British naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham takes us in his autistic world revealing what living with Asperger syndrome really means.
By Julia Migné
“My name is Chris Packham. What you probably don’t know about me, because I’ve been hiding it most of my life, is that my brain is different than yours because I’m autistic.”
Chris Packham, a renowned naturalist, writer, and TV presenter, started his career in television 30 years ago in a CBBC children’s nature series called The Really Wild Show. With a passion for wildlife and nature, he presents the extremely popular BBC’s BAAFTA Award-winning Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch series.
Despite being in the public eye for decades, Chris Packham managed to keep his private life hidden, keeping his Asperger’s to himself, his family, and his closest friends. This time has come to an end though and he is done hiding. He wants everyone to know what living with Asperger’s really means and took to the BBC to invite viewers into his personal life through the documentary Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me.
“I’ve spent 30 years on the telly, trying my best to act normal, when really I’m anything but and at times it’s been immensely difficult,” narrates Packham. Powerfully honest, the film takes us through Chris Packham’s past and present life highlighting the way Asperger’s reveals itself in its everyday life.
Diving deeper than just the representation of his Asperger’s, Packham embarks on a journey to look at radical new therapies that might be able to improve his life and the lives of millions of others with one question in mind: “If a cure for autism ever became available, would I choose to take it?”
Asperger’s is usually considered as being on the “high functioning” end of the autistic spectrum, but Packham explains that there are still some areas of life that he doesn’t have a clue about. Social settings are one of these areas and he explains that people like himself are often socially clumsy. “Even now as an adult, having learnt to minimise that, I still constantly make mistakes,” he adds.
Because of the complexity of human relationships, Chris Packham prefers the company of his dog to other human beings, as he goes on explaining that he loves his pet “more than anything else on the planet”. He admits that many people might find him quite weird and that it’s the reason why he lives on his own in the middle of the woods.
People on the autism spectrum tend to experience the world in a completely different way than everyone else. Packham explains how all his senses are crucial to the way he experiences a situation. His outlook on his surroundings is very unique and is actually an important part of what makes him a great naturalist.
Growing up with an obsession for the natural world, the young Packham went on to explore it by collecting fox skulls and eating tadpoles. “I was absolutely enchanted by every living thing. And I wanted to own every single sensory input that I could get from it and as intensely as possible.”
The documentary is not just an introspection on Chris Packham’s life, though, but a broader look into autism and the way it’s perceived by society.
Flying to the US, Packham goes to visit facilities meant to “treat” autistic people. From using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulations (TMS) to stimulate parts of the brain associated with specific skills to new education approach meant “to eradicating autistic traits,” Packham explores the set of options now available to children and adults on the autistic spectrum in the US.
Comparing Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) to educational chemotherapy for autistic children, one of Packham’s interviewees continues saying that curing autism would be like a “prayer come true”.
The question raised in the documentary is clear and loud: should we actually try to eradicate or cure autism? Should we really try to force autistic children to be something they are not?
I’ve made a film about being different, how it’s sometimes difficult and sometimes brilliant, not just about what I can’t do but what I can pic.twitter.com/iyjim6U9aF
— Chris Packham (@ChrisGPackham) October 17, 2017
Chris Packham took to his own website few days ago to answer the question and summarised brilliantly what the documentary is all about:
“We don’t need a cure, there is nothing wrong with us – we are different. And that difference has enormous biological and social importance. Many of us have skills to invent solutions, produce art and science to benefit all, and to receive these gifts all we need in return is understanding, tolerance and acceptance. For all autistic people, it mustn’t any longer be about what we can’t do, it’s got to be about what we can do.”