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Real Stories | Medical Story Aspergers And Me (Chris Packham Documentary)

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.

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Unknown Speaker 0:11

Okay, right, where should we start? I should tell you that I have a problem just going off on one sometimes. So at the moment now you see, I'm thinking about, I'm talking to you, but I'm actually thinking about me 160s, which were type of aircraft evoc aircraft thought they were the only rocket aircraft. So now I'm thinking about the ticker tape parade that the astronauts did when they got back from the moon in 1969. And they did that on the 13th of August. My name is Chris Packham. What you probably don't know, because I've been hiding it most of my life is that my brain is different than yours. Because I'm autistic astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Neil, who's sort of troubled soul died on the 25th of August 2012. August was a big time for him because the ticker tape was on the 13th. Like I said, that's how my mind goes from one thing to another, it becomes the sort of cascades, it's memory, I just have a memory. So exhausting doesn't make any sense. It's intensely irritating to people. Oh, that was good. This tail has got a sting in it. My type of autism is called asperges. I've experienced many things on screenwash. Today, I've spent 30 years on the telly, try my best to act normal. When really, I'm anything bad. But at times, it's been immensely difficult. You know, there were times when I fought it. I really fought, I didn't want to be different. Now, I've decided that I want to talk about my asperges. I want people to try and understand what it's like to be me. There's a lot about me, which is pretty normal. There's a lot of you know, other things which are not quite so normal. This is the story of my life, the past

Unknown Speaker 2:11

and the present. how those who love me, have learned to live with me. He is like an alien. It is like he's landed basically

Unknown Speaker 2:23

was a young man, there was absolutely nothing available to help me. But now ongoing in search of radical new therapies that might be able to improve my life and the lives of millions of others. Treatments aimed at making us more normal, stripping us of our autistic traits. If a cure for autism ever became available, would I choose to take it

Unknown Speaker 3:04

I live in this house in the New Forest. And it's in the middle of a huge patch of woodland.

Unknown Speaker 3:15

from scratch, let's go.

Unknown Speaker 3:20

You've got to filthiest. So it's always my favorite part of the day, getting up in the morning going out into this place with

Unknown Speaker 3:29

with the scratch.

Unknown Speaker 3:32

scratches my best mate. I love him more than anything on this planet and all of my mouth is focused entirely upon him. It's intense and it's real. Just him being happy here makes me happy is guaranteed this like the switch comes on. And in human relationships, because of the complexity of them and and the various problems with them. They don't always make you happy even when you want them to come on scratch. My Asperger's is one of many conditions on the broad autistic spectrum. I'm lucky to be high functioning, but there are still some areas where I really just don't have a clue. People like myself are clumsy socially. So even now, as an adult, having learned, you know, how to minimize that. I still constantly make mistakes. Let's be honest. I suspect that many people find me a little bit weird, which is one of the reasons why I've chosen to live all of my own in the middle of the woods. I can't think when I last saw another human being. People invite me to parties and it's like, you know, I'm having my 50th party where is it is in Wales. What? I'm going to go to Wales to go to a party to stand in the corner and not talked about Watch the people haven't been to party for 10 years or something, I don't have that need for that sort of social contact at all. If you have autism, there's an enormous breadth of how that impacts upon your life. And I think it varies from having a few traits which might be perceived as as quirky or difficult socially. And many, many people will have those. And at the other end, I think that it is fair to call it a disability. I'm not a typical autistic person, because there is no typical autistic person. Look at that look through there. Now, that's really quite a nice site. This is a an inordinately complex environment is quite challenging to be here because there's so much to see. And when I'm looking at it, it's all coming in really, really quickly. It's like swamping there's one aspect of my Aspergers that you may not expect. You see, I experience the world in a very different way to pretty much everyone else. There's like a hyper imagine like a hyperreality. It's not just about seeing, it's about hearing, it's about smelling, it's about tasting is about everything. I mean, there's a very distinct smell of this time of spring, it's quite ripe, it's quite moist. So if it rained, now, this afternoon, the smell would change quite radically, and it would be much more intense. Sound wise, obviously, is that jet that's going over, I can hear the traffic and the distance, and then you've got the natural sounds that are here. So that was a blackbird rattling over there. As Robin's calling hours of Blackbird calling now. I can hit blue tits going.

