I’VE come to The A Word very late. So late in fact that this week saw the last episode of the second series (which I haven’t seen yet).

Not a great start to a TV review I admit but bear with me because if you’re looking for a good excuse to get away from a dysfunctional family this Christmas, I heartily recommend getting on the iplayer and catching up with this excellent drama about a dysfunctional family.

The show, which uses the Lake District as a beautiful backdrop, follows the Hughes family as they come to terms with their young son Joe’s autism diagnosis.

While series one focused on parents Paul (Lee Ingleby) and Alison Hughes (Morven Christie) coming to terms with the realisation Joe (the brilliant Max Vento) was different from other children, series two has been mainly about Paul and Alison’s own struggles as they try to do their best by him, while keeping their own marriage on the straight and narrow at the same time as making the 100-mile round trip every day to the nearest specialist school in Manchester.

Joe’s condition has a huge impact on all around him and it’s with its ambitious extensive cast that The A Word really succeeds in making a heartfelt and sometimes schmaltzy drama into something more gritty and believable.

Away from Paul, Alison and Joe we meet Alison’s tactless brewer father Maurice (Christopher Eccleston) and Paul and Alison’s older daughter Rebecca (Molly Wright) both of whom deal with Joe in markedly different ways.

Also caught up in the emotional whirlwind are Alison’s brother Eddie (Greg McHugh) and his partner Nicola (Vinette Robinson), who are coping with their own relationship problems, and Louise (Pooky Quesnel) who is having to cope with the onset of cancer and advances of Maurice.

As all these characters interact, each with their own quirks, foibles and frustrations, Joe remains central, consistently isolating himself by listening to indie and punk music through large blue and black headphones.

Despite his autism there are times when he seems the most sensible, sane character which I suspect is writer Peter Bowker’s subtle message.

Either way, The A Word is an enjoyably original drama with some superb acting as well as being a programme which makes you think. More please.