Scottish Daily Mail
This brave baring of an autistic soul leaves me deeply uneasy
Dry Weetabix, pasta, flapjacks, McDonald’s fries, bread crusts and Quavers. Ever since he was in a high chair, my son’s diet has consisted of beige food.
He does love a jam tart, but for years he refused to eat the red bit, just nibbling the pastry around the edge and discarding the gooey centre anywhere convenient.
I once flopped into bed and ended up with a half-eaten jam tart in my hair. He’d left it on the pillow.
David, who cannot communicate, not even to indicate when he’s in pain, is autistic. So too is model and reality TV star Christine McGuinness, though many of her abilities are so radically different from my son’s that it seems meaningless to apply the same label to both.
But there are similarities, as Christine revealed in Unmasking My Autism (BBC1). Her favourite foods, for instance, are also all beige.
Over 25 years, I have heard numerous theories about the attractions of pale brown cuisine. One nutritionist suggests it’s about sameness, another proposes texture, a third thinks it shows a preference for carbs . . . no one really knows.
Christine couldn’t explain, but the complexities of autism are so manifold that this one-off documentary could do little more than touch the surface of a few. Investigating why autism is under-diagnosed in girls and women, she hinted at a parallel with anorexia. Again, I’ve heard this suggested by psychiatrists — but there’s a real danger in highlighting such a big idea in a primetime documentary and then moving on, without any deeper discussion.
It could sow real confusion and anxiety in some viewers. How broad is the overlap between anorexia and autism, and is it even real?
I was also deeply uneasy at one segment, in which Christine visited King’s College London and asked about the link between autism and vulnerability to domestic and sexual violence.
‘Nine out of ten women I work with, that’s their history,’ said neurodevelopmental specialist Hannah Hayward. ‘That’s not a coincidence — history of rape, multiple rape, it’s a regular occurence that they are abused within their relationships.’ That’s too important a subject to be covered in a couple of sentences.
It triggered an emotional response in Christine, who revealed she had suffered abuse and violence in her teens. Later, alone with the camera, she said this began when she was just nine years old. ‘I used to pray every night that I wouldn’t wake up,’ she said, ‘just because it was so awful.’
There’s no doubting her bravery in talking about this. I have my doubts about the wisdom of broadcasting it, though we have to assume she was happy to do so. Still, anyone can see how fragile she is, in the aftermath of her separation from her husband, TV star Paddy. She alluded to their break-up repeatedly.
I trust the production team is giving her the support she will need, after so much soul-baring.
At least one of the four musicians playing at the royal Festival Hall on The Piano: The Final (Ch4) was also autistic. Sean, from Glasgow, said the instrument was ‘such a crystal clear way of expressing my own internal world and understanding the internal world of others’.
This has been a delightful show, packed with emotion and talent. The finale proved an anti-climax — it lacked the variety and sense of surprise that made the auditions so entertaining.
But it was wonderful to watch the audience falling rapt under the spell of blind 13-year-old Lucy, who made Debussy’s Arabesque shimmer.
There was no winner, but Lucy got the star soloist’s bouquet. Very well deserved.