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BBC Three’s Autistic Season- A Review Of The Autistic Me: One Year On And Autistic Driving School

May 1, 2010

This is a guest post by Phil Evans. Phil blogs at My Autistic Life, where this was originally posted yesterday. Thanks to Phil.

Last year BBC Three showed a documentary called The Autistic Me which told the story of three young adults and how they cope with having Autism, something that nobody has really attempted to show before on British Television.

What they showed received critical acclaim and bought great success not just through ratings but for Autistic people, this coming about because a degree of clarity finally began to come through that everybody isn’t the same who has any sort of Spectrum syndrome.

As the initial broadcast featuring now 16 year-old Tom, Oliver (20) and Alex (25) proved so popular, a follow up was aired just over a week ago to show changes in their lives 12 months later which is what I’ll partly write about today.

Keeping with the channel’s season which focuses on how people with Autism function in ‘normal’ situations, a variety of programmes have been commissioned showing various ways of life that will come together to make viewers aware that people with disabilities are capable of doing anything they wish.

Autistic Driving School was number two of these special productions to gain awareness which got shown last night and will therefore get personal opinion soon, though I’ll begin this critique by going back to the Autistic Me – One Year On.

The Autistic Me – One Year On

After getting an initial insight into the lives of three incredibly different Autistic members of society, it was very interesting seeing how life is treating them after what had proved to be a year of great change for everybody involved.

Something else which surprised me personally was even though I’ve not shared everything that each of the three case studies involved had been through, there were certain traits of their behaviour I feel in daily life or have experienced over past years that proves a great stigma brought on by those trying to understand the condition that everybody is equal and has similar characteristics.

These general thoughts couldn’t be more wrong, everybody is different by nature and therefore don’t have many similarities at all.

Take Tom for example, a youngster who has gone through school with many social issues but is now finding his feet in life and becoming much more confident at college as he grows into an adult.

Beforehand there didn’t seem to be too much happiness as communication problems held any possible improvements back, though changes like leaving home for a period of time and going into different educational environments really seemed to bring him out of his shell.

Now in a band whilst making friends which is getting him towards gaining qualifications, there have been complete changes behaviour wise that will only reap benefits later which strangely made me proud as his fantastic progress was documented for all to see.

I smiled at this because I’d been through similar times and felt these differences too, college is nothing like school in terms of structure and therefore has power that can potentially change anybody’s opinion of the education system.

Such developments are helping a quiet teenager to blossom and leave behind insecurity, surely this would be enough to make anybody feel slightly warm inside like I did after watching?

Oliver on the other hand hasn’t had things go quite so positively in recent months.

In 2009 he was shown working at the British Library and really enjoying doing something that meant a lot to him, though sadly there have been complications which has resulted in unemployment and periods of depression regarding the current jobless situation with no real prospects coming up soon.

Once again I can relate and understand why there are signs of sadness, this is because I’ve felt exactly the same way but following a brighter few years for myself hopefully there will be happier developments soon enough.

Finally, what has happened to Alex?

Relationships are on his mind as he has a steady paid job which is something that I’m glad to report is going very well as romance continues to grow with Kirsty, a girl who the 25 year-old met online through an internet chat room who also has Autism.

First encounters between the couple seemed very tense and unnerving to witness on screen as they both seemed wary of each other but there is good news, 12 months later a relationship has developed which would give the impression that two soul-mates may have found one another in what could be described as an unorthodox way.

I’ve again got reason to understand this because there were times that I’d be on such websites constantly and then meet users away from the computer, though doing such a thing wouldn’t happen again these days.

To sum up the documentary, I found what was shown very interesting and loved finding out how everybody had grown in themselves.

A week later, what would Autistic Driving School show?

Autistic Driving School

Compared with the previous programme, this latest offering was completely different in terms of what it shown and portrayed to viewers.

Instead of showing how change can affect certain stages of development, we were invited into lives of people with Autism as they learnt how to drive and combat problems that may occur such as confidence behind the wheel and gaining relevant qualifications needed to obtain a licence.

Personally there are a couple of case studies that really stood out from the documentary for me, it is these that I’ll speak about as many of the issues bought up mirrored themselves in every situation.

The reason why these isolated examples imprinted most on my memory is because they tell a story of both instructor and learner, always something which can produce special relationships but perhaps even more so when two Autistic people who received very late diagnosis meet and engage in this way.

Teaching was 43 year-old Julia Malkin, somebody who has become one of the most decorated driving instructors in the United Kingdom after battling against bullying due to her Asperger Syndrome which saw her leave school without any qualifications.

Despite these early setbacks, it was only in May 2008 that AS diagnosis was finally confirmed after years lifetime of indecision with her decision to take up instructing getting made shortly before when she witnessed an accident on the roads.

Julia came across as being very passionate about what her job and after doing further research for the sake of this post, it’s all too easy to truly admire obstacles that have been pushed whilst achieving something truly brilliant not just for personal achievement but also learners who pay for skills that she offers.

By watching Autistic Driving School, ways of communication and teaching shown themselves have made me realise that a lot of hard work has been done in the past that is now proving fruitful with great results. This is definitely something to be proud of, yet another offer of hope that any goal can be reached no matter what holds it back.

On screen we are told of how she is attempting to help a female driver from Birmingham gain confidence to go on the open road after passing her test years before.

Severe doubt and worry shown itself as Autism had manifested itself in such a way that even holding a conversation was an issue through being shy, this meaning that part of the initial battle to gain friendship was getting speech to flow freely before getting into any car.

Eventually it became clear that trust had been gained as lessons commenced, proving that with a little hard work anything can be achieved which may not only impact somebody personally but also improve lives of others too.

Surely this can only bring good to the world, what it also did was leave me with only happy thoughts as end credits rolled that even though there can be so much bad in life there is also room for positivity.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2010 7:46 pm

    I found this article very interesting, and entertaining. I found the story about Julia Malkin very compelling. The fact that she has been able to overcome her diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome and is now able to teach others who are on the spectrum is miraculous. This story should provide hope to families that a diagnosis on the autism spectrum can produce such heart-warming stories like Julia Malkin or Alex.


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