In the pilot episode of “The A Word,” a six-episode drama from the BBC airing to American audiences July 13 on SundanceTV, 5-year-old Joe (Max Vento) is the only kid in his class who doesn't receive an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party. It’s a turning point for the family that forces them to confront the signs they’ve tried so long to ignore.
Joe is diagnosed with autism in this first episode of the series, which premiered Tuesday night at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. The show is based on the Israeli Keshet series “Yellow Peppers” and aired on BBC1 in March to much acclaim. The titular word refers mainly to autism, but it also tackles adolescence, aging, attraction, adultery, anguish, anger, affection, adventure, altruism, anxiety, acceptance, and plenty more “a” words that Joe and everyone in his multi-generational family experience.
BAFTA winner and Golden Globe nominee Peter Bowker, who wrote the English version of the series, outlined the show’s trajectory in a panel discussion moderated by New Yorker editor David Remnick following the premiere.
“This first series is really about denial and about dealing with that first wave of shock with the diagnosis,” Bowker said. “What I would hope, as we go on into series two and series three, is that it moves into acceptance and ultimately, I would hope, celebration.”
New York Collaborates for Autism recognized the potential in ‘The A Word’ to educate audiences about autism spectrum disorder. In partnership with SundanceTV, the organization released a PSA, premiering exclusively on Parents.com, that reinforces the importance of supporting those in your community who live with autism. Interspersed with clips from the show, it urges viewers to “make a difference” and to “reach out” because “someone you know loves someone with autism.”
Another member of the premiere’s panel, Ilene Lainer, co-founder and president of New York Collaborates for Autism and the mother of a son with autism, said many of the scenes in the show hit home for her, a testament to the show’s realistic portrayal of the disorder. She also made clear, though, that autism exists not in one concrete form, but on a spectrum.
“The person with autism is not just autism. It’s one aspect of them,” Lainer said. “There are incredible qualities that every person has and it’s about understanding who they are in their unique way.”