel. He’s then asked what his mother would answer if asked to guess the contents of the same box and he replies, “A jewel.” He can only respond with what he knows. The point is that autistic people find it hard to sense or imagine another person’s point of view or feelings.
During April, in Young, Autistic & Stagestruck, Channel 4 showed a group of autistic teenagers attempting to put on a play at the Lyric Theatre in west London. Here is 17-year-old Andrew, with a fixation on Bambi books and bursting with testosterone, poor fellow. The commentary tells us that he has limited social skills, problems with communication and a restricted imagination. He is “classically autistic.” On the first day of rehearsals he meets 19-year-old Claire, whom he starts to hug obsessively. That evening his parents have to explain to him that he needs to consider Claire’s feelings and privacy. They get him to focus on distance, hugs and kissing. He has to write down rules of engagement for…