What I (Don’t) Know About Autism: An uplifting, powerful piece of theatre

Cork writer and actor Jody O’Neill’s autism story certainly has an interesting twist: she only discovered she was autistic at the age of 39, when her young son was diagnosed.

What I (Don’t) Know About Autism: An uplifting, powerful piece of theatre

Abbey, Dublin

Cork writer and actor Jody O’Neill’s autism story certainly has an interesting twist: she only discovered she was autistic at the age of 39, when her young son was diagnosed.

Her research into the condition has now given rise to a stage show, which is as warm and charming as it is rigorous and persuasive.

O’Neill’s great theme is acceptance; her framework is the idea of neurodiversity, which encourages the recognition and accommodation of human differences.

These two aspects are embodied by the show itself.

It is presented as a “relaxed performance”, in which the house lights remain on, any music or noise is flagged in advance by captions behind the players, and audience members are free to come and go if they choose.

For anyone anxious about how long the show will last, two flipboards at the side of the stage list out the 23 scenes, which cover everything from treatment and coping mechanisms, to isolation, parenting, myths about autism, and its history.

It’s nothing if not exhaustive, but there is great variety in the scenes.

An awkward first dinner date is a comic gem, while a witty Horrible Histories-style number list possibly autistic notables from the past.

A parody of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ riffs on “don’t stim, this evening”.

Stimming is self-stimulatory behaviour, such as repetitive sounds or movements.

It’s strongly associated with autism, but, as this show typically reminds us: who doesn’t, say, pace while on their phone, or nibble a pen, or drum their fingers?

There are sobering moments too, however, as institutionalisation or abusive “treatments” are unflinchingly addressed, often with chilling, all-too-contemporary examples.

Director Donal Gallagher manages the shifting tones well. The same goes for the six wonderful performers who give a dynamic ensemble display.

This is an uplifting, powerful piece of theatre; it tours to Cork and Bray after its Dublin run.

Everyman, Cork, Feb 11-13; Mermaid Arts Center, Bray, Feb 15

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