Due to a scheduling hiccup, my next show to air in the UK won’t be the porn industry documentary as I previously thought, but a two-parter entitled Extreme Love.
The porn show was deemed a little too lurid for a 9 o’clock slot and there was something about it not being a great follow-on from the gentle pleasures of Springwatch, which I can understand.
So that’s now been pushed back to sometime in June.
In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure, we have a warts-and-all watch-through-your-fingers look at the trials, tribulations and rewards of caring for someone with a serious mental condition.
Part 1 is about Autistic kids and their families.
We base ourselves in New Jersey, the number two state in America for its rates of Autism. According to the latest stats, one boy in 29 is diagnosed with the condition. (Rates for girls are much lower.)
Services for Autism in New Jersey are considered to be among the best in America and we spent much of our time in an extraordinary school, the Developmental Learning Centre in Warren.
The DLC Warren educates Autistic kids from three to 21 and tends to take kids who have more of the challenging behaviour associated with Autism: frequent tantrums, aggressive outbursts, serious verbal and social disabilities.
A lot of the coverage of Autism in the media tends to focus on the milder end of the spectrum: Asperger’s (as in the best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night) or cases where the deficits are compensated by extraordinary abilities (as in Rain Man).
We made a decision to look at more “typical” Autism.
Among our contributors was Joey, aged 13. Joey’s a charming kid, outgoing, he reads and writes and draws, though his speech is limited. But for the past year or so, Joey’s been having violent outbursts at least once a day, which often involve him hitting and kicking his mother, Carol. He’s punched holes in walls all through the house and left Carol bruised more than once.
Joey’s rages descended unpredictably and were shocking and upsetting to watch. He’s a big kid and Carol worried that the day might come when she couldn’t control him any more.
Other memorable characters included Nicky, whose progress at the DLC meant that he’d been selected to move to a more mainstream school. But he still suffered from frequent anxiety and as the day of his move approached he became more stressed. Nicky seemed to enjoy the idea that I was on TV and known in the UK and there’s a funny scene where he discovers my Wikipedia page and delights in reading bits out to me to my discomfort.
So that’s the Autism episode.
Extreme Love: Part 2 looks at people with dementia.
We filmed that one in Phoenix, Arizona – capital of America’s elderly – principally working out of a care home with a “memory support unit” for the chronically forgetful.
One of the main characters is a retired dentist, called Gary, who spent much of his time believing he was still working at a military base among fellow soldiers.
A few times a week he would pack up his things, imagining that he’d been given another posting, and wandered the corridors looking for the way out.
The care home we were based at has a philosophy of not confronting the delusions of the residents, but instead, gently playing along with them. So rather than correcting Gary, the staff would suggest that it might be better if Gary left the following day since it was getting late.
It seemed, at first glance, a tiny bit dishonest. But I soon saw how it helped to de-escalate the episodes.
Here too, the demands made on the loved ones were extraordinary. Gary had forgotten that he had a wife, notwithstanding that he’d been married nearly 30 years to a charming lady called Carla. He’d acquired two girlfriends at the care home. Carla had resigned herself to the idea that Gary was no longer faithful in the full sense and she was beginning to move on, albeit with a host of ambivalent feelings.
Both these shows are riveting and surprisingly funny in parts.
I’ve always been fascinated by life at its more raw and most real. These shows are very much in that territory. Anger, honesty, despair, humour. It’s all there.
Looking after someone whose mind works in a way that is utterly different to your own demands extraordinary resourcefulness and commitment. It takes you to the limit of what love is, in a way that sometimes borders on the saintly. It also creates, at times, a very understandable sense of hopelessness and angst.
It’s definitely a bit of a departure from shows I’ve done before. Unlike many of my past documentaries, there is no suggestion that there is anything untoward or even questionable in the practises at the heart of the film.
The Autistic kids and the adults with dementia are all being well taken care of, using the latest therapeutic interventions and techniques. That, I suppose, is part of what makes these shows feel positive. But there is no getting away from it: the conditions themselves and the demands they place on the carers can be bleak.