Friday, 20 April 2012

Louis Theroux's 'Extreme Love - Autism'

I just had to write a post about this programme, shown last night on BBC2.
You'll know, if you read this blog regularly, that my youngest son, 18 year old Carb Addict is severely autistic. He can't really speak and has learning difficulties. He totally fits the classic 'triad of impairments'.

We've seen lots of programmes about autism and invariably they concentrate on higher functioning autists, or higher functioning Aspergers - Rainman and Stephen Wiltshire documentaries have a lot to answer for. I've lost count of the number of people who ask me, of Carb Addict, 'has he got a special talent?' Well not really, unless you count identifying label-less cassette tapes by looking at the amount of tape run through on each spindle as a talent. Or rewinding a Disney video to the exact same spot, to watch the exact same 4 seconds, over and over again. That's over and over again for 15 minutes at a stretch. In fact I'm the one with the talent - the most tolerant parent in my street. So let me say this - 0.00000000001% OF AUTISTIC PEOPLE HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT!!!!!!

If you didn't see this programme last night please iPlayer it. Theroux visited a school in New Jersey for 250 autistic students from 3 to 21 years old - it brought home to Big Man and I (and thousands of other parents, judging by Theroux's Facebook page today) just how far we have to go, provision-wise, in the UK. Carb Addict is lucky to go to a placement with the Hampshire Autistic Society, which is the best we can get here (we're lucky) but it looked pitiful compared to DLC Warren. One of the fantastic things they have there is a corridor that is made up as a whole street of full-size shops, just for the students to learn about money, social interaction and for them to 'work'. Brilliant.

For once higher functioning students weren't concentrated on - only one chap could pass for 'normal', albeit an oddball kind of normal, and that was Nicky. Also focussed on was Brian who, at 20 is non-verbal and lives in a shared home with others like him. He tried to burn down his house aged 8 and has attacked his mother so badly that she could no longer cope with him. Brian is very like Carb Addict, temperament- and ability-wise. I can't work out how to get the clip from the BBC website but please check this out - - it's very illuminating.

It's a reflection of how true to life this film was, and how well parents of autistic children received this that Theroux's Facebook page is inundated with messages of praise. There are a few asking why it wasn't filmed in the UK (erm....because we know how depressing and tenth rate the provision here is, maybe?) and one person who said how very disappointed she was that it only paid attention to severely autistic kids. She was very irate, actually. However, I can't remember a single programme about autism prior to 'Extreme Love' that didn't focus on high functioning Aspergers, or autistic savants - the very ones who are in the minority. I guess you can't please everyone.

Will you watch it and tell me what you think?


  1. I certainly will watch it, and let you know. I worked with children aged 7-19 with autism for ten years. The phrase "that must be rewarding" used to make me laugh. Rewarding? In this country? Not a CHANCE!

  2. I did watch it and i thought it was very well done. It was refreshing to see the impact on family life as well. Brillantly done Scarlett x

  3. I watched that programme the night it was shown and was amazed by it's honesty. Heartbreaking stuff - it made me appreciate my normal healthy boys so so SO much more - and huge hats off to those parents who struggle through every blinking day without any hope of things getting better. It would destroy me, I know. I never knew just how difficult an autistic child could be - how much it impacted on life.

    I read the Little Cotton Rabbits blog by Julie - - her son Toby is autistic - severely, I suppose - and her descriptions have always shocked me - now I can properly visualise what she goes through (and you too, now) and man, it's tough.

  4. I want to write this so it sounds like I am reaching out to you and in no way give a negative impression as that is how I am feeling. My eldest is asperger/adhd and my youngest is adhd. You have different and complex issues in your parenting than I do but you and I and any other parent with children with problems should not be moaning about what is or is not on a programme. The lady saying that should be trying to be encompassing and inclusive and supportive of other parents. I have met a lot of people who think that because at least some of the time my children can pass as "normal" they are but are badly brought up or behaved and have had people say awful things to me in the past. But hey-ho, they don't know how it is for anyone. Just hang in there and carry on being the most patient parent on the street. I hope this reads alright. I'm not writing it really to make a particular point, just to say you're not alone and hi, keep on keeping on. :)


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