Why I liked BBC 4’s Growing Children, Autism

Last week, BBC 4 aired a documentary wherein child psychologist Laverne Antrobus interviewed researchers in Cardiff and Nottingham Universities about recent neuroscientific research findings about Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However instead of focusing mainly on the research findings, the film centered on three cases of ASD- Tony, Jake and Michael. Tony is a teenage boy who is in the severe end of the Autism Spectrum. According to his mother, he is sensitive to a multitude of sensory inputs particularly to sound. He is very fond of youtube videos of cartoons and repeats their dialogues after watching them.  Jake is younger than Tony and is on the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. The film showed Jake exhibiting behavioural difficulties such as resistance by shouting at his mother. As it was explained in the film, Jake usually misbehaves at home after school. The third case focused on a 19 year-old Physics student, Michael, who has published a book about metaphors (it should be noted that people with ASD often struggle to understand metaphors).

Having worked with young people with Special Educational Needs for more than 6 years, I observed that professionals (teaching staff, etc.) and students still lack the basic knowledge about what Autism is. Research such as that of Tobias (2009) has also shown that this lack of basic understanding often lead to negative attitudes, and often, bullying, towards individuals with Autism. As a result, I am actively searching for books, documentaries, films and articles which I can recommend to people in order to increase their understanding of ASD. In my opinion, BBC 4’s ‘Growing Children- Autism’ is a good start for people who want to know more about ASD. Here’s why:

  • It showed the heterogeneity of ASD. Autism is a complex disorder which affects individuals differently (APA, 1994). Francesca Happe recently stated that ‘when you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism’. Books, websites and articles about Autism often define the condition as an impairment of social interaction, imagination and communication. However, in my experience of working with young people with ASD, I can say that individuals affected by the condition can interact with others, have imagination and can communicate, but sometimes not in the way that we are used to. In addition, I have never seen two people with ASD who have the exact same sensitivity; who respond in exactly the same way to stimuli and have the exact same background. Even though BBC 4’s documentary showed only three cases (4 if you include Jake’s brother Zane), it captured the differences between each cases.
  • It showed how important the families/support networks are to those with ASD. Perhaps the reason why this sticks out to me is due to my knowledge of the ‘Refrigirator Mother Theory’ which states that Autism is the result of bad parenting. Having been around families and carers of people with Autism, I can genuinely say that these families deserve more credit than they normally get. These families/care-givers are the ones who are with the people with ASD more times than teachers and psychologists. They are with them when they eat, sleep, go to the toilet, early in the morning, late at night, during the weekends and school holidays. As I’ve mentioned, the documentary showed how Jake misbehaves towards his mother when he comes home after school. This aggression is often built up at school during the day and is usually vented towards the students’ parents or caregivers- people who are at times, not very well trained at dealing with these behaviours. The documentary also showed how understanding the parents of Jake and Tony  are and how their attitudes help these individuals. It should be noted that these parents’ cases can be seen as cries for help since not all parents of people with Autism receive the help and support they need from professionals.
  • Lastly, it showed that there is a lot of things we don’t know about ASD. I am not denying the fact that Autism research has rapidly moved on over the past decades. However, we still don’t know what causes ASD, as a result, we don’t know how, if possible, to prevent the condition from occuring. I also believe that diagnosis can be improved in the future.


American Psychiatric Association (1994). DSM-IV Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Tobias, A. (2009). Supporting students with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) at secondary school: a parent and student perspective. Educational Psychology in Practice, 25, 151-165.

For more information about the programme, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01lyczl

For more info about Autism, visit www.autism.org.uk


14 thoughts on “Why I liked BBC 4’s Growing Children, Autism”

  1. I think it’s been an good series, but I would hope to see more. For example it would be interesting to see a documentary on Dysbraxia which seems to be a far lesser known neurological disorder yet no less relevant than Autism, OCD, Dyslexia etc. Indeed it’s quite common for people to have dual diagnosis of such disorders as they do overlap quite a bit. I myself have Dysbraxia and Dyslexia.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree that there are a lot of other conditions such as dyspraxia which (at the moment) are not well known to the public. People may have heard of them but are unsure what they truly arr. I myself don’t know much about Dyspraxia and would love to watch/hear/read more about the experiences of people who have the condition.

