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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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4.2 ‘Coming out’

There are other ways in which the media can help to present authentic and positive images of autism. A small but growing number of personalities with successful media careers have chosen to acknowledge their autism. One such person is TV presenter and wildlife expert Chris Packham, who struggled for years with depression and a sense of being different from others. As a child he became passionately attached to animals, secretly hand-rearing a kestrel at home. The loss of this bird caused him trauma, and in adult life he suffered a deep depression on the death of his dog. It was after therapy that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 42. He now says that although he worked hard to acquire neurotypical traits, such as eye contact for the sake of his TV appearances, he believes that Asperger syndrome is an important part of him which has supported and enhanced his career:

Managing my autism on national television still requires an enormous effort. Sometimes I fail, I do just go off on one. But I realise now there is no way I could do my job without Asperger's.

What I do in terms of making programmes is afforded to me because of my neurological differences. Being able to see things with perhaps a greater clarity, being able to see the world in a very visual way.

(Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me, 2017)

Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer who achieved fame on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in 2013. Like Chris Packham, she struggled with many years of adversity before receiving her diagnosis, and like him, her willingness to make her diagnosis public has offered a positive image of what people on the spectrum can achieve.

Of course, many autistic people are achieving success and fulfilment in their own fields. The ‘celebrity’ life stories mentioned above bring autism to wider public awareness, and are helpful because they are honest and authentic.