Thanks for your response, which we will put onto our website. We appreciate that you have already made in-roads into tackling this issue (including your statement), and that you are, to some extent, unable to make further changes for the time being.
I don’t think any of us are writing to you because we expect you to represent our voices in particular – we’re all successfully doing that for ourselves as you will see from our credentials below. We are instead asking that you – and your writer – learn from this experience in the future.
In particular, we suggest that:
– When you consider scripts that represent vulnerable minority groups, you scrutinise the content to ensure that the representations are accurate and fair, and ensure that you make yourself aware of the political context in which you are making work.
– You ensure that any research undertaken includes contact with the groups you’re claiming to represent – it remains unclear whether a consultation was undertaken with the National Autistic Society, but this still falls short of engaging with the actual group that the script claims to represent. When you’re talking about an autistic mother, consulting with male autistics doesn’t count.
– In line with emerging practice across the arts and in academia, you ensure that panel discussions always include women, and specifically any group you’re claiming to discuss. If the necessary people are unable to attend, then you need to either re-book the panel, or find an alternative way for that group to feed into the process. It’s your responsibility to be active in tracking people down.
– We would question whether it is appropriate to produce this script again at all, but if you do so, then please ensure that the playwright does so after speaking to autistic mothers. You could make a virtue of your learning here, and share the revision process with a wider audience to help to counter the misrepresentation you’ve already put into the public domain.
No matter how small your company, it’s important to realise that these representations matter, because audiences believe in them. Whether or not you intend the character’s autism to be the main focus of the story, you need to accept that it has an impact, particularly if you use autism as part of your description of the story, as you did in early promotional materials. Many autistic mothers feel genuinely under threat because of inaccurate prejudices such as being unable to love, and I think we all now agree that reproducing this was extremely unhelpful.
If you’d like to run a panel discussion about the actual experiences of autistic mothers, then one or two of us would be happy to take part, although travel expenses would need to be covered and it can’t be booked on an ad-hoc basis.
The Autistic Motherhood Group:
Sonia Boué, Multiform Visual Artist, Consultant, Creative Mentor & Founder of WEBworks
Shona Davison, Autistic Parenthood Researcher
Rhiannon Lloyd-Williams, Playwright, Poet, Writer & Public Speaker
Katherine May, Author, Educator & Literary Scout
Paula Sanchez Doctoral Researcher, Trainer and Consultant
Tracy Turner FRSA, FHEA, Lecturer & Management Consultant
My dear ladies,
Thank you very much for reaching out!
We have this morning published a statement about the twitter feedback. Here it is: http://www.kiboproductions.com/statement
I am thoroughly grateful for your invitation to dialog and I fully understand that beneath the negativity on twitter there are really good intentions. I hope you will see our intentions have been good too.
I acknowledge Paul did not speak on your behalf and he is not representative for you. I don’t think he ever attempted to and I think directing any anger at him would be very unfair. I have invited a number of autistic artists on the panel and Paul was the only one who accepted it. I am hugely indebted to him.
Now, there seems to be two threads of discussion here:
1. Autistic motherhood: I have very little to no authority whatsoever in this regard. The Big Things is in no way about autistic motherhood. Yes, Grace is autistic and she is a mother, but her difficulties in connecting with the child are touching a lot more on the theme of post-partum depression and have nothing to do with her autism. The review on The F Word picked up on this and you can see in the play that once the son is no longer a toddler she does connect with him, culminating with a very emotional end scene.
Regardless! You want your voice to be heard. I want your voice heard too. You have an ally in me and if my experience or resources can help you I will be happy to do that. Have you got a particular event or type of event in mind? Or better, what would you suggest is the best way for me to carry your voice?
2. Autistic artists: This is actually what we meant from the very beginning: bringing autistic voices on stage. I have meanwhile met Paul Wady and Jon Adams and I hope to work with both of them in the future. There are plans in place in this direction. It would be wonderful if I could stage a play by an autistic writer, better still if it’s an autistic woman writer, but I have no knowledge of such scripts. Please let me know if you do. I know Rhi has invited me to her show, but hers is a one-woman show and often times one person shows work better when they are self produced or with a hired producer.
This is a question for Rhi in particular: have you got any script that has at least one full draft and that you could send me to read?
And to conclude, a couple of questions for all of you:
1. would you be interested in or able to attend another panel before the end of this week? I’m happy to organize it!
2. if you are happy to continue this dialogue, how do you see it developing into a working relationship going forward? I am open to any ideas, so please send your thoughts my way.
Producer – The Big Things, by Mike Heath
We are autistic mothers who have contributed to the online conversation about the play, The Big Things. We write to you as a core group of women who’ve joined together to try to create a constructive response.
Firstly, we would like to thank you for your speedy response in altering the marketing for the play. This fostered good feeling and showed that Kibo wanted to listen to autistic people in a most tangible way.
We’ve been informed that you have been given a printed copy of the open letter to Kibo Productions on the website http://autisticmotherhood.co.uk written by Katherine May, which is gathering many signatories; both autistic mothers and their supporters.
You may also wish to read Rhi Lloyd-Williams beautiful blog post in celebration of autistic motherhood https://autistrhi.com/2018/04/24/in-celebration-of-autistic-motherhood/
Sonia Boué’s outlines why she feels the play’s premise is problematic for autistic women per se (regardless of author’s intent etc.) https://soniaboue.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/autisticmotherhood-misrepresented/
In sharing these posts, we seek not only to inform, but also to invite you into autistic spaces and make the point that online platforms are accessible for us where realtime spaces often aren’t. Without going into detail this is mainly due to invisible disability.
This is in great part why your invitation to an after show panel with Q&A was inaccessible to autistic women, and to those of us who are mothers even more so.
Sadly, failure of access is why we were not represented on your panel. Paul Wady, may believe he can represent autistic women (and mothers more specifically) but he can’t. No man could do. However, from the audio recording he has shared online it is clear that he misrepresented us. This is distressing.
With the benefit of hindsight the discussion (which should be about autistic women’s responses to the play as we are its subject) needed to take a different form. Less haste and wider consultation could have prevented it, though I think we can all recognise the great learning curve involved on all sides.
Yet it is extremely regrettable that the panel and audience members for the Q&A were treated to a further misrepresentation of autistic women. The audience showed a distinct lack of understanding we feel, and an opportunity to hear about us authentically was lost, despite your sympathetic comments about autistic people (which are noted and appreciated).
We truly feel that this should not be allowed to pass without public comment.
A man can’t be a representative for autistic women and this should be acknowledged openly out of respect for us.
We now feel what is needed is a distancing from Kibo’s conversation with Paul Wady – in essence what the panel boiled down to on the night – from Kibo’s conversation with autistic women which can be carried out directly (and accessibly).
It is clear that Paul has his own thoughts and creative agenda which he is entitled to, but do not in this case converge with the main points at hand.
We really do appreciate you must feel bombarded from all sides (we are a vocal and multifaceted community of people) but hope that we can open up a dialogue. We look forward to hearing from you on the next step. We are open to discussions which accommodate our access needs and are respectful of our demographic.
The Autistic Motherhood website and hash tag have come into existence to bring coherence to the debate and to form a central point for information and comment. We will be happy to publish your forthcoming statement, or indeed a conversation with the Autistic Motherhood group should this be made possible.
Finally, we would like to commend Kibo for reaching out to the autistic community. These conversations are challenging, many of us are also creatives and professional people, and we understand how hard it can be when a piece of work receives such criticism. Dialogue about why a creative work may lack sufficient sensitivity is especially hard across neurologies as so much nuance can become lost in translation. One of the most useful starting points can be to think about autism as an emerging culture which can best be supported by being allowed the space to flourish in its own right. Being an ally isn’t easy but the attempt to do so is very much appreciated.
With best wishes,
The Autistic Motherhood Group,
Open letter to playwright Mike Heath and Kibo Productions
The staging of Mike Heath’s The Big Things has led to some concern within the autistic community this week. Portraying a late-diagnosed autistic mother who struggles to love her child (at times referring to him as ‘it’), the play has raised the spectre of some enduring, pernicious and inaccurate stereotypes regarding autistic people. The production company, Kibo Productions, has suggested that the play was researched with reference to autism charities, but without any direct contact with autistic mothers.
Autism has long been misunderstood in the popular imagination. Lack of feeling and emotion are not diagnostic criteria of autism, and neither are they reported by autistics themselves. However, they crop up regularly in texts written by non-autistic people, and it’s vital to challenge this misapprehension.
Many people will be surprised to learn that autistic mothers exist at all. But here we are: loving, affectionate, deeply engaged and often working and/or serving our communities alongside our parenting responsibilities. It is probably too ordinary to merit a dramatic presentation, and in fact too similar to the experiences of neurotypical mothers to merit any attention at all. That is not to deny that autistic mothers face multiple challenges in their everyday lives, but those stories are theirs to tell. Autism is a very broad spectrum indeed (or even a constellation), representing millions of unique experiences. The blanket assumption that we struggle to love is a lazy, outdated cliché.
This is not an issue of free speech. We are not challenging the right of the author to portray whomever he wants – fiction would be very flat if we could only write about ourselves. We are, however, suggesting that, when you represent a minority community – and one that has been significantly demonised in the past – that you have a responsibility to properly research it through first-hand contact. That is basic good practice. There is an opportunity here to turn the tables on received ideas; to elevate the vulnerable; to punch up, instead of punching down.
This goes not just for the playwright, but also for the production company, the actors and the theatre. We urge you to be more critical when you consider whether to stage these pieces; to evaluate the power dynamics and ask where the insights come from. Put better critical processes in place, and you will get more meaningful, potent and socially active theatre. That’s a goal that we can all get behind.
Finally, a feedback opportunity has been offered in the form of a Q&A after the performance on the evening of Friday 27th April. This is inaccessible to many autistic mothers, and not just because it’s likely to be a charged and confrontational environment. Most of us are unable to attend because we’re doing the things that other mothers are doing on a Friday night: treating cut knees, sharing Friday night supper with our grown-up families, chatting about our children’s days, babysitting grandchildren, trying not to get drenched at bath-time, and kissing our kids goodnight. It may be too mundane to excite the drama critics, but we wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Signed by autistic mothers:
Jenni Layton Annabelle
Nikola Matulewicz Evans
Becca Lamont Jiggens
Dr. Emily Lovegrove
Dr Catriona Stewart
Amber Horlacher Stinnett
Juan Carlos Boué
Alex J Eliot
Elishma Nicole Heinlein
Dr Sally Morgan
Shannon Des Roches Rosa
Fiona Carmichael Tweedlie
We are no longer able to add new signatures to the letter – however, please feel free to write a comment underneath to add your support. All comments are subject to moderation, and we reserve the right to delete any abusive content.