Unknown Speaker 7:03

Oh, just had chaffinch sing. This layers of birdsong going on. This sensory overload is a constant distraction. And it's had a hugely isolating effect on me ever since I was a small boy. I grew up in Southampton in the 1960s. And back then, Aspergers wasn't a property recognized condition. As a child, were you aware that you were different? Not Not really. I think that when I look back on it, what was clear was that the depth of the obsessions was so much greater than any of my peers. When I got into things, I was really into them to the point that everything else was pretty much excluded. This was my first Fox goal that I collected when I was a kid. Beautiful, isn't that absolutely beautiful? And it's still got it. They still a slightly dry, meaty smell. And that's a smell that's come from the late 60s. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 8:14

Primary School, I didn't have a need for friends. If I'm very honest with you, there were far more interesting things happening in a dirty old pond just over the fence. Every year, I would collect tadpoles. It was one of the highlights my year it was better than Christmas. And my birthday tadpole time was absolutely the time of the year.

Unknown Speaker 8:39

At that point of my life, I had an enormous hunger and thirst for everything that lived that I could find. It didn't matter what it was. I wasn't repulsed by anything. I was absolutely enchanted by every living thing. I wanted to own every single sensory input that I could get from it as intensely as possible.

Unknown Speaker 9:09

It's obvious that you're going to taste it, isn't it? It is to me. They were like little blobs of semolina. And when I focused them back to the tip of my tongue so that I could bite into them. They tasted earthy. I mean, it doesn't seem weird to me. When you first lick the backside of a beetle that's using a yellow fluid, and it's bitter on the toast of your tongue, as if you've liked the dirty old sixpence and it doesn't go away for an hour. That's a really quite sort of powerful thing. I didn't know that my heightened sensory perception was an autistic trait until much later and neither did my family.

Unknown Speaker 10:00

Okay, so well, I'll just show you what I got was quite funny. Jenny is my youngest sister. So these are the old bits, oh my goodness, you're looking at me and that one, they're really protective.

Unknown Speaker 10:18

In many respects, Mum and Dad completely facilitated your enthusiasms, obsessions, obsessions for things. And that was all good. It's just that when things went bad, they didn't know why. And then there was, thanks so much. So good. I think the impact on upon my sister was probably that I commanded way too much of the attention in the house, my interest was sort of overpowering. And because I wouldn't stop going on about stuff. I was I was sort of described myself as motley. Actually, I think I was madly to Chris, really, I was always the assistant, it was me having to do something I was so uncomfortable with actually, you know, have sort of tadpoles on my ear have snakes around my neck, you know, I was forever, standing at the bottom of trees and nettles, looking for forgiveness, and doing things that were all about all about you. You know, we had a conversation a while ago, and I sort of said, Chris, you know, with this, as far as you're not really understanding the subtleties of, you know, what people mean, etc? How come you're so good at manipulating people? And he said, it's because the, I don't really care about them that much. But, you know, you probably don't realize how sort of inspiring you were to all of us, actually, and how much you triggered in us or to be interested in things. Yeah, that's good.

Unknown Speaker 11:49

Come on, scratcher.

Unknown Speaker 11:51

I wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until I was in my 40s. I had to spend my life coming up with ways of coping with this condition. By rigorously controlling my environment. This is my space, this is where I try to relax and try to be more me than anywhere else. I mean, I, you know, I have the blinds down. And that's about keeping the outside world outside. And it's about keeping this environment controlled. Because if you have the windows out, you can see things changing, and the sun goes in and out, and the leaves come off the trees and everything sort of constantly in a dynamic flux, fight and control that and I can feel I can feel comfortable. You know, nowadays, there's a huge push towards finding effective treatments for autism. So I'm packing to go in search of anything that might make my life a little bit easier. So these ones have never been worn. These ones have never been worn. I want them to be the same as the ones I've already got. So I buy three in one guy. I really like the shirt, sort of quite retro. So I bought three of those. One of the things that I like to do, again, it's a comfort thing is to wear the same clothes and eat the same food all the time. So there's three of these, the fleece is all in order, and they're in color water or the wind manufacturer order. And then you've got the same with the puffer jackets, and then the rain coats right at the end. So no, it is. I'm sorry, I'm just straightening these up. Because it's nice to have that straight. Got a face in the same direction. And yeah, I suppose that might strike people as odd. I think that one of the reasons I like hiding in my own world living in the woods, in the middle of nowhere with my dog is because they're effectively I'm normal. I'm not autistic. course, I'll get my car driver drove out the gate into the rest of the world. It's not quite so good. I'm going to America, where controversial new therapies are being developed that aim to change who we fundamentally are. I'm not really sure how I feel about the idea of trying to cure autism. I mean, in many ways, it's defined my life from its highest highs to its most devastating lows. I'm in Providence, Rhode Island to witness a trial of a radical new treatment. TMS transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is being investigated in the treatment of autistic people to see if it can modify their behavior. It's electrodes to electromagnetic radiation and the brain. Scientists still don't conclusively understand what causes autism. One theory is that certain parts of the brain may be over or under active. TMS uses an electrical pulse to try and stimulate these areas. It's being trialed here at Brown University by Dr. Lindsay Oberman. How are you? Have you ever met? Nice to meet you? Good, right. What's the matter with the weather? Lindsay?

