This week Anne Hegerty from the TV quiz show The Chase entered the jungle in I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
Anne is autistic, she was diagnosed in her 40’s. Having Anne in I’m a Celebrity is great for raising awareness of autism and how autism doesn’t have to hold people back from stepping out of their comfort zones and achieving things. I just wanted to write a few words about things Anne has said about being autistic, how I think she will do in the jungle and my perspectives on those things where I can relate and share my own experiences as well, I go into much more detail of my own experiences in my various autism books including my autobiography Look Into My Eyes. I think it is great when I see autistic people positively raising awareness of what it is like to be autistic, both the challenges and the strengths and having the strength to step outside of their comfort zone. Anne being in the Jungle isn’t just great for raising awareness of autism, but importantly, raising awareness of autistic females, at the end of this blog post I share signs of autism in females to look out for.
Being autistic, you grow up aware that somehow everyone around you is on one frequency and they all seem to act and think similar to each other, and you are somehow on a different frequency and have a very different view of the world. In school, it was common for me to be found in the bushes with snails and other creatures rather than mixing with other children. I did join in games children played at times. I had a small circle of friends who played tag and played football or rugby or just climbed trees. I didn’t really get on with football or rugby, I struggled with the team aspect, but I did better at tag, where I was running and escaping people, or trying to catch people, but it was me doing my own thing, not as a team, the same with climbing trees. Joining in with friends was also not often my first choice of things to be doing, but I felt it was what I was supposed to be doing.
I often felt like I had a different perception of the World. I didn’t realise how different until one day when I was about 20 I went to a club with a friend. Unknown to me that friend took some drugs that night. As we were walking back to my flat along the sea front they started talking about how beautiful the sea was, about the colours, the movement, the textures, the shapes, the way the light moved and reflected, etc. I agreed with him and held a perfectly normal conversation with him about all of this. I thought he had suddenly come to his senses and seen the World as it is, I didn’t realise he was tripping. It wasn’t until the next day when he told me that he had been tripping and that it was a strange experience because I was treating it as being the most normal thing in the World. I feel people never seem to notice all the patterns around us, the vividness of colours, the brightness of things, the patterns in sounds, different textures, the rhythms of movement, etc.
Something which Anne may struggle with being in the Jungle is surprise, change and uncertainty. Anne says that she plans everything. I mentally rehearse everything, I try to mentally rehearse as many eventualities as possible, I try to make everything as predictable as possible. The trouble with surprise, change and uncertainty is that once it hits it is difficult to centre yourself again, find composure so that you have a grounded place to build from to find a way forward. It can take a while to do this. The reaction can appear to others at times to be extreme, almost like you have had your brain scrambled by the sudden change, you don’t have a plan for it, you don’t know what you are supposed to do next or what the way forward is. If you can’t escape the situation, even if that is escaping into your mind for a time, then it can be very difficult to work out a way forward. One way forward I often find myself doing is having black and white thinking, taking control of the situation by leaving the situation and ending it there. It is common for autistic people to like certainty and feel more drawn towards facts with clear questions and answers. This can feel very safe.
A trait often associated with autistic people, and one Anne has been describe with by fellow The Chase chasers is that they are often incredibly genuine, what you see is what you get – not a mask or image of the person. There is no filter. They have a tendency to be very honest and open. This is something often commented by people who have read my Look Into My Eyes autobiography, and also something said to me by people who meet me but have known of me a while perhaps as fans of my eCourses or my YouTube channel. I am the person you see in my videos and when you interact with me online. I am not someone different in person.
Most people have multiple versions of themselves. They have the husband/wife self, the son/daughter self, the grandson/granddaughter self, the work colleague self, the friend self, the acquaintance self, the employer self, the customer self, etc. They have a version of themselves for different groups of people. Most autistic people have ‘them’ self. They have just the one self, no pretence, no different versions for different people. There may be some small variations as they grow older and perhaps learn to differentiate themselves a bit, but generally what you see is what you get. This can be reassuring for some, but it can also lead to saying things which in a given context aren’t seen by others as appropriate to say. If the autistic person has supportive friends and family who are willing to tell them when they have behaved in a way which isn’t appropriate for a situation then they can learn and increase the chances of not making that mistake again, but fundamentally, they are just the one person.
In the jungle Anne might have many ‘breakdowns’ but she is also likely to have strategies she has developed to compose herself and find ways to coping. It could be that she takes herself away from the situation for a time and separates from the group, or zones out from the outside world, or stims (does some form of self soothing or absorbing behaviour). Something I find, which Anne may also find, is that I compartmentalise things. So something may make me stressed or anxious, but if I am not focusing on it, it isn’t in my mind and in that moment it doesn’t impact on me. For example, if a relative dies I am emotional when I think about happy memories of that relative, but if I think about something else I am not sad. There is very little residual emotion carrying over from moment to moment. The same with anxiety or anger. I can walk away for a moment, get distracted by the sea, or a view, or an animal I now want to photograph, or an idea I suddenly have and the emotion is gone. It is like a very powerful single-mindedness. If Anne has this kind of experience she might be seen to struggle at one moment, even struggle a lot and yet in the next moment it is almost as if that moment hadn’t happened.
Something I already like about Anne in the jungle is that she has shown emotion – people often say autistic people lack emotion, which is just untrue, it is often overwhelming, ‘all or nothing’ and ‘black and white’. For me personally, I go from calm to anxious very quickly in that moment where it happens, with very little in between. There isn’t really a build up. This is the same with things like eye contact. Making eye contact can lead to feeling overwhelmed with emotion and information that is difficult to process and understand, so it is easier to look away to break the connection. Obviously with all of this, as the saying goes, once you’ve met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person, which is why I am sharing my experiences and how Anne might respond, because only Anne herself can truly comment on her own responses and experiences, but I just want to try to write something helpful to give some insight, at least based on my own experiences.
Anne may also accidentally insults people. She may just say what is in her mind without filtering it. The likelihood is that she is better at managing what she says now than she perhaps was when she was younger, she is likely to have learned a lot about what seems to upset people and what some of the social rules are about what you should and shouldn’t say and do, but when caught off guard it is easy to still say the wrong thing. I once talked over my wife, she picked me up on this and asked why I did it. I told her that she was boring me. That didn’t go down well and luckily it doesn’t happen often. It was just a momentary laps of control over myself. It is common for autistic people who are trying to fit in for them to talk slower or with pauses so that they have time to run things through their mind before they come out of their mouth. Other times they may talk very fast as they try to get everything out, perhaps about their interest or something they really want to talk about.
Anne has said that she has worked hard to try to learn social communication rules and to try to appear non-autistic. This will help in the jungle, but it also takes a lot of focus and mental capacity and you need to take time away from people to decompress. In a jungle camp this could be difficult for Anne to do, but because she has been open and honest about herself she is likely to have support from camp members when she needs to take time for herself.
Something likely is that others can worry more about her at times than she worries about herself. People can become very protective. I have had this, where people see me emotional and struggling, and rather than being supportive and helping me through the situation, they feel uncomfortable and want to rescue me from the situation. I think it is important to try to let Anne be in control of her own time in the jungle. She will likely have times she wants to fight or flee and just wants to escape, but at the same time she is likely to want stubbornly push forward and remain in control of herself rather than letting her feelings or circumstances control her. You don’t necessarily want to do things outside your comfort zone, you have to push yourself to do them which can trigger high anxiety and inside you just want to escape, but you try to push on anyway because you know how easy it would be to give in to the anxiety and isolate yourself from the world.
In some settings under your control and where everything is familiar you can appear calm, confident, sure of yourself, safe and assertive, but once in a different situation you can go from that to anxious, emotional and struggling and perhaps seem like a totally different person. My experience of myself is that I am who I am. What I have seen so far of Anne is the same, that she doesn’t try to pretend she is confident and not anxious when she is, she just honestly expresses herself. If things do become too much for her, she will likely just say so and leave, rather than try to say she is okay and push on. If the uncertainty becomes too great, or the situation something she feels she can’t get through she is likely to be black and white and firm on the decision to leave the jungle.
She is seen as a role model to many there is the school boy who wrote the letter to say
“Sometimes people are mean to me because I am autistic but watching you makes me see that other people can have autism too and maybe I can have a cool job like you when I’m older.”
One thing I try to do when I have taught parenting courses and when I talk to people about autism is to help them see the strengths of autistic people. I try to be a positive role model as well as being open about my struggles and about how I can be difficult for others at times as well, like not keeping in touch with friends as much as I perhaps should, not asking how others are enough, being too self absorbed in my own interests, accidentally offending people.
Some people may find watching Anne upsetting or difficult to watch, they may see it as exploitative and they may decide on her behalf that she should be pulled from the jungle. In my opinion this isn’t others decision to make. I have had people see me struggle or upset in situations and people feel a sense of empathy and want to save or protect me because of how it makes them feel. I think it shows great strength of character to be anxious, be outside of your comfort zone and decide to carry on. My view is that bravery isn’t doing something others wouldn’t feel comfortable doing, it is doing something you don’t feel comfortable doing.
I think by jumping in and saving someone who hasn’t asked to be saved is about those people, not about the person they are saving. Anne should be the one in control of her experience, not people complaining to Ofcom. ITV will have Anne and the other contestants being monitored. If she does need removing it should be because she is perhaps being too stubborn (which I have a tendency to do even when it is me that it will impact negatively on) and they should then discuss this with Anne and make a decision, not because it is difficult viewing for people. I think people should rally behind her and praise her strength, rather than want to save her because of her struggling, let Anne make this decision.
Something many autistic people experience is sensory overload, this could be tastes, smells, textures, sensations, sounds, etc. In the jungle Anne could find people being around all the time too much, also during challenges, if she has to put something in her mouth, or have something touching her, it could be that she is hypersensitive to an aspect of that. This would add an additional layer of challenge for Anne, versus just disliking having a bug in your mouth, or eating certain things, or being gunged, or being in certain environments. Anne has also mentioned having difficulty with multitasking and struggling to move attention from one thing to another. This could cause challenges during challenges where she has to think of multiple things at once or do multiple things at once, but also it could make tasks in the camp more difficult. By being open with the others in the camp, she can reduce this somewhat because the others can know she needs clear instructions and single tasks at a time to focus on.
Anne will also likely want to ration social contact. She mentioned that if she stays at a party for hours she has to go straight to bed once home (but then finds that she has violent nightmares) or she has to spend hours decompressing. She can’t do this so easily when she is in a camp living with people, so she may well try to find ways to do this, which could be to just separate off from the others for a while at times, or to zone out from everything for a while. She is likely to want to get some space from everyone. Because she has been open with everyone about being autistic this isn’t likely to be too much of a problem, if she hadn’t been open with people this behaviour can sometimes be interpreted as aloof or shy and people would make all sorts of interpretations about what they think her behaviour means.
Anne did mention that she “might drift along happy not picking up on bad atmospheres” and that this could be an advantage of her reduced awareness of picking up on social communication. Anne spoke about not really having friends, how she didn’t really want friends and couldn’t see the point in friends. She may find she quite likes having a small circle of people who are supportive and having a shared experience. It can be a challenge to manage friends and meet friends needs and the effort it can take to maintain friendships and show interest in others. For me personally, the effort all this takes is very hard to keep up. I can go months not contacting close friends because it doesn’t cross my mind. When talking with people I can have the conversations all revolving around me and fail to ask how friends are and what they have been up to and have conversation focused around them.
I think there are as many autistic females as males, but fewer are diagnosed because people don’t recognise that their behaviours might be a sign of them being autistic. Girls are often better at masking – learning how to appear ‘typical’ – by doing things like getting others to talk for them or learning some basic behavioural responses, often these fail over a longer period. For myself personally, I explain that if you met me for a brief chat you may not realise I am autistic, but if you spend any length of time with me you start to notice cracks in my facade. I think of it a bit like the Artificial Intelligence tests where humans interact with a computer and they have to decide whether they are interacting with a computer or a human. Often the computer can convince the human for a while, but gradually they get suspicious that the answers don’t quite seem right or organic, there starts to be repetition and a limited range of responses and responses which show the computer didn’t quite get what the human was talking about.
Another challenge for females being diagnosed autistic is how society thinks about the range of how males and females should behave. A quiet, withdrawn girl often doesn’t draw as much attention as a quiet withdrawn male, internally focused or unengaged girls often have behaviour interpreted as perhaps dreamy, girls are often thought of as more emotional, so a girl struggling with anxiety isn’t necessarily looked at as it perhaps being a sign of autism.
There are signs which can be looked for which could suggest someone is autistic. Having these signs doesn’t mean someone definitely is autistic, but the more of these signs you notice the greater chance the person might be, so it could be worth looking into it more if the person is struggling. These signs can apply to males, but are more likely for females and often things which at first glance people don’t think of the girl or woman with these signs as possibly being autistic, especially when the person is perhaps masking or observably people are only noticing one or two of these. For example, I have had conversations with people where they say that I seem to be communicating fine, they don’t realise that they instigated the conversation, that the whole conversation has been about me and my interests, so although if they did realise this they might put a tick next to it, the reality is most people don’t notice to look for things like this unless they have been told to look for it.
- Limited interests or very passionate about one or a few topics/subjects
- They might have developed ways of encouraging others to do all the talking for them or doing things for them that they find difficult
- Sensory sensitivities, like struggling with certain sounds, brightness, movement, touch, taste, smells
- Only talking about what they are interested in and maybe only their side of the conversation, not so interested in others responses, and maybe socially inappropriate conversations, so talking about something which isn’t appropriate for the audience (typical people are different with parents/grandparents/friends/work colleagues/managers/strangers, etc)
- May get very anxious or emotional very quickly at times or in specific situations or circumstances or perhaps have age inappropriate ‘meltdowns’ where they suddenly become angry or react almost like a young child
- Might have OCD like behaviours, often things like ordering and organising and patterns etc
- Difficulty with making and keeping friends and struggling with understanding social non-verbal communication and difficulty copying others behaviours/fashion choices etc even when they wants to fit in. They are perhaps just mimicking and trying to copy rather than understanding the rules behind why certain behaviours are done or certain fashion choices are made
- Difficulty with social situations and things like reciprocal communication and slower at responding socially including responding to teachers or parents questions, asking questions, responding to others etc, may seem quiet, shy or aloof. They may also talk very fast and give monologues about topics of interest and may not have range to their speech, it could be quite monotonous or lacking emotional expressiveness
- May appear passive due to not knowing how to respond, so responding how they are told, or assertive when reaching what for them is a fight or flight situation where they just want to escape or to create certainty
Most of my life I was against diagnosis. I felt that I should be treated as a human being and not need a diagnosis. I should be able to say, these are the challenges I face, this is how to get the best out of me, this is who I am and how I am, and then everyone treats me with respect. But that, unfortunately isn’t life. I ended up needing to get a diagnosis. Diagnosis helps to get support and be able to help others understand as well as helping your own understanding. It also helps people realise you aren’t trying to just excuse your behaviours etc, but instead are able to say here is the explanation for my behaviours.
Society isn’t currently really set up to support autistic people. Places are busy, noisy, often chaotic. Shops and other locations are overwhelmingly bright, people don’t follow rules that they teach, people are chaotic and confusing. One driver may stop to let you cross a road, and another driver may not, sometimes at the same time! So, you don’t know whether you should walk or not. What would be easier is the drivers sticking to their rules and me sticking to my rules of crossing roads as taught as a child. Cinemas and other events play sound really loud, people rarely stick to times and to plans they have made, they run late, they make vague plans rather than specific plans, people also communicate vaguely and expect others to understand the specifics. Things one person finds easy, another finds difficult, there is so much in society which makes being a part of that society hard work and for me personally, my default setting is to be around animals, which, unlike people, don’t use multilevel communication, they are just pure, they don’t wear masks, and to be in nature where everything is calmer, slower paced and more predictable.
What are your thoughts on things I’ve said in this blog post and on Anne Hegerty being in the jungle? Let me know in the comments below.