Have you ever eaten lotion? Or danced in flour? Or had to learn to speak a language without words? This touching show takes us through the challenges and joys of raising a son who has autism. It is an unconventional, personal journey through parenting an unconventional child.
Jennifer Belander begins with a warning that she loves science, but there’s no need to worry: no knowledge is assumed, and the explanations are generally accessible and fluid. Serendipity is also a focus of the humour. Belander suggests the universe is listening to her, listening and mocking - her wishes have been granted but not quite how she imagined. This is charming, but at slight odds to more informative aspects of the show.
Indeed, the whole show suffers from being pitched too strongly as comedy. It is a heart-warming story with innate humour, obviously close to the performer's heart, and it’s quite right to focus on the joy that Belander has experienced over the last 17 years. But there are clearly frustrations and difficulties too, which are apparent but under-developed in her material. Though Belander lives in the UK, her remorselessly upbeat style of comedy plays to our stereotypical view of American humour, and I don’t feel it translates well or does her subject justice.
The delivery doesn’t help the audience: frequent pauses interrupt the flow of narrative and detract from the humour. Playing it for laughs feels forced at times, and while Belander often laughs herself, it leaves the audience with awkward silences.
But the story at the heart of Belander’s show is sound, and fascinating. She’s thrown away the educational rulebook and been guided by her son's interests and abilities, a decision which has given her a fascinating and important insight. So personally I enjoyed MommAutism, and it has a great resonance for anyone who has experienced special needs education – but the wider appeal is diluted by its focus on jokes, rather than its hopeful and uplifting underlying tale.