Unknown Speaker 15:39

It's terrible. I'm sorry about that. I can't control that. So this is the TMS machine.

Unknown Speaker 15:45

What we should have said is, of course, that you're applying electromagnetic force induction, causing neurons to fire in the brain. So it's going to be focused on to about a centimeter cubed. So it's accurate to within one centimeter?

Unknown Speaker 15:59

Yes. All right, Patrick, so we're ready for you. Welcome to come on back.

Unknown Speaker 16:06

21 year old Patrick is halfway through this six week clinical trial of TMS one Patrick? How are you? Fine. Good. Morning. I'm Joanne. Hello, john. How are you, David? Chris just saw one point. Right. So how are you doing today? Fine. Patrick lives at home with his mum, unlike me, he struggles with social interactions. It's hoped that TMS might be able to help him,

Unknown Speaker 16:38

it could help somebody who has that difficulty with, say, understanding other people's facial expressions, they say, you know, I just I can't read other people's emotions, well, we can stimulate a part of the brain that we think is related to that ability. And that could have a really great change on their quality of life. Okay, go ahead and lean back. Right? As I feel that, okay. We'll put in a series of 600 pulses in 40 seconds. And it's that 600 pulses in 40 seconds. That's the actual intervention. You're about halfway done.

Unknown Speaker 17:38

And you're done.

Unknown Speaker 17:39

What we're witnessing here is a very much an exploratory trial, isn't it?

Unknown Speaker 17:43

Yes. It is not yet established as a clinical treatment. But what's your gut feeling? Do you think it will work? Absolutely. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't think so.

Unknown Speaker 17:53

Patrick, do you like the idea of this piece of machinery? Changing your brain?

Unknown Speaker 17:59

I guess someone. Sometimes when I make mistakes around people and stuff, I think of ways how I could change and stuff.

Unknown Speaker 18:09

And if you can't do it yourself, because it's incredibly difficult. This machine might help. Good. And if the trials work out, would you come back to have the treatment? Yeah, next time, maybe I'll bring a movie watch to Patrick hasn't reported any noticeable effects whilst on the trial? Would I have you know, TMS, categorically not to a chance, would I allow anyone to put electrodes anywhere near my brain? one cubic centimeter that's gonna stick with me, in my mind that has a big area, there are millions of neurons in there. But at the same time, I, you know, I've got to say, the other side of me, there's a real dichotomy here, the other side of me as a scientist, and I think you've got to pioneer sometimes you've got to sail to the edge of the world to see if you sign off or if it's round, you've got to start at the bottom of the ladder. Maybe that's what this is. Maybe this is the bottom of the ladder. You've bought up an autistic son, I think a lot of people probably don't realize the enormous amount of energy and the difference that impacts on the family. It's hard. It's very hard. And that's why Autism is very isolating for families. It is exhausting to meet the needs to meet the safety. You know, there's divorce, there's bankruptcies, because everything goes into the safety well being and treatments for our kids. It is, you know, painful to watch. I've been there I've struggled myself. So you know, in that sense, you know, you're looking for any form of cure at times. You see him failing, and that's, that's uncomfortable. If another therapy arose whereby you could cure autism, what would you think of that?

Unknown Speaker 20:01

I think on a bad frustrating day, I'd say yes. I think on a day like today where I've never been so proud of them. I'd say no.

Unknown Speaker 20:10

It's complicated. But on an on the bad days, absolutely.

Unknown Speaker 20:14

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I'm having some bad days might tighten a pill if it could make it will go away. fomka dice? Try. Definitely no.

Unknown Speaker 20:31

Thank you, Pat. Thank you very much. Welcome. You must welcome. I hope it works out for you. Yeah. Keep coming. We'll help the doctor.

Unknown Speaker 20:55

What's been the lowest point? Wow.

Unknown Speaker 21:00

lowest point. casual dining was like, a very low point. So yeah, it was a catastrophic event. This is where I grew up. And this is the house where I grew up number 10. Notice little bit of graffiti down here. So some reason felt compelled to carve My name there. But more importantly, I carved the word Castro inhaler. Or so obsessed with cash trucks. All I would think about all the time was Castro's Castro's Castro's. When I was in my early teens, I decided that I wanted to, to keep a cash drawer. So I applied for a license at that time, you needed to apply for a home office license to remove about like a cash flow from its nest from the wild. But it wasn't granted. And this all came when conflict with the outside world was just about to explode. Looking back on it, I was beginning to recognize the fact that, you know, I was a little bit different than the other kids in the class. Night didn't want to listen to a 15 minute monologue about, you know, the breeding behavior of the Castro. And they liked girls. Thinking about I was already just ferociously determined, wasn't really gonna let anyone I didn't know didn't have any respect for tell me what to do. So I found a nest. I climbed up and there were young customers in it and took one of them out. This is the tree. And at that point I got, I was very, very excited. I was absolutely exalted.

Unknown Speaker 23:20

It was extremely beautiful. And I loved it. It was an enormous, you know, passionate amount of energy. So the obsessive interest and the intense focus on that one organism meant that I could just exclude everything else. And that's what happened. All existed was just asked to this is the third obviously by flow, the Castro. I mowed a strip, a strip of grass, I made a hole in the ground, but I could put the birds block and the bird would sit on the block and I would fly in that direction.

Unknown Speaker 24:14

It was just perfect.

Unknown Speaker 24:19

Stranger Rino isn't it this little patch of grass between all of these houses

Unknown Speaker 24:27

to you know, actually be the place where I was at the happiest I've ever been in my entire life.

Unknown Speaker 24:36

It was the first thing that I formed a really powerful bond with. It was some sort of mental love missile and I just lit the touch paper and fired myself into it oblivious speed and it exploded and sparkled and it was totally beautiful. I don't think that I've ever loved anything as intensely. It was perfect on you, it was perfect every day for six months until the end,

Unknown Speaker 25:19

the Kestrel it did die. I buried it right underneath the nest. And the night. So I come every year from 75 Ah, on the day

Unknown Speaker 25:42

because I still feel that that was

Unknown Speaker 25:47

an enormous sort of turning point really. And the impact that it had just goes on. I know that's crazy, I'm not people just gonna think that's mad, you're just standing in a patch of nettles underneath an oak tree.

Unknown Speaker 26:05

Well, bird died a long, long time ago. too big for a small boy, way too big for small boy, a small boy that didn't really connect with other small boys, or most adults either. But the only connected with what's buried in the ground down here.

Unknown Speaker 26:27

So when that suddenly didn't exist, there was nothing left. So it was catastrophic. What it did was highlight my vulnerability. So after that, I was always scared, frightened, terrified, actually, of losing the things that I loved. And that's, you know, quite a burden. Had you asked me whether I wanted curing in my teens, I might have been interested on occasion. You know, I would sit there and I think

Unknown Speaker 27:24

it's made my life easier if I could just do this, you know, just get on with people without it. being such a struggle.

Unknown Speaker 27:36

There are an estimated 25 million autistic people in the world. When I was growing up, the only option for me was mainstream education. But now here in America, a systematic approach to eradicating autistic traits is being rolled out in specialist schools across the country. Applied Behavioral Analysis ABA is now taught in hundreds of specialist schools all over the United States. And I've come to one of the biggest ones, it's an hour outside of Boston. me

Unknown Speaker 28:17

to say one more time, many of the children here have a far more severe form of autism than I have. Not only do they struggle with social interactions, but many of them are nonverbal. Me move me Ryan's turn. Nice job. Although this technique has obviously moved on from its early days in the 1960s, it still follows a system of rigorous repetition. The idea is that by doing the same tasks over and over again, autistic behavior can be stamped out, making the child more socially normal.

