'Chris Packham: Asperger's and Me'

Written by Arron O'Hare on Wednesday 22nd November 2017

Arron O'Hare, Creative Director at LEC (An OPEN Health company) shares his views on the great Chris Packham - naturalist and wildlife presenter, after watching his documentary 'Chris Packham: Asperger's and Me'.


Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me

I recently watched a brilliant documentary about the great Chris Packham - the naturalist and wildlife presenter.

I have long been a fan of his since he first appeared on our screens as the punky young upstart, co-presenting The Really Wild Show in the mid 80s.

I was fascinated with his quirky sartorial and presenting styles, and impressed with his passion for the natural world.

Later, he became a presenter of Springwatch, delighting a slightly older audience with his love for the wild world residing on our own doorsteps. He was, and still is, an engaging, funny and slightly cheeky presenter. There was even one series in which he delighted fans of The Smiths by dropping song titles of theirs into his dialogue wherever possible. bit.ly/packhamsmiths

In the film Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me, Packham revealed that he didn’t receive his diagnosis until he reached his 40s. He painted a picture of a lonely childhood of exclusion and isolation, defined by the feeling that his brain worked differently from other kids’, and by a constant struggle to control and hide his autistic traits.

He also acknowledged that his idiosyncrasies and his obsessive, encyclopaedic knowledge of the natural world helped him to become the success he is today. His ability to experience the world around him with an intense clarity that few others can has undoubtedly furthered his career.

The big question raised in the film is whether he would choose to be ‘cured’ of his Asperger's if possible. He travelled to the US to see an innovative treatment called 'Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation' in which the brain is altered through repeated exposure to electromagnetic waves. Proponents of this therapy, which has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of autism, claim that it can modify autistic behaviour.

The therapy reminded me of a scene from A Clockwork Orange; and when Chris pondered whether he would personally undertake TMS in an attempt to change his own brain, the answer was an emphatic, 'Not a chance'.

Whilst in the US, he also visited Silicon Valley, where many tech companies are breaking down the barriers placed in front of autistic people in an attempt to tap into their unique talents—with amazing results. Techniques including longer interview processes and work environments that are shaped to meet the needs of the individual have been extremely successful.

Forward-thinking approaches like these support Chris’s view that trying to force autistic people to adapt to society’s view of ‘normal’, rather than adapting our approach to embrace and understand people with autism, means that society misses out on the opportunity to benefit from their unique world views.

After all, history is rich with examples of extraordinary thinkers who are now widely accepted to have been on the autistic spectrum, including such luminaries as Einstein, Newton and Darwin. Did these gifted people just happen to live with the condition, or was their unique experience of the world the fire that fuelled their genius?

In a world where people are actively encouraged to ‘think differently’, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at people who actually do.

If you would like to to get in touch with Arron, please contact him on ArronOHare@LEC.London. Or to find out more about LEC, OPEN Health's brand communications company, visit their website: https://www.lec-health.com/.