:: Blogtober is a blogging challenge whereby bloggers are encouraged to post every day for the month of October. My post topics have been taken from suggestions by friends and family. In general, expect my posts to be shorter, more random and of inconsistent quality! ::
I'm under-slept. I don't remember switching off my alarm, but I must have done. I narrowly avoided sleeping through the school run. Luckily, I was too tired to close the shutters properly last night, so the daylight prodded my eyelids and I woke up just a little late. Despite my brain fog, I have spent the entirety of the school day, and the day or two prior, writing a draft of Spike's Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). If you don't know what one of these is - LUCKY YOU. The amount of admin involved in securing the right support for children with extra needs can be overwhelming. And I used to be a professional form filler*. God knows what it must be like for someone who struggles with literacy, or who is already burning the candle at both ends. Thankfully, there are less of the endless appointments with this clinic, or that professional these days, but the paperwork is endless.
Anyway, the EHCP is still not finished and I proffer that as an excuse for the brevity of today's blog.
I took 10 minutes out of my day to watch the first episode of "Pablo" on CBeebies. It's a ten minute show, mixing live action and animation to tell the story of 5 year old Pablo, who is autistic. When things in real life makes him anxious or upset, he retreats into an animated world to process what is going on. I confess I emitted a little sigh when I heard there was going to be a whole series centring on an autistic character. Movies, TV and literature do not have a great track record when it comes to depicting autism. I'm struggling to think of any that have really worked for me, with the exception of the introduction of sweet Julia to "Sesame Street". Perhaps Julia was a sign that television for young children is the wellspring of positive change in this area.
So, "Pablo"? It's great! Really, really good. The series was developed with autistic consultants, and it shows. I have only seen the first episode, but the general thrust seems to be that Pablo encounters an everyday situation which he struggles with, and then enters an animated, illustrated world to try and unravel what is going on. In "The Purple Bird", Pablo and his mum get dressed up to go to a wedding, but the unusual clothes trigger "visual fragmentation". Pablo cannot see his mum as a whole, just the unusual purple details of her attire. Convinced that she has been replaced by a purple bird, Pablo seeks answers in Art World.
Art World is populated by some very sweet characters. I'm sure their specific personalities will develop as the series proceeds. There is Wren (an excitable and flappy bird), Mouse (an order-loving, shy mouse), Tang (a clumsy and boisterous orangutan), Draff (a knowledgable giraffe), Llama (an echolalic llama), and Noa (an anxious, green dinosaur). The animated characters are representations of certain facets of Pablo's personality, including his autistic traits. It's a stroke of genius and avoids a very common problem which arises when representing an autistic person. There is a phrase "If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism." There are manifold ways that autism can present and by clearly defining one individual, you run the risk of excluding the experience of others. Ordinarily, painting a singular experience is a perfectly valid expression of whatever art form you are working in, but the autistic experience is so rarely shown, that it can become, unwittingly, representative of the whole (cf. "Rain Man"). By unknitting autism and allowing individual characters to pick up individual threads, the programme opens up. It becomes inclusive, instead of closing down the autistic experience to one narrow phenotype.
There were lots of little details that I loved and recognised. Mouse speaking in the third-person (pronoun confusion), Noa flushing the toilet and giggling (sensory seeking), Draff repeating "In point of fact" (scripting). It's all so humanely done, and with wit and creativity. The live action sequences are not as engaging as the illustrated world, but they seem a fair depiction of certain autistic experiences. I expect they were hamstrung more by budget than imagination. It rings true, at least.
Overall, I am quite content for Pablo to introduce autism to CBeebies' young audience. It's not perfect, but it's trying hard and succeeds on many fronts. I have a shelf full of crap "Your Friend is Autistic!"-type books which I wouldn't show to my dog (I don't have one). I am happy that "Pablo" is not crap at all. I like that is has chosen to focus on the experience of autism and, as a result does a solid job of providing genuine insight. In fact, it partners quite nicely with Sesame Street, which has taken a more "explainy" route with their autistic character.
They could have worked a bit harder on the dreary theme tune, though.
At the time of writing there are three episodes available to watch on BBC iPlayer.