Unknown Speaker 29:20

really uncomfortable. It's just a mass of noise and color. It's not symmetrical the stripes all around the walls, the windows aren't in line. You know, everything else is pretty chaos. But it's it's pretty obvious, I think it'd be pretty intense day. For me, there's some sort of fundamental questions to be asked about the purpose of this sort of education. ABA has been largely rejected in the UK on the grounds that it's trying to force autistic children to be something they're not. When can I start? Yeah, please. Vincent Straley is the school's founder. Autism is such a broad thing. We're all different. You're absolutely convinced that at the moment that ABA is the best one to treat autistic kids my position handover hardest

Unknown Speaker 30:11

people said, Well, this is behavior modification. It's artificial, robotic manipulative. But so was chemotherapy in the early days of cancer treatment, people said it was poisonous, it would kill the patient rather than help them. ABA is the way forward and 30 to 50% of them will lose their diagnosis after one to two years of early intensive.

Unknown Speaker 30:31

So when you say lose their diagnosis, that would mean if they were re diagnosed for autism, they wouldn't fall within the set that currently qualifies. Correct.

Unknown Speaker 30:39

Professional observers would not be able to tell the autistic child, this is educational chemotherapy for these kids who wouldn't deny them the chemical and medical chemotherapy they need for their cancer. But to deny them, the work that we and our colleagues around the country are doing successfully is, you know, it's just wrong.

Unknown Speaker 30:58

If you could, would you cure autism? If I could, of course, and that would be a prayer come true.

Unknown Speaker 31:10

Let's be really clear about this. I don't like the idea of comparing autism to a cancer that requires a sort of educational chemotherapy. For me, as a child with Aspergers, I just don't think this rigid system would have worked. But for many parents, schools like this must seem like the only option. If you are faced with a form of autism, which is seriously debilitating, then obviously, you are going to crave a solution for that. I fully understand why parents in particular would want to explore any of those avenues to try and normalize to some extent their child. But for people like myself with Asperger's, you know, this is simple therapy. And that is just be on your own. I have chosen to live in the woods on my own. But this doesn't mean of course that I don't need to have relationships just like everyone else. There are a handful of people in my life that I'm close to. We're on the red funnel ferry to the Isle of Wight to see Charlotte, my partner and she owns the Isle of Wight zoo. Charlotte and I don't live together. We never have that distance suit you. wish you hadn't asked that question? Because I mean, I like my own space a lot. You know, we've been together for 10 years. She told me this year. And so that's that's pretty good. I get I get bored with things really, really quickly. You know, so the fact that I'm very definitely not bored with Charlotte after 10 years. If living apart is part of that, then maybe there's a good side to it. Greet him greet him. Greet him force. Him. Charlotte, how did you meet Chris? I'll deal with the lemurs. So long ago, I can hardly remember. I fancied Charlotte straight away. But she didn't fancy me. That's the truth. That's what I say. And she never disagrees with it.

Unknown Speaker 33:58

I just didn't know when you when you invited me out what you wanted. I was just perplexed as to what you wanted. He hadn't given me any clues.

Unknown Speaker 34:09

Yeah. I'm not very good at those sort of signals. Am I? Really not. But I'm still not very good at those signals.

Unknown Speaker 34:21

Come on. porks. No one.

Unknown Speaker 34:25

Come on. I know it's really bright and sunny out here on your nocturnal animal. Don't be nasty. Look at those teeth. Look at those teeth.

Unknown Speaker 34:33

He is like the porcupine whisperer look like the when it comes to communicating about how he feels emotionally. Then he finds that hard. He's unable to empathize. But I think that is for me has probably been the biggest challenge. It's just really confusing because it's such an innate thing. Normally it's such an instinctive thing to have compassion. If For people that you don't know, you know, but for Chris, it's not on his radar

Unknown Speaker 35:07

at all.

Unknown Speaker 35:10

Some of your wins. Okay?

Unknown Speaker 35:14

No, no, no, we've had this argument already. You're not having that. This is this sort of typical romantic now.

