Has 2018 been the start of what we’ve all been waiting for? “It’s the return of SPN’s blog”, we hear them scream! No, just kidding. We’re here to talk about the much more important coverage of Autism we have seen on mainstream TV this year.
What probably jumps to mind is the appearance (and early success) of Anne Hegerty (a.k.a. The Governess from ITV’s gameshow The Chase) on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Perhaps some of you may also think of Niall Aslam from this year’s season of Love Island, BBC’s The A Word or Chris Packham’s recent documentary Asperger’s and Me, to name just a few.
Quite frankly, we think it’s brilliant that these individuals are being given a platform to raise awareness of Autism (or Autism Spectrum Disorder as it’s formally known) and, guess what? We’re not alone. The National Autistic Society have done a lot of work with the media to ensure that autism is being portrayed as accurately as possible to as many people as possible. Their “Too Much Information” campaign has been working to reflect the diversity of autistic individuals and challenge myths, perceptions and stereotypes around autism.
A key area we have seen addressed is the importance of how we talk about individuals with Autism. Here at Special People North we hear people using incorrect phrases such as “suffering with Autism” all too often. The National Autistic Society talk on their website about how Aspergers (a form of autism) is not an illness nor disease and cannot be ‘cured’. So, why do we still hear this terminology? Honestly, we’d like to believe it’s a simple lack of awareness and understanding, not a malicious choice of words.
With the overwhelming initial response to Anne on I’m a celebrity, we’ve seen a famous quote circulating around social media from an interview she gave prior to her most recent TV appearance. It reads: “People say you suffer from Asperger’s. No, I have Asperger’s, I suffer from idiots”. Although maybe a stern choice of adjective for those without the relevant understanding of autism, perhaps this demonstrates just how frustrating it can be for those with autism when peers, colleagues and the general public simply don’t understand them.
As well as a lack of understanding, it can be difficult to recognise people who are autistic. For the many of us who were sucked into watching Love Island this year, some may remember the shock departure of Niall Aslam for “personal reasons”. Viewers were left confused and unsure as it hadn’t appeared that there was anything ‘wrong’ with him at all. A little while after his departure, Niall was brave enough to share a heartfelt post with his Instagram followers. Here, he explained “when I was a young child I was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome… growing up was extremely difficult for me and I often felt out of place”. He said he decided to share his story so he can “finally be honest [with himself]… but also so that other individuals in my position can embrace their true colours”. The support he received from viewers was overwhelming but highlighted just how difficult it can be to recognise those with the condition.
It is an ongoing struggle for those on the Autistic Spectrum as it is a hidden condition. Without the knowledge that someone is on the autistic spectrum it can be easy to not understand why someone may appear to behave differently to how you may expect or in a way thought to be socially inappropriate. ASD affects how individuals see, hear and feel the world around them, massively affecting social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. Unfortunately as a result it is all too common for these people to struggle to form friendships and lead to feeling very isolated.
So, how can we help?
Honestly, in this day and age, with so many of us sat in front of a screen for most of our day, perhaps individuals like Anne and Niall are leading the way. We were amazed to hear that during the second episode of I’m a Celebrity where Anne candidly talks about her condition, the Autism Society’s website received so many visitors that it crashed. Regardless of people’s opinions on these shows, it’s hard to find a negative with so many people feeling encouraged to learn a little more.
Of course, appearing in environments like Love Island and I’m a Celebrity aren’t an option for all disabilities, nor is it an option for individuals at all ends of the autism spectrum. With an estimated 700,000 autistic individuals in the UK alone, all of whom with different behaviours and traits, and many with additional learning difficulties, we’re still a long way off a fair portrayal of all autistic individuals. So, no, we can’t rely on one media outlet or a couple of individuals to paint a comprehensive picture of everyone with autism. However, we hope this is the beginning of an enlightening time, where we can continue to use the technology we have to do some good.
Written by Hazel Daglish