A Kind of Spark: BBC review

Written in May 2024

A Kind of Spark is a BBC children's programme made by Canadian, Irish and Scottish production companies and a US TV channel, and it's available in the UK, US, Netherlands, France, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. It is based on the books of the same name by neurodivergent author Elle McNicoll. Three of the main characters in the first series and four in the second series are autistic (with other types of neurodivergence), in fact nearly half the cast and crew are neurodivergent.


It may be children's programme, but it stirred emotions in me, as an adult, because of the relatability of the main characters and their experiences. I thought it would be a good, light pre-bed watch; instead I ended up watching the last 7 episodes of the first series in one session. And feeling unsettled in a palpable but non-specific way (due to alexithymia).

Watching the first series for a second time (I am very much a re-watcher) I fully grasped the parallel between the two storylines. The first time I watched this I was so taken by following the autistic experience that I didn't appreciate the social commentary dialogue between the dual storylines; one was separate from the other in my mind. I also realised this is a really autistic way to have watched it. My focus on both aspects of the show as individual contexts/times/places hid the rest of it from view; I was looking at the individual trees without appreciating the forest.


I spoke to one of my autistic friends about this, and they hadn't seen the series but had been given the book by their parents because they thought it would be interesting from an autism experience point of view. Actually, they don't like to read/watch stuff about autistic people because the way the autistic characters are treated is triggering to watch and this was certainly the case when they started reading the book.

This helped me resolve my own feelings about it. I was initially very positive, and I have returned to that stance via unsettled feelings and frequent triggers of empathy for the characters. The representation of autism is incredibly authentic and I did find parts of some episode/storylines to be very difficult to watch.


The second series is also great, and delves further into the autistic and neurodivergent experience. One of the characters who is a bully in the first series gets a lovely redemption arc and represents dyslexia, while actors from the witchy side-plot in the first series are seen again in different roles. This familiarity is perfect for autistic people as it didn't make me feel that I had to learn a whole new character or a whole new face; I felt that I already knew them.


Themes of societal/parental pressure and ableism were front and centre in this series, with one of the main characters struggling with parental pressure and having to mask at home, keeping secrets from their parents and leading to the creation of a highly inauthentic mask that hurt the people around them. Autistic loyalty and empathy were also represented in the way this character was supported.


What was great was the representation of late diagnosis/late recognition in one of the older characters. I won't say too much for fear of spoiling it, but as a late diagnosed person who masked their whole life (so well I didn't even know how much I was doing it) I really appreciated seeing this in the show.

The show also indirectly touched on the potential toxicity of the “super power” narrative – the main character was pressured by society to keep on doing amazing things and took on too much, internalising the idea that everything she did had to make an impact. This references the super power thing, by discussing the pressure that autistic people face to always be skilled, or to have a super power in order to be the acceptable kind of autistic. It is OK for us to be average, and our worth doesn't depend on our special skills.

A couple of things I do really well are jigsaws and litter picking, but these aren't societally important (to most people) and I feel uncomfortable when people assume I must have some kind of amazing skill, especially one that can be monetised. While I do have a capitalism-friendly skill, because I can design and deliver training really well, the idea that my worth is attached to my ability to be commodified sits uneasily with me.

In the show, the main character realised this, supported by her friends and family, and avoided burnout by saying no to things and being her authentic self. I'm going to remember that action when I face the same situation, and I realise the irony of being inspired by someone who is taking action not to be placed on that inspirational pedestal.


A Kind of Spark is going to become one of my comfort shows. I know I've found parts of it uncomfortable to watch, but that's because it resonates so highly with my own experiences and those I hear from my community that it's like a weighted blanket for my soul.


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