Thursday, 19 April 2012

Louis Theroux, Extreme Love, Autism

I'm not a huge fan of Louis Theroux, but I couldn't resist tuning into the first of his Extreme Love series as it was about autism. This is a bit of a rambling type of review of the program with a little of my experience and personal views thrown in.

The program featured a rather cool school in New Jersey, The Development Learning Centre in Warren, where the ratio of teachers to pupils is 1 to 1.5.
It also featured a group of autistic children and there families from a range on the spectrum.
Marcelo and Lucy are twins both quite severely autistic, but also quite different in character, Marcelo was the 'loudest' of the two, Lucy was very withdrawn and very much in her own world.
Joey is an quite severely autistic teenager who has problems controlling his temper and has terrible tantrums which call for him to be restrained.
Brian is an older quite severely autistic lad who also has problems with his temper and his mum can no longer look after him at home.
Nicky is a high functioning autistic teenager who has progressed so well that he is moving into mainstream school. He is also a twin but his sister is not autistic.
Along with talking to other children at the school I think the program gave a view into a fairly wide range of autism.

The mother of the twins Marcelo and Lucy spoke on one occasion saying that she thought God had given her children with autism because he wanted her to learn how to be a caring person, but she couldn't understand why as she was already a caring person. I felt so sorry for her, she had real difficulty coming to terms with her children's autism. I hope that in the future she learns to accept them as they are and learns that she is a special caring person.

Nicky was amusing, clever and he had real character. He was adored by his family and friends. When they said he was moving to mainstream school though I was really worried for him. My son had a terrible time at mainstream school, he just couldn't fit in and found the whole experience very distressing. Nicky was lucky though, I believe this transfer had been planned meticulously and although very stressed while waiting to go on his first day, as soon as he was there he seemed to be much happier.

I think maybe the reasons why Brian was in care and not living at home were not made clear enough in the program, although being a mother of two autistic children I know exactly where the mother is coming from. When my eldest son was in puberty he was incredibly volatile and could erupt at any time, his main target was me but I was able to handle him. I was a single mother at the time and I know that if things hadn't improved or if he'd started to attack his sister regularly as well then I would have considered having him removed from the home. I'm glad I didn't though, and I'm lucky as he did get much better with maturity. I can't remember the last time he hurt me. (although we do have a few broken doors, holes in the walls and such like) Also, these children tend not to sleep very well and being up all night, every night for years (no not months like a newborn) can be very straining. I was lucky as when my son got older I was able to trust him being awake alone, he's still awake most nights now, but he's never done anything dangerous (although he has been guilty of emptying the cupboards of any food that does not require cooking) Some autistic children cannot be left alone at night.

Even though Brian was very autistic with poor language and little control over his behaviour, he was able to 'relate' to Louis, copy his facial expressions and look him straight in the eye dispelling a lot of autism myths in one scene of the program.

Louis Theroux asked the parents if they would rid their child of their autism if they could. The parents of the more severely autistic children said they would, but Nicky's mum said she wouldn't because the autism was part of who he was. Louis also made this observation later in the program after a meeting with Brian. 
If I was asked if I wished my children did not have autism, I'd find it difficult to answer. I know the condition can cause them so much upset throughout their lives and it is difficult for them to live normal lives (although not impossible) and that I would change. However, their autism is part of who they are and for me, I wouldn't change a thing about them.


  1. we watched it and I think it would be really good to have a follow up with families in the uk. Maybe with a bit more of the high functioning Autism as well as I get a lot of well she looks ok, or oh isn't it a shame as she's so pretty too. more awareness will make the world a better place x

    1. I agree that there should be a program on high functioning autism and aspergers, these children often get labelled as naughty because their disability is invisible. With over 20 years of experience I find I can tell almost straight away if a child has problems or is just being naughty, with more awareness other people may be able to tell as well.

  2. It was interesting to hear the honest opinions of the parents, you could relate to some of the things they said. I personally would want my son Keeden to not have autism if I had a choice, although I love him and accept him for the way he is I just fear that society in general isn't so accepting and understanding. I can see how some parents are happy that their child has a very unique personality so it is understandable why others would disagree.

    1. Many of my son's problems in life have come about by others not accepting his differences, particularly the kids at school throughout his teenage years. Those that have taken the time to know him better love him for who he is just like I do. I'm already worrying now about Lucy's future and what she will have to face.