The A Word Is A Dramedy About Autism You Should Definitely Watch

It's difficult to imagine anything more frightening than an outcome over which we have no control or ability to correct. That is one thing (among many) that makes the rise in autism diagnoses across the world so alarming: the disorder is unpredictable and inexplicable. It makes some of our rawest vulnerabilities crystal clear.

While modern medicine is still unable to determine the root of the disorder at the pass, we do know now that early detection and intervention can go a long way toward helping the afflicted. But the first step falls on parents and loved ones to recognize when something isn't quite right and find the courage to investigate further.

That's where The A Word — SundanceTV's new series about a family whose young son is discovered to be on the spectrum — begins. The show debuted to rave reviews in the U.K. earlier this year, and on July 13, it officially lands on this side of the pond with the first of six hour-long episodes. Joe is a darling little boy, round of cheek and quick to grin. He is rarely without a song in his ear, and spends most of his days surrounded by music, on the radio or through headphones, reciting lyrics to his father's favorite indie tracks and '80s hits alike.

Joe also struggles to connect with the kids in his class, or to follow very basic instructions. His parents — highly sensitive and involved, yet reticent to accept that there is anything out of the ordinary about their son — insist that his quirks are just Joe being Joe. But inevitably, they want the best for their kid, so they take him to a specialist. After some preliminary testing, she confirms that Joe is on the spectrum. Understandably, it's difficult for Paul and Alison Hughes to accept what the doctor is saying about Joe, who is limited in his abilities to communicate and process, to self-soothe and to engage with others. Music has become his main mode for coping with the world. Armed with a diagnosis, Paul and Alison, along with their older daughter, in-laws, and Joe's surly grandpa, must decide how to move forward together.

There are many brilliant aspects of The A Word — the cheeky repartee, compelling characters, and twisting side-plots withstanding. Though, one of the best characteristics among them is the way the writing works to dispel commonly-held misconceptions about the disorder through casual dialogue without ever feeling heavy-handed. We're not just learning about one family's specific struggles: The show is also a primer on how to understand the disorder itself, what a diagnosis means and does not mean, and how the impact of a diagnosis ripples through a family unit. There are moments — especially if you have been through this journey yourself — that will be painful to watch.

However, make no mistake, it's worth getting through the uncomfortable parts of this wonderfully honest and heartfelt show, which centers on Joe but finds its rhythm in the push-and-pull relationships of the larger family unit. Because, in the end, though there might be nothing more anxiety-inducing than a problem without a solution, The A Word helps to reframe the way we think about problems — both big and small — in the first place. It also issues a gentle reminder that perhaps the best way to confront fear of the unknowable is to band together with the people you love, quirks and all.

The A Word debuts on SundanceTV July 13 at 10/9 CST.

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