Unknown Speaker 35:21

We did. We did go for picnic didn't we? When we, we've been for a picnic, we went for a picnic. Occasionally I dragged you out to like a tea gardens or something with other humans there. Yeah, I genuinely wish that I hadn't. I would like to do more different things. What about that time when I when I picked to take you to call for your birthday, but there was a horrible silence, which was a bit upsetting. I'm not very good at socializing. I now just know that it's just no point. I could got a friend's wedding coming up soon. I haven't even mentioned it to you. But it's no point forcing you to be there if you don't want to be there. That's what I would say. Sometimes I might still try. So basically, I've got a wedding coming up. Do you want to come with me? No, thanks.

Unknown Speaker 36:21

For all the extra hard work and sometimes the tears and the you know, the times when you just think Oh, geez, you know, it seems like impossible sometimes to make progress. But yeah, I think the return is, is really, definitely worth it. He's fascinating. He's a fascinating character. And there's a lifetime guaranteed with crashed, never would I be bored. We've been together for 10 years. And I'm still fascinated by his mind. Isn't that nice?

Unknown Speaker 36:59

Oh, yes, I'm very lucky to have found someone who will put up with the constant social failings that come with my asperges. But 30 years ago, any interaction with anyone my own age was catastrophic. So this is the school I went to this large comprehensive trouble with going back to places like this is a catalyst to expose things that otherwise you wouldn't normally think about. spousal and a spacca and Cretan, and the more wrong, kids beat other kids out. But that wasn't as bad as where they will be coming down here yabbering on about all of their parties, and, and all that sort of stuff. And I'd feel completely alienated. It was the exclusions that were particularly cool. I was at the most vulnerable point in my life, live been rejected by my peers who I didn't know who I was. What made me upset was I didn't understand it. I didn't understand why they you know, that I was getting picked on and excluded. That was it was the confusion. That was the agony, you know, that, yeah, that was the problem. I took a whole series of photographs in my late teens, and they're all sort of suicidal pictures. So there are the pictures of me dead or about to die. This just pretentious twaddle. But underlying all of that, and particularly when I got to this stage, yeah, and I was very, very unhappy. If you're isolated, and it's, it's harder for you to find out when you need it. It's your choice. Try to code. So yeah. I thought about it really seriously. Three times once in 1994. And then twice in the early 2000s. When on both occasions, I was Yeah, very serious about it. But I was with the dogs. And they loved me and I couldn't let him down.

Unknown Speaker 39:28

After I left school, I went on to university to study zoology. And although I was years off being diagnosed, it was already clear to me by this point that I had to develop my own ways of dealing with being different. By the time I got to university, I'd come up with a strategy and the strategy was really simple. don't interact with people of your own age. Just turn up, get straight A's. I wouldn't speak to anyone. I had no idea why I you know, I was different. So I was confused, inordinately angry, I was raging, absolutely raging. That was when the punk rock thing started. So that was quite advantageous for me. The punk rock thing was a means of me physically identifying to everyone else that I was different. And I felt empowered by that. I think punk, you know, did save me. And that music sounded like I felt confused and angry.

Unknown Speaker 40:45

Let them when I left university, I was obviously virtually unemployable. I was obsessed with natural history, and I didn't know what to do. But my sister said to me, why don't you go on TV and talk about animals in because that's all you ever do talk about on and on and on about animals. If you weren't on TV, you could bore the rest of the world, and not just our family about it. I didn't know it at the time. But my Aspergers got me an early break on a kid's wildlife show. You see, I had something that my peers didn't. And it was a vast encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world. But the night before the first recording, I was wracked with anxiety. I was thinking to myself fight, I've got no problem with the animals. But I'd have to be in a room with a whole load of people that I didn't know. And I'd have to be able to behave myself. I've got a photograph me, a self portrait. Having just made a list of the things that I would need to do to be able to work in that environment. And the things that I had to stop myself from doing is top of the list was to look at them, make eye contact, don't interrupt people don't say what you think. Because most of the things I thought were incompatible with things that they would they would think, and then I'd sort of try and engage with people. Hey, this is what I did in my summer, this so that they would understand that I was actually genuinely listening to them, when in fact, Paul was thinking about something else. How long are a tiger's claws? Well, I think that'd be a good one for you, Chris. Thanks, Terry. That's very, very kind of you is also going off on one about something which is not connected to the topic of any relevance at the time. So what were their razor sharp talons, they're beautiful stripes and asymmetrical, stripy fingerprint, biggest cat and well, I was thinking to myself, come down, just get back into the zone, get back into the zone where you could constantly do that, you know? I mean, what will and what might we see today, you know, what, we can do a lot better than that. I'm sure we'll find some interesting parts. For staff. We've always overlooked parts. But I have to say it was exhausting. And, and, and I would get very upset with myself when I was failing. And, and it continues to this day. 30 years on managing my asperges on telly, so I seem relatively normal, still requires an enormous effort. Hello, and welcome to unsprung here at the National Trust Sherbourne Park estate. I've taught myself to manage some of my personal traits. Sometimes I fail, I do just go off on one, but then the people I'm working with laugh at it more than anything now. I think it's funny. Thankfully, this is a budget we've got on here. I think I must speak to the artists later. That's all we've got time for today. Please thank my guests, we'll see you again at 630 tomorrow night, goodbye. I realized now that there's no way I could do my job without asperges. What I do in terms of just making this program is afforded to me because of my Asperger's because of my neurological differences here. So that's being able to see things with perhaps a greater clarity, to see the world in a different way, in my case in a very visual way. But, you know, I've been able to understand that, and that's something which was a painful process to go through, but I did it and now I'm very fortunate to be able to reap the benefits of that not all autistic people are in that position. There are many aspects of asperges, which are enormously positive. And there must be many other people out there who could contribute in an immensely productive way who aren't able to do so, because they can't quite manage some aspects of their life in the way that I do in order to make it productive in the UK, Only 14% of autistic adults who are in full time employment. And that's the lowest amount for any notifiable disability. And that is a tragic loss. Up until now, everything I've seen in America has been designed to fundamentally change who we are. But there is one place that's been harnessing some of the special gifts that autistic people have our obsessive focus, our ability to see the world from different perspectives.

Unknown Speaker 45:37

Here we are in Silicon Valley. And the thing to remember is that people with autistic traits made this place happen. And people with autistic traits made NASA happen. We got to the moon, we network the world and we wouldn't have been able to do it without people with autistic traits.

Unknown Speaker 45:55

Also, Steve Silverman has written extensively about the contribution that autistic people have made to the explosion of the tech industry. It's Massa and Samsung tech. I mean, you know, these places are full of particular minds, which are doing extraordinary things.

Unknown Speaker 46:14

Before the advent of the tech industry, these kids would have been considered weirdos, now they're running the world.

Unknown Speaker 46:22

And, you know, one of the people that we spoke to, he was involved with therapies for autistic people. And pretty close to saying, When I asked them, if you could cure autism read the world of it. They said yes. Well, that's horrifying.

Unknown Speaker 46:40

You know, I mean, the word cure, I think, is absolutely toxic in the autism community. And the excuse in the sense Well, it's easier to change the individual than it is to change society.

Unknown Speaker 46:52

That's the core of all of this, though, isn't it? All of these therapies, all of these things, are basically just saying that this this force these people, and rather than adapt to accommodate them,

Unknown Speaker 47:06

absolutely. So we have to start redesigning society. Instead of redesigning the individual.

Unknown Speaker 47:14

A change is happening in some of the largest companies in the world. New Barnet is pioneering a new recruitment process here at Microsoft. Typically, a notoriously autistic people struggle to get jobs in the first place. A lot of them basically just struggle with the interview process.

Unknown Speaker 47:34

Right? Right. So we've created this program where folks come in, and we actually bring them in for a week to do an interview versus one day, which is the typical interview, what we change with with focusing on candidates that are on the autism spectrum, is bringing on the man letting them have a more reducing the stress, hopefully, and then letting them showcase their their skills. And so we do this over a five day period,

Unknown Speaker 47:57

I'm gonna be honest with you. Now, I couldn't work in this office, personally, it's still Christmas. There's all sorts of snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.

Unknown Speaker 48:05

We have individuals that ask for a closed office with a door and you're able to, we're able to provide that we are finding great untapped talent that normally we would not see. And, and these individuals are trading software being used by millions of people.

Unknown Speaker 48:24

Tell me your story. Like me, Jacob, lead software architect had a difficult time growing up,

Unknown Speaker 48:32

I was perfectly intelligent, I was actually considered genius level intelligence. But they said I wasn't socially developed enough to move on to the next grade in school was very hurtful. To be perfectly frank, I felt like a black sheep most of the time, I got a job at Microsoft. And that eventually led to a number of positions, each one building up my skill set, and my resume.

