Last Night’s TV – Young, Autistic & Stagestruck

Every now and again, a programme appears that makes you count what it turns out are your considerable blessings, and this was one such film.

Gathering together five young people who are afflicted with various autistic disorders from a hugely varying – but almost always distressing – spectrum, the idea is to put on a variety show which, by necessity, requires the kids to interact with others and ultimately act in an organised, cohesive manner.

Now, anyone who’s ever helped out at school with the staging of a nativity play will know well the inherent problems of trying to get children to do stuff you want them to do, but add to that children who are troubled on a level the rest of us truly can’t relate to, and you have a mammoth task on your hands.

But of course, the actual end result – the show – is just an excuse and barely of import at all. The stated purpose of this Channel 4 film is to demystify autism and to show that despite what are uniquely challenging hurdles, autistic kids are well capable of overcoming them, often anyway.

And it’s also something of a unique televisual event in that – to my knowledge – nobody has ever embarked on anything similar. Yes, we’ve seen documentaries about autism, but this is a view into the condition that is interactive rather than a passive narration.

But it was heartbreaking in parts. Seeing 17 year old Andrew being clearly smitten with 19 year old Claire was immensely touching, but harrowing too as both he and the object of his desire simply drowned in a sea of overwrought emotion, over which they have no control.

Then there was 12 year old Ben whose innate competitiveness reaches into every aspect of his life, and that of his family. We saw Ben going bowling with his brother, and saying, “lose, lose, lose, lose” over and over. It’s not meanness or a desire to upset his brother; it’s simply part of the manifestation of his autism.

When discussing how his condition affects him, Ben sombrely and again, heartbreakingly, said, “Something inside of me has made all of my existence horrible.”

That he has such insight is as tragic as anything else in his young life, and his parents of course bear the weight of a guilt that comes from doing nothing wrong but ending up feeling as though you did.

We’ll get to see more of the children and the show they put on next week, so in the meantime, if you missed this first film, you can catch it on 4oD. It’s not yet among the programme selections but is likely to be later today or tomorrow.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.