Why Pablo draws upon the experience of people with autism spectrum conditions
Before I start this entry, I would like to declare an interest. Over the last year, the creator of this blog has been involved in the production of CBeebies’ and RTEJr’s exciting new children’s television series. Entitled Pablo, it is a groundbreaking new animation and live action programme aimed at children under five years of age and their parents. There will be 52 episodes over two series. The first episode of the first series was aired on CBeebies and RTEJr at 0900 today [02 October].
Pablo (played by Jake) is a five-year-old boy with an autism spectrum condition. Lighting, extraneous sounds, materials, and textures trigger sensory overload. If, for example, Pablo is travelling a different direction to his usual route, he could have a meltdown. Sometimes, certain foods could have an effect on his behaviour.
If you took the previous paragraph at face value, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘oh no, how many autism cliches can we fit in here…?’. Or (gasp!) ‘did he know there was 246 toothpicks in the cardboard box?’ Pablo aims to consign the cliches to history. How does it aim to do this? By having people with autism spectrum conditions involved in its production. Not only for its main characters but also in the script writing process. Yours truly was involved in the latter part.
With myself and fellow people on the autism spectrum involved in its production, this makes the part-live action and part-animated series more authentic. In the real world, we see Pablo and his mother facing an everyday situation, which people on the autism spectrum may have some difficulty with. For example: waiting for a bus; attending a birthday party; or wearing certain clothing items. With his sketch pad and a pack of crayons, he solves the problem by going into the ‘Art World’.
In the Art World, we see Pablo in the animated form. He is joined by Wren (an adorable yellow bird), Mouse (a timid mouse), Tang (a clumsy and lively Orang Utan), Draff (a giraffe who’s a mine of information), Llama (an echolalic llama), and Noa, a green dinosaur. Like The Young Ones, there is also bit parts from talking objects.
Pablo‘s aims are twofold. One is to raise awareness of autism spectrum conditions far beyond the usual stereotypes – for children, parents, and professionals. Another is to entertain children with an ASC with Pablo’s adventures. They might identity themselves with the boisterous Tang, or the quiet Mouse. Through the Art World, they will be taken on an adventure for the best part of ten minutes.
The writing team
The chief writer for Pablo is Andrew Brenner. He has had experience with writing for the Thomas and Friends franchise. One of his early writing jobs included a stint with the Oink! comic.
With Mr. Brenner’s thorough understanding of the writing process, people with autism spectrum conditions have submitted ideas, or co-wrote scripts (like this fellow did). Some wrote entire scripts including Rosie King, Sumita Majumdar, and Paul Isaacs. Rosie King, Sumita Majumdar, and Rachel Dickson also had speaking parts (as Llama, Wren, and Mouse respectively).
The brainchild of Pablo was Grainne McGuinness. She was inspired by her experience with a nephew. On a BBC Breakfast interview with Louise Minchin and Dan Walker she said “It’s about giving the show an authentic voice and why would you cast (you know), a neurotypical person to play an autistic character if you could help it”.
From the inside
On seeing the first episode, the first thing I thought was how uplifting it was. How I wish a programme this was around in my formative years. Back then, parents still believed in the ‘refrigerator mother’ theory (and, yes, my mother had to put up with this bovine detritus from unenlightened types). When I was five, we were four years away from the release of Rain Man; people on the autism spectrum were thought of as being low functioning. The thought of anyone on the spectrum not being eloquent was – thankfully – dispelled by Dr. Temple Grandin’s writings (when I was seven years old).
Pablo not only succeeds in hitting home the message to under fives. It can help parents, professionals, and siblings, to better understand life on the autism spectrum in their formative years. The first episode, The Purple Bird, was inspired by visual fragmentation, where his mother was mistaken for a purple bird. At the launch in Titanic Belfast, and at a writers’ meeting the day before, it was well received. I liked it as well, but there’s going to be some more crackers along the way. Which may involve lifts, crisps, and strange fish (I shan’t spoil it for you).
Here’s to the next 51 episodes, and the ones I contributed to feature in the second series.
Who’s Who in Pablo
- Pablo: Jake Williamson (William Burns and Oliver Burns in live action cast)
- Pablo’s Mum: Rosie Barry (in live action cast)
- Wren: Sumita Majumdar
- Draff: Scott Mulligan
- Llama: Rosie King
- Tang: Michael White
- Mouse: Rachel Dickson
- Noa: Tony Finnegan
- Creator: Grainne McGuinness
- Chief Writer: Andrew Brenner
- Music: Performed by the Ulster Orchestra
- Creative Director (Paper Owl Films): Sheila de Courcy
- Executive Producer (RTÉJr): Pauline MacNamara
52 x 11 minute episodes, two seasons, a CBeebies/RTÉJr co-production.
Did you watch the first episode on CBeebies or RTÉJr? Was your child delighted, or did you enjoy watching Pablo with your child?
Before I go, I shall leave you with a clip of the signature tune. If this doesn’t get to your head by December, what will?
S.V., 02 October 2017.