Last Night's Television: The Autistic Me, BBC3<br/>Send in the Dogs, ITV1

Out of the ordinary

Tom Sutcliffe
Wednesday 12 August 2009 00:00

Tom's mum was worried about him. "Since puberty he's become much more aggressive, much more violent.." she explained. "He doesn't seem to care now who he upsets... he seems to have lost all his compassion for people." "Congratulations, my dear, you've got a teenager," I thought, but the flippancy wouldn't sustain for long.

There were aspects of Tom that will have looked familiar to anyone with teenage children – the shoegazing withdrawal, the early-morning torpor, the seething fury at the lightest parental guidance – but in Tom all these aspects were turned up to 11. Tom is autistic, one of three young men on the autistic spectrum whose problems with growing up were detailed in Matt Rudge's film The Autistic Me, and he was not having a happy time when filming was underway.

Oli, 23 years old and with a high-functioning form of autism, appeared more cheerful, a charming type set at just a slight angle to the ordinary world, but enough of one to make it tricky for him to find a job, which was his dearest wish. Alex, at 24, did have a part-time place at a security firm, but didn't have a girlfriend, and was hoping that an online dating site might fill that gap in his life.

All three were very different – individuals, not representatives of a syndrome. But they each had one thing in common – protective mothers understandably nervous that the world would not look as lovingly on their children as they did. And in Tom's case, you couldn't help but wonder whether this might be part of the problem.

"Mum always treats me like a baby," he muttered at one point, the words emerging from behind the protective curtain of hair he kept pulling across his face, "... but when I, like, do serious things, like have fights with my Dad, that's when my Mum talks to me like an older person... she says, like, complicated words and things like that."

It seemed possible that the complicated words were what he longed for and the fights with his Dad were just a means to an end. In Tom's bedroom, his mother fondly pulled out a childhood stuffed toy, implying that it was still part of his life, but when he went off to begin weekly boarding, he hadn't taken it with him and he snorted significantly when he read his mother's letter saying that it would be waiting on his bed when he returned. Like a lot of teenagers, he longed for love to relax its grip a bit.

Tom seemed finally to have got the independence he craved, but Oli's search was more frustrating. When a temporary job stamping books at the British Library ended, a social worker was called in to help him find a new one. "I see myself as an actor who's trying to exploit his wild talent," he said – not altogether helpfully – before getting sidetracked into a discussion of the word "pleb".

Meanwhile, Alex, who has Asperger's syndrome, had got a response on his dating website and was preparing for his first meeting with Kirsty, a young woman who also had autism. Alex's mother tried to manage his expectations, without too much success. "Dear Kirsty, I would love to share my life with you" was how Alex replied in his very first email to her. One can only hope that the resulting first date wasn't quite as excruciating to experience as it was to watch – a kind of competition in social awkwardness.

Tellingly, the participants themselves seemed to feel it had gone quite well, though Kirsty's method of sharing this neatly demonstrated the problems she has to deal with daily. She pulled out a small box of "face cards" – common facial expressions subtitled for those who find it hard to read human nuance – and displayed the grinning face that represented "happy".

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

Send in the Dogs, a police ride-along show entirely devoted to dog handlers, would feel overlong at 30 minutes. It's actually an hour long, and is four episodes into its second series, which may help to explain ITV's current problems. I sincerely hope it's cheap to make because it has very little else to recommend it, unless you're absolutely besotted with dogs. Last night's episode featured Riley – a German shepherd who, from the sound of his barking, very much enjoys racing through the streets with the siren blaring – on the way to terrify some miscreant into submission.

On this evidence, police dogs seem to be largely a deterrent tool, the threat of letting them off the leash usually getting people to do what the police want them to do. Much less often than the film-makers would like, I suspect, one of the dogs is actually allowed to bring someone down. "When you've got 32 kilos of German shepherd running at you at 30 miles an hour you're in trouble," said one of the handlers shortly after his humungous beast had peeled a wanted man off a wire fence. That makes sense.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments