Letter to Kibo Productions, 27th April

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 The blanket assumption that we struggle to love is a lazy, outdated cliché.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

Helen Arole

Steph Astro

Anne Baldwin

Rebecca Benson

Erica Brooks

Jax Blunt

Desiree Borom

Sonia Boué

Emma Britton

Carrie-Anne

Fiona Clarke

Jenni Cook

Shona Davison

Mary Doherty

Susan Kruse

Nikola Matulewicz Evans

Zoe Ford

Alexandra Forshaw

Shauna Gordon

Cheryl Grange

Lana Grant

Lisa Greenwood

Roz Griffiths

Halldóra Hafsteinsdóttir

EL Hetherington

Caroline Hearst

Laura Hodges

Susan Hodgkinson

Kathy Isaacs

Carly Jones

Carole Kelly

Hilary Krzywkowski

Becca Lamont Jiggens

Jude Langlands

Julia Leatherland

Jennifer Lisi

Dr. Emily Lovegrove

Rachael Lucas

Katherine May

Claire Mcgettigan

Ann Memmot

Hayley Morgan

Ruth Moyse

Melissa Murphy

Florence Neville

Anna Nibbs

Nicola Nicholson

Amy Pirt

Tamara Rice

Jennie Rigg

Eve Reiland

Paula Sanchez

Hannah Schofield

Kristyle Solomon

Dr Catriona Stewart

Amber Horlacher Stinnett

Heidi Tattersall

Rachel Tenacious

Yvonne Thompson

Tracy Turner

Maria Wagstaffe

Wendy West

Rhi Williams

 

 

Supporters:

Jon Adams

Sarah Akin

Sorcha Armstrong

Stephanie Auty

Juan Carlos Boué

Pam Bracewell

Danielle Buck

Nick Chown

Cass Courtney

Krista Costello

Monique Craine

Trish Crawford

Alex J Eliot

Violet Fenn

Tanya Fish

Emma Ford

Rachel Fricker

Chic Gibson

Tracy Gordon

Rachel Hallet

Kerrilynn Harris

Jessie Hewitson

Andrew Hickey

Alyssa Hillary

Karen Hood

Liz Hughes

Elishma Nicole Heinlein

Marianne Hollins

Liz Hughes

Alex Kegie

Errol Kerr

Lisa Keys

Donia Kostka

David Kraftman

Claudia Krall

Samantha Leigh

Dawn-joy Leong

Tanya Long

Catherine Loyd

Sarah Malyan

Christopher May

Emma McCulloch

Lou McGill

Damian Milton

Dr Sally Morgan

Lindsay Mullholland

Claire Peach

Kade Peregrine

Næo Phoenix-Gray

Nicole Prim

Michaela Robertson

Shannon Des Roches Rosa

Susan Stefanich

Kitty Stevens

Dan Thompson

Caztor Troy

Fiona Carmichael Tweedlie

V.V

Jo Verrent

Charlotte Vicarage

Dominic Walsh

Charles Wheeler

Gemma Williams

Beth Wilson

Rebecca Wilson

Kate Winter

Alicia Wood

Sonja Zeliç

 

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. 

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