After watching the first programme in this new BBC series I’m not entirely sure whether I liked it or not. I suppose it tried to put in a little bit of background as well as developing the story a bit. For me this made some of it a bit random and perhaps unnecessary.
I could, however, relate to some of the issues raised. The way Joe didn’t really join in with the other children at his party, the way he lay down when he didn’t want to blow out his candles, how he fixated on his music, the invites to other people’s parties and dealing with the diagnosis when you receive it.
Starting with the diagnosis. I suppose this was a little different for us than it was for Joe’s mum and dad. J was diagnosed early, he was not much over 3 when he had his assessment. It also didn’t come as a surprise to us, we had kind of known he had autism before we were handed the official diagnosis. His assessment was similar in a way, in that the people involved asked for information from us and also observed and interacted with J. We spoke to one of the professionals about how we found things and what we thought J had difficulty with, another woman played with him and watched him play to see how he did this. They then discussed their findings with us and a couple of weeks later we were sent the final report, which confirmed what they had shared with us on the day. I won’t pretend it wasn’t still a punch in the gut. No matter how prepared you are it still makes it concrete, confirms your fears, puts a label on your child. You still need to come to terms with the finality of it, pick yourself back up and carry on.
In the programme I thought Joe’s dad was a bit annoying in constantly trying to get him to do the things he was asked but I can understand where he was coming from. You want so much for your child to be able to do these things and to ‘perform’ that it can be hard not to prompt them or lead them. I suppose this is magnified when you don’t 100% think there is a major issue and you want to prove that, to yourself more than anything else. It was evident from the beginning that Joe’s mum thought there were issues surrounding her son but seemed unable to admit them, even to herself.
When it comes to parties I’m a little different from Joe’s mum. J has never coped well with noise and in the beginning it was impossible to take him to a party. I remember when he was 3, taking him to my niece’s birthday party in a soft play centre. He just couldn’t cope from the outset. There were children running everywhere, many of them screaming and shouting. Eventually my mum had to take him home while I stayed on with B to let him join in. After that I was a bit scared to take him to another party. I find the focus and attention on his behaviour hard to take and I worry that he will be upset by his surroundings, so I don’t want to inflict that on him if it can be avoided. As a result, when he got an invitation to another child in nursery’s party I was too anxious to take him. I didn’t want him to stand out from the other children, to be a focus for other parents to talk about and I didn’t want to put him through the trauma of not being able to cope with his surroundings.
The saving grace for parties came after he moved to his Language & Communication Centre Nursery. He got an invite to the party of one of the children in his group and I decided to take him along. After all, who would understand his behaviour better than parents whose children have similar communication issues? It was in another soft play centre and I was really anxious about how he would be. It turned out that he loved it, well at least playing in the soft play area. He ran all over the place, playing on all of the equipment and grinning from ear to ear. It all went well until he had to go into the party room, sit to eat and play party games. He just didn’t want to and (like Joe) started lying on the floor. He also whined, kicked his feet and tried to run away. After persevering in getting him to sit, eat and join in I waited just long enough to be acceptable before thanking the boy’s parents and heading home. It was exhausting but at least it was progress. For J and for me. I had been so nervous taking him, worrying about how he would act and for the most part he did well.
The programme also showed a little about other people’s attitudes and I found it so sad when Joe didn’t get an invite to the football party. People can be really insensitive. My only issue with this part of it was that many of the kids came to Joe’s party yet they didn’t reciprocate invitations. It made me think if this would have happened in reality, surely if they didn’t want him at their party they also wouldn’t go along to his?
Overall I think it was quite realistic and I found myself feeling the pain and upset that Joe’s family felt at many points. It’s something I will tune in to again to see how the story develops. This first episode was probably a 3/5 for me so I’m hoping it will pick up as the series goes on.
Some information about diagnosis:
Tips on helping your child to cope with parties: