Autism

Chris Packham and Poodle

Chris Packham

First shown on BBC2 Tuesday October 17th 2017 9pm

For most of his life, broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham didn't tell anyone about the one thing that in many ways has defined his entire existence. Chris is autistic - he has Asperger's Syndrome, which means he struggles in social situations, has difficulty with human relationships and is, by his own admission, 'a little bit weird'.

But what if there was a way of taking away these autistic traits? Would Chris ever choose to be 'normal'?

In this film, Chris invites us inside his autistic world to try to show what it is really like being him. He lives alone in the woods with his 'best friend' Scratchy the dog, but he also has a long-term partner, Charlotte, who discusses the problems Asperger's creates in their relationship - she describes Chris as being sometimes 'like an alien'. Chris experiences the world in a very different way, with heightened senses that at times are overwhelming, and a mind that is constant bouncing from one subject to the next.

Growing up at a time when little was known about autism, Chris wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until he was in his forties. With scientific advances offering new possibilities to treat his condition, Chris travels to America to witness radical therapies that appear to offer the possibility of entirely eradicating problematic autistic traits, but he also meets those who are challenging the idea that autistic people need to change in order to fit into society. Confronting this deeply personal subject with brutal honesty, and reflecting on the devastating struggles of his adolescence, Chris explores the question of whether he would ever want to be cured himself or whether, ultimately, Asperger's has helped make him who he is today. 

 

Clay Marzo - Surfer

Clay Marzo

Like so many people on the autism spectrum, Clay Marzo was mislabeled and misdiagnosed plenty of times growing up: ADD, dyslexia, learning disabled. Socially awkward with others yet masterful on the surfboard, Clay wasn’t formally diagnosed with Asperger’s until he was 18.

But if you think Asperger’s has limited him, think again. While he already earned a reputation in the surfing world by this time, a signature film about him, entitled Just Add Water, introduced him to a broader audience, and fame followed. His story inspired countless others, and getting plenty of coverage from ESPN and a write-up in Rolling Stone Magazine further catapulted his career.

But ask Clay, 24, why he continues to surf, and he’ll tell you it has nothing to do with the money or the fame. He feels at home in the waters off Maui—perhaps more than he does on land. He has difficulty holding a conversation, maintaining eye contact, and developing relationships. While he has Asperger’s—labeled as a less severe form of autism—his struggles are often intense.

Since he was a child, he found solace in the water. He was obsessed with the water, according to his mother, Jill. “Out of the water, he is not comfortable, even today. In the water, it’s like he can breathe.”

While fixation can prove to be a disruptive force for many individuals with autism, Clay’s obsession with surfing turned into a thriving career.

His mom says he still struggles with meeting new people, navigating the world around him, and even answering basic questions. For Clay, now considered one of the world’s best freesurfer, the water remains his peace.