Unknown Speaker 48:59

So your perseverance was worthwhile. In the end. I mean, you've managed to get yourself to somewhere where your particular and peculiar skills are valued.

Unknown Speaker 49:08

That's true. And it's it's also led me to more independent economic freedom as well.

Unknown Speaker 49:13

Here's a truth for you. There are so many parallels between us the way that we both had to sculpt a means of adapting socially, to to further our progress in life, and also some of the pains that we've obviously shared as a result.

Unknown Speaker 49:38

Imagine all those people trapped in their room, because they're isolated by this condition. They haven't been able to sculpt opportunities, manage themselves in a way that allows them to fulfill their lives. That's like a ghastly sentence set in a vile fairy tale. No one should be imprisoned by this condition. They should be allowed to, to exalt in the in those aspects of the condition which empower them. You know, that difference is such a, you know, valuable tool, an enormous asset, you know, to be able to see things, understand things, process things and remember things in a way that most people can't do has to be seen as a gift, not something that you you're badged with, and it's about what you can't do, it's got to be about what you can do.

Unknown Speaker 50:36


Unknown Speaker 50:41

I do feel I have this horror hanging over me that we're making this program, I'm saying these things, in an interval between disasters. I'm happy with my ability to manage my asperges. And it allows me to do my job and I found someone who loves me. But there's still one thing that I haven't learned to deal with. And that is losing the things that I love. He's got shaved sides, because he had a scan last week, he's got liver disease. So at the moment, I'm just trying to spend as much time with him as possible. You know. I would like to be able to think that I might get through scratchy dying, you know, and me being, you know, hopelessly alone, with a greater degree of success than I have ever before when I've lost the things that I love most. But I'm not. I'm not brimming with confidence. I don't know. I just don't want to be a charlatan. And and to say that, you know, things are actually okay. In fact, some things are better than okay. When in you know, it's all built on sand. For all the contradictions, all the heartache of this condition, what I've seen in America has made it very clear to me that we need to understand autistic people better not try to change who they are. If you offered me a cure, for my particular perspective, for where I stand, then No, thank you.

Unknown Speaker 52:47

every relationship I've had in my life has been defined and made difficult by my asperges. But there is one that's come surprisingly easy. And it's the thing that I'm probably most proud of. Remember, they are don't spook because if you do your spook them, okay? So if they're nibbling your fence, just let them nibble your fence. You know, that's the sort of jumping term out there because you're very excited to be getting in the water with a very large credit for the animal, oh, my goodness, my stepdaughter from a previous relationship. Obviously, I have played a role in raising Megan. And I found it enormously rewarding. Something that I was very surprised by Max, I met when she was 18 months old. We seem to get on sort of straight away. And we traveled a lot together. And all around the world. I was working overseas a lot of that time. So I would take Megan with me. And so I enjoyed putting an enormous amount of energy into her education. It was you know, and Stan is one of the most important parts of my existence. Max is at University studying zoology, which is a great surprise to me, really. So I'm very pleased. Yeah. What's so satisfying at the moment is that we're not being watched. She answers the phone like nice guy. Just give me a minute. And it's because she's in the library. Fantastic. Working Christ. naptime.

Unknown Speaker 54:43

Kind of every day up into this point ever since I can remember. You've always been someone that has been there. You're always there to support me, no matter no matter kind of what and you're, you're reliable in that sentence, which is for me, it's been

Unknown Speaker 55:01

Live report, isn't it? Getting like a five star TripAdvisor report here as well?

Unknown Speaker 55:11

No, but you, you've taught me so much in terms of not just the natural world and everything that I've become so passionate about as well. And you've taught me everything, just life lessons, and you'd given me experiences that if I hadn't met you, I wouldn't have had. So if you hadn't come into my life 20 years ago, I would probably be in a completely different place than I am now. Yeah. So how many stars on this sort of guardian? advisor 505 I keep a 4.9 point eight 4.8 4.8 That's good. And get up to 4.9 if you come to my graduation, you know why so I'll settle for 4.8 I'm really happy with that. You won't be coming to my graduation. No, of course not. Yeah. drive all the way to Liverpool. Are you getting a bit of paper next day? Not gonna do siculus No, don't make such a big deal out. But anyway, it's been down

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