Chris Packham – a watermark moment. #autism #actuallyautistic

Chris Packham, 1987, The Really Wild Show  (source Daily Mirror). 

It’s been a little while since I blogged in this space. Life has been busy for this autistic.

I’ve learned a great deal lately in my professional life, mainly about the absolute importance of  working from core knowledge. Congruence is the buzz word right now – and from it so very many good things can and do flow.

This is all very timely and segues nicely into other areas of my life. Viewing the recent Chris Packham documentary Asperger’s and Me  has set the seal on a growing trend. I know it wasn’t a perfect programme on autism per se (I even wonder what such a thing would look like as there are so many ways of being autistic) but it was perfect for Chris.

Many will point out that this was a white male perspective (as ever) and that there was an unhelpful division between Asperger’s and autism (a false division some would argue – myself included). Horrifying sequences were filmed in the US where autism was likened to cancer with resultant ABA ‘behavioural chemotherapy’ administered. I’m still reeling. We witnessed the controversial TMS intervention being applied to a young man – a subject I myself have written passionately against in a previous blog post.

Yet Chris being perfectly himself is what we’d all like – and in this sense it felt nothing short of a miracle. We saw (perhaps for the first time?) an autistic man owning the screen quite openly – after decades of masking his autism for viewers he dropped it revealing a far more interesting persona (even than the one so many of us have admired for so long).

Yes, Chris is an even more compelling personality as an autistic – so swallow that world. Absorb the truth that our unmasking can be your enriching. And not as a beguiling enchantment (as autism sometimes is portrayed) but as a reality – Chris didn’t smooth over the areas of intense struggle which led him to consider suicide seriously on three occasions.

Okay, this programme suffers on some levels – unhelpful ideas and information slip through the net at times, but Chris holds the narrative.  His status and skill as a presenter has conferred this power (one so rarely held or shown by an autistic), and his openness can be a gift to us all.

There have been three tangible occasions already in which the programme has helped me (I mean specifics – the overall effect can’t really be quantified). Three conversations which have been eased by Chris.

I’ve been greeted by a new level of understanding and given considerations not previously offered. I have been able to say how hard it is for me to socialise with people who don’t know I’m autistic – how much I sometimes dread it, how much masking can be involved, and how I won’t sleep afterwards because my sensory system can’t quickly shift from hyper alert masking mode to relaxation. The later a party the longer it takes me to unwind, and the more impact this has on subsequent functioning for days to come.

Finally my family understand, I can talk openly with some of my neighbours, and I can tell a dear old ‘neglected’ friend why I never stayed in touch. This is down to Chris – if they’ve watched the programme a new foundation has been laid.

I’m not saying this will work everywhere or every time. I’ll still have to mask and I’ll still be met with blank faces. But I can now manage certain relationships with more realistic expectations on the other side. This feels like another watermark moment. So thank you Chris, and amen to more of that.





Published by soniaboue

I am an artist.

11 thoughts on “Chris Packham – a watermark moment. #autism #actuallyautistic

  1. I enjoyed the programme very much myself: I’ve always enjoyed watching Chris as a presenter and his style is very engaging. I think one of the great strengths of this documentary was its focus on Chris himself and his personal experiences. This made the whole narrative more relatable.

    Yes, the downside of that is that it reinforces the image of autistics as white males, and it only hints at the diverse range of autistic experience. But I also feel that to force these things into Chris’s personal narrative would have detracted from the overall coherence and impact.

    The coverage of cures did make for uncomfortable watching: I found myself physically squirming and recoiling. I think that was intentional because the message came out as being fairly unambiguously anti-cure: I feel the programme did a decent job of promoting acceptance and was very critical of treatments that simply aim to mask or suppress innate autistic traits.

    It did however leave me unsatisfied on two fronts. I was fascinated by Chris himself and want to know him better. But also I want more programmes like this that feature other autistic people and showcase our diversity.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sometimes, all it takes, is someone who shares similar life circumstances and experience, for us to open up ourselves, and i’m glad, that by watching the documentary of this young man had helped you become more open to the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched the programme, and I thought it was excellent. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but what programme is? For me it was worth it for the first five minutes alone, where Chris describes what goes on in his head, which is exactly what goes on in my head as well. You are right about the white male perspective, but I think to have someone well-loved and well-respected like Chris Packham making a programme like this is valuable. To a certain extent I think the separation of Asperger’s and Autism was counteracted by Chris saying at the very beginning “I am autistic” (as opposed to “I have Asperger’s”). Of course there were things that I could wish had been put more clearly, or differently altogether, but I think it’s a huge step in the right direction. Now I hope more programmes like this are to follow, with more diverse people giving their perspective as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I didn’t see the show, but it sounds like a good thing for all of us to break down the walls and masks. I appreciate your passionate, honest, and vulnerable sharing of what it is like for you with autism. You help me understand and expand my compassion and world view. Thank you Sonia. Blessings, Brad

    Liked by 2 people

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