No one should have to go through the difficulties I encountered

Chris Packham said his scars of being misunderstood as a child are still tattooed on his psyche, as he uses his voice on television to shed light on how the autistic mind works.

In the two-part series for BBC Two, entitled Inside Our Autistic Minds, the presenter and environmental activist work with autistic people who are each at an important point in their lives, observing and learning about the ways they feel and interact with the world .

The 61-year-old will also introduce them to people who may be able to answer questions about their specific experiences.

Wild Card campaign

Environmentalist Chris Packham (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Speaking of his involvement in the project, which stems from his 2017 documentary Asperger’s And Me, Packham said: “I don’t want anyone else to have to go through some of the difficulties I faced myself.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have a small voice through my work in television and I think I should do something positive with it.

“The autistic community hasn’t had a voice or ability to articulate some of its issues for too long, so if I can contribute to that, that’s important.”

Packham was diagnosed at the age of 40 with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that can affect social interaction.

The naturalist, who has presented the BBC’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch programmes, has previously spoken about how his diagnosis helped him explain feelings of isolation and depression he suffered as a young man when autism “wasn’t widely known”.

spring watch

The Springwatch team, Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan, Gillian Burke and Iolo Williams (Jo Charlesworth/BBC/PA)

He said: “I was surprised by the way my peers suddenly started reacting to me when I was about 11 or 12 and then it intensified quite quickly.

“I was very confused at first, then I was very frustrated because I couldn’t understand them, couldn’t communicate with them, couldn’t fit in with them.

“I got used to my own business pretty quickly, and I lived in a world-of-one for about 15 years, because even if I was… in a public place or school, I really wasn’t there. I just locked myself in because that was the only place I felt safe.

“I had two safe places: I had my bedroom, I had complete control over my environment, and then I had the fields and the woods where no other people were.

“So I went there because I thought that’s where everything that fascinated me lived. But I now recognize that I also went there where I could be myself, there was no one to compare myself to.

Manchester United v Nottingham Forest – Carabao Cup – Semi Final – 2nd Leg – Old Trafford

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United (Martin Rickett/PA)

Packham spoke about the role of social media in both positive and negative impacts on society.

He said: “One of the most disappointing things for me is when I see people with huge voices and they don’t use it for good, but among them are the Marcus Rashfords, who are stepping up and doing brilliant things for communities that are otherwise unattainable.

“On the other hand, when I went to my bedroom in the 1970s and closed the door, there was no way to reach me. I found security, I was in a space that I thought I could just continue to exist.

“But now that bedroom has been invaded by social media because those kids will have their phones and they will have access to those people who misunderstand them.

“The cruelty of children…I admire the way they are fearless and see things with great clarity and speak their mind, but if they orchestrate that to be cruel then it is devastating and leaves a scar that will last a lifetime lasts a long time.

Investitures in Buckingham Palace

Chris Packham with his CBE (Yui Mok/PA)

“Thanks to my visual memory, I can see some of the most horrifying things other young people said to me when I was a kid, and they still hurt now, meaning they carried a burden.

“They tattooed something unpleasant in my psyche, which will still affect me now.”

Packham said the BBC documentary is a plea for greater understanding of autism in society.

“Autistic people have a tremendous amount to offer in times of crisis – sometimes clear thinking, clear speaking can be hugely helpful,” he said.

“When I think of some of the campaigners I work with, they are or have characteristics of autism, with an exacerbated sense of injustice and a deep-seated desire to tell the absolute truth.

“That’s important in this day and age because there are a lot of lies and nonsense that are drowning us all.”

Packham said he hoped TV would play a candid role in “expanding the conversation” around autism.

He added: “I’m a big fan of the BBC and what it’s trying to achieve, but this is the very best of public service broadcasting and this serves a segment of the public that hasn’t been well served before.

“So for once I’m relatively happy with what we’ve been able to achieve.”

Inside Our Autistic Mind airs on BBC Two on February 14.

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