Only Human: Season 1, Episode 1

Make Me Normal (2 Jun. 2005)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary
8.0
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A documentary looking at some of the problems experienced by autistic schoolchildren.

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Title: Make Me Normal (02 Jun 2005)

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Roxanne is a typical teenage girl who is into music and clothes but struggles to make friends due to "inappropriate" behaviour and sudden violent attacks. Maneer lost his mother recently and is prone to bouts of frustration. Esther is alone and generally an outsider in her community, with a background of always being by herself. Roy obsessively talks about Eastenders and gets annoyed if his video collection has it's labelling even slightly out of whack and is easily thrown by new things. All four of them are pupils at a state school for pupils with autism. This documentary follows the four people and sees what "normal" life means for them. Written by bob the moo

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2 June 2005 (UK)  »

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Educational to the viewer but also funny, moving and a real eye-opener that is worth seeing
28 June 2005 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Roxanne is a typical teenage girl who is into music and clothes but struggles to make friends due to "inappropriate" behaviour and sudden violent attacks. Moneer lost his mother recently and is prone to bouts of frustration. Esther is alone and generally an outsider in her community, with a background of always being by herself. Roy obsessively talks about Eastenders and gets annoyed if his video collection has it's labelling even slightly out of whack and is easily thrown by new things. All four of them are pupils at Spa School in London, a state school for pupils with autism. This documentary follows the four people and sees what "normal" life means for them.

With the summer of 2005, came the return of Big Brother and another busload of terrible reality and celebrity programmes. Seeking refuge from these types of programmes I tuned into this documentary with no more than a vague knowledge of autism and finished watching it feeling moved, cheered and rather tearful. Suffice to say it was an eye opening film that I am very glad I saw. First of all, let me sort out the weak spots; the narration is flat and a bit annoying at times, Esther isn't given a lot of screen time and the film doesn't have any answers – perhaps the latter is an unfair complaint but the others are fair if minor. However what the film does well is simply show what autism means for these four people.

It is too easy to look at autism and see it simply as people playing up, being loud, being rude or just being difficult – I have only known one person really well who I suspected of being autistic and he was mostly viewed as weird, difficult and rude. However, Spa School keeps stressing that it is their autism that makes them like this and the film is utterly convincing and moving in showing this. Each person is likable but yet "different" and each makes for a compelling watch. Roy wants to be normal but his painful attempts to overcome himself are difficult and moving to watch – he knows what he should feel but cannot. Moneer is the main focus, probably because he is the most outward child, talkative but prone to wild swinging emotionally. His story and his feelings are engaging and, although he appears outwardly very able, you do wonder how he will manage in the years to come. Esther serves well as a bookend to the other stories but she isn't developed to let us understand her. For me Roxanne was the most moving of the four and the film shows her struggling and (physically) fighting herself to try and stop hurting others or just being rude to them; her final scene with her "friend" is funny, moving and painful because she is so needing of love but yet so unable of stopping her bad side coming through.

For each of them the film has a positive ending but really it is only a matter of them showing that they will battle on – but you do have to wonder how well they can do or how they can cope long-term. The lack of solutions will bother some viewers (it did me a bit) but this is not what the film is about – it is about educating the viewer as to the daily, hourly meaning of autism to the sufferers. The normal is impossible, little things are difficult, some basic concepts just cannot be understood. It does this very well and is moving, enlightening and a very worthwhile way to spend an hour.


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