Young, Autistic And Stagestruck Review: Stars In Their Eyes

April 12, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

YOUNG, AUTISTIC AND STAGESTRUCK: Monday 12th April, Channel 4, 8pm. ALERT ME

Programmes on autism and other conditions of infinite fascination can sometimes fall into the bracket of subtle pointing and laughing. Clearly, autism is a troubling and complex mental problem, but the effects can be mocked in the type of sensational documentary we are often served up by TV corporations.

‘Young, Autistic and Stagestruck’ is a sensitive and interesting look at the issue amongst several sufferers. Using two drama leaders, Channel 4 sets the mission of producing a variety show with nine autistic children to display the many different levels of the condition.

With random outbursts being crowbarred in unexpectedly, sometimes the editing is clearly designed to amuse the viewers. There is nothing wrong with this as it takes the documentary away from being a dreary look at people’s struggle, and, essentially – to people inexperienced with the condition – the symptoms are comical.

One of the best ‘characters’ is 12 year-old Ben. “Of course I’ve got autism. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,? he responds to a less than intelligent question from behind the camera. Although deeply troubled and almost constantly upset by his condition, Ben is a fiercely intelligent, stubborn yet pragmatic little boy. He speaks about things like an adult – at times perceptively deconstructing all his peers with frightening accuracy. When asked how a particularly silly ‘getting to know you’ exercise went, he sums up without a hint of irony, “disappointing and enlightening?. He’s like Jack Dee.

Instead of just following two or three families as they battle with their child’s condition, the show forces both low and high functioning autism into the same mix. It’s an interesting and sometimes amusing clash of many different mindsets and thought processes. Additionally, the leaders have never dealt with the problem before, which results in them doubting the very idea of a variety show.

Andrew, 17, is ‘classically autistic’ having limited social skills and a restricted imagination. It’s upsetting to see his parents talk about his condition – his mother honestly dismisses the oft heard sentiment, “We wouldn’t have our child any other way?.

To see the dynamics of the group is stirring as they all get on and attempt to manage their various levels of the problem. Although I’m not sure how the drama leaders will get a variety show out of them after just three weeks, I’ll certainly be tuning in to find out.

This was an amazing positive portrayal of autistic children to reveal the ‘very real’ impact and behaviors that they encounter in their everyday lives. I have two children on the autistic spectrum and they too attend a private specialist music and arts teacher in Coventry who is brilliant and is helping them to be confident and successful. I am pleased to see this documentary that shows that autistic kids should not be easily ‘written off’. The big problem is at mainstream school and the system is not at all kind to them since they are challenging kids and ‘different’ to the neuro-typical child. Consequently, they suffer an awful lot of prejudice, bullying and lack of understanding from teachers and the general public. Ben explained the ‘amplitude’ of emotion perfectly. If you are interested, I can give you a very enlightening story about the experience of my children in Primary mainstream school?.

Kitty Jones says:

“Clearly, autism is a troubling and complex mental problem”. I didn’t think it was a mental problem – it’s a development issue surely?