  2. loved this and yes would love to see more ……for me this took me back to when my 3rd son was young and how he coped with life ……my son who is 14 now also watched it and said …so i am not the only one who thinks it cannot rain cats and dogs .. bless xxxx and i am still trying to explain about pull your socks up ….we are going to buy the book which the young lad in it wrote .. cant wait xx

    1. Some of my students who have ASD have watched the programme and said similar things. I felt that it was nice for them and their parents to know that most of what they experience is shared by others.

      Please let me know what you and your son think of the book- it may be useful for my students too!

  3. To any parents who are putting in the extra effort to take care of an autism spectrum child, an autism spectrum man has made my life a great deal happier. My boyfriend has Aspergers and is the kindest, most intelligent man and makes me laugh so much, I’ve never been so happy. His differences make him the wonderful person he is and I am very lucky to have met him.

  4. Indeed. Having a neurological disorder doesn’t make someome any less a person (and I’m not for a moment inferring that anyone was suggesting it did) than anyone else.

    But it does mean that we interept the world in a different way that is often out of step with the society norm. It does make mainstream interaction at best quite difficult and often intimidating.

    I find the usual popular things in society very difficult to cope with.. Not from a capability point of view but an aversion to noise and crowds coupled with a few of my dyspraxic difficulties puts me off socialising by the usual popular means, i.e shopping, pubs, clubs, restaurant etc. And this leads to quite a unsocial existence, which is a shame because in actual fact I’d love to find that special someone to socialise with and form that life long companionship.

    I know from experience that I can often come across as cold, tactless and uncaring when in actual fact I’m simply being honest and calling how I see things, unfortunately I often completely unintentionally cause offence even if I’m actually trying to be kind and helpful and doing the right thing.

    1. Hi James, my other half is very honest and it makes things so much easier when you are with someone who says what they mean, if people take offence at the truth that really is their own issue.
      If you are not a great fan of crowds, searching within them for a soul mate might not be the one, the internet could be a better way.
      And cherish your differences, its what makes people great!

      1. Many people I know I first via the Internet, a couple of them I regard as really good friends. The problem is that we’re not very local to each other so most of our interaction takes place via web based networking!

        I have tried a few dating websites in the past, but due to bad experiences I tend to mistrust them, not nessacarily because of the people who use them but many of the actual sites use scam tactics in order to get people to subscribe. One of their favourites is creating phampton people who want to talk to you, but you have to subscribe in order to do so. So you subscribe and these people mysteriously disappear!

        This is something that could do major damage to my self esteem and ability to trust especially as I already feel lonely. For that I actually think that despite being socially awkward I am still more likely to meet a “soulmate” companion in the real world as opposed to the cyber one. At least that way I’m not loosing money chasing people who do not exist!

        1. That’s true about the internet, I’ve met a lot of people online I’ve never met for real as they are too far away, but they are still very valid friendships to me, and share a lot in common my local friends don’t.
          I met my other half on a dating site and there’s no way our paths would ever have crossed otherwise and he really is my world.
          All the best, K.

  5. I have been working in a special school for nearly three years, initially as an LSA and now as a teacher. This programme is one of the best I have seen as it is, as stated above, balanced across the spectrum. I watched it with my partner who is always asking about my work and she felt it was really helpful. I also thought the presenter was appropriately senstive and did not appear to be trying to ‘sell’ answers, as some other programmes I have seen do. I hope she makes some more programmes.
    I found it sad to see the young people struggling with main stream schools. Integration (in education) is good for some pupils but clearly not for others and sometimes their needs are not as central as they need to be to the decision making or the funding.
    I hope some politicians watched this and saw what the families eally go through as wellas the children/young adults.
    I loved watching the mother taking her son to the supermarket and her comments about helping him adapt to the environment. This is something I do with my ASD class but not as often as I would like or think is needed because even in a special school we are affected by the one size/system fits all syndrom that fails so many children in our education system (neuro-typical as well as non neuro-typical)
    It would be fantastic to see a programme (a series would give a better chance to cover the issues) made investigating the various ways children who have a differentway of seeing/thinking are catered for by the different approaches available in THIS country and the curriculum that is in place and its relevance. Not a ‘political’ programme but one like this that just shows it how it is – strengths and weaknesses of each method (mainstream/ special schools/ home tutors)
    Finally I applaud all the parents in this programme who opened their complex and emotional lives to the camera’s. I also think they were exceptional in how they approached the issues with genuine openess and honesty and love. As the presenter said at the end to the parents, after confirmation that their second child has Aspergers, I can’t be truely where you are but I do have a response of my own to what you are going through.

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