Why we're proud of "Are You Autistic?"
On Wednesday, seven members of Ambitious about Autism’s youth council will be making their debut on national TV in a new Channel 4 documentary called "Are You Autistic?"
If you tune in, you will discover a programme that aims to break down some of the myths and assumptions that surround autism and also highlight the problem of missed or delayed diagnosis and the impact this can have on autistic people’s lives. It’s also a programme that gives a platform to a large number of autistic women – voices that are far too often missing from the mainstream media.
It’s fair to say that initially the youth council had some big reservations about the premise for the documentary – in particular its original working title ‘How Autistic Are You?’
We were so concerned that we wrote to producers to set the record straight – reminding them that no, not everybody is autistic, and to imply so could have damaging consequences for the autism community.
We hoped that by reaching out we could work constructively with producers to ensure the end result was more positive – and this turned out to be the case.
When we met, the producers made clear from the outset that they in fact wanted to challenge the "everyone's a bit autistic" myth, and whilst we didn't necessarily all agree on everything straight away (it would be strange if we did!), it was clear that with our guidance we could make something that would dispel myths and stigma about autism. We were really pleased by how Channel 4 and Betty - the production company – were willing to listen to us and adapt the programme at an early stage after hearing our views.
The resulting collaboration ensured that our real experiences were at the heart of the documentary – with youth council members playing a major role in developing the programme’s script – as well as having a platform to share their ‘unscripted’ personal views on camera.
Representation of autism in the media has a long way to go – but for change to start happening we need to engage with programme makers like Channel 4 and influence from the inside.
This isn’t just about an opportunity to appear on TV, it’s about creating a space for autistic people in mainstream media – that needs to continue to grow. The next step needs to be commissioning led by autistic people – ensuring we are always at the centre of the conversation about our own lives.
While there will always be debate about TV programmes – and rightly so - we are very proud of what we have been involved in. We have used a national platform to share our real experiences – and while there is still a long way to go, this type of representation is very important.
Georgia Harper, Sam Ahern and Jack Welch, Ambitious about Autism youth council members.