Channel 4 in the UK are making a programme called ‘How Autistic Are You?’ Here is some of the blurb from the website:
“Think you might be autistic? Struggle with social interaction, maintaining eye contact, or understanding the expressions and gestures of those around you? Do you have difficulty understanding other people’s feelings and managing your own? Or perhaps bright, loud or crowded places make you anxious? Maybe you feel like you don’t fit in…. like your brain is wired differently to other people. If any of this strikes a chord with you, then you’re not alone. Theory and research suggest that autism is a spectrum, with autistic traits distributed along a spectrum in the general population. This means, to a certain extent, that everyone has some degree of autistic traits.
“How Autistic Are You? is a new Channel 4 programme from betty aiming to demystify one of Britain’s most misunderstood neurological disorders. Featuring leading experts and people from the autistic community, the programme will present a new way for viewers to visualise where they are on the spectrum of autistic traits, and a team of autistic people will also take to the streets to try to teach the public what it really means to be autistic.”
Ok. Here are my thoughts.
The title of the show implies that we are all autistic. If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone say a variation of, “well, we’re all a bit autistic, aren’t we?” I’d have enough to go on a lovely, sunny holiday. For the record, no, I don’t think we’re all ‘a bit autistic’. What I do think the majority of us possess are traits of autism, as mentioned in the blurb above. However, this does not mean that we are all autistic. We are not all ‘on the spectrum’
I am concerned that the programme makers, whilst clearly trying to raise awareness and understanding of a complex and much-misunderstood condition, are actually trivialising autism instead. If we’re all autistic, why can life be such a struggle for those with an official diagnosis? Why is it so misunderstood if we’re all on the spectrum? Why are they making this programme if we’re all autistic anyway?
‘Autistic’ traits are actually just human traits, surely? What makes it ‘autism’ is the combination and severity of those traits in each individual, as well as the impact it has on their lives. For example, I possess the ‘autistic’ trait of being socially awkward. My husband has ‘special interests’. I’m not good in crowded places. But these alone do not mean that we are ‘a tiny bit autistic’, or that someone who has a handful of traits is ‘fairly autistic’.
The way I see it, you either are, or you’re not. You can’t be ‘a bit autistic’.
Channel 4 are actually encouraging you to take a test, to discover ‘how autistic you are’ as research for the programme (you may have already done it – it’s doing the rounds!). The test consists of four questionnaires devised by ‘experts’ (and I always wonder how many of these experts are actually autistic themselves, but that’s probably a whole other post!) and they are careful to point out that the test is not diagnostic, but that if you have concerns you should speak to a medical professional. All well and good. However, these tests are hardly foolproof and anyone with a little knowledge of autism could answer the questions in such a way as to get a score that indicates they could be on the spectrum.
Sorry, Channel 4, a change of title would make me happier. I think that your intentions are probably honourable, but I’ll have to wait until the programme comes out to see how you handle it.