Chris Packham health latest: Star recalls living with Asperger's syndrome as a child

6 mins read


TV naturalist Chris Packham soaked up the sights and sounds of Hampshire countryside in his new BBC Two show The Walk That Made Me. The naturalist did what he does best, drawing our attention to the beauty of the countryside. However, Chris used to spend his childhood in this part of the world and the walk down memory lane evoked poignant memories of living with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome.

He described how the death of his dog proved a particular “bleak” moment in his life that made him question everything.

Chris added that “autism-assistance dogs” are now a “common thing”.

This reflects the value of the friendships that people strike up with their dogs, he noted.

Ahead of the show, said he had not intended to speak so openly about his memories of living with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and experiencing suicidal thoughts.

“I absolutely loathe the idea that as that programme goes out, there will be teenagers in their bedroom reading Baudelaire and getting really depressed and not seeing a tunnel, let alone the light at the end of it,” he said to the BBC.

He said the recollections of his own childhood “just flowed out”.

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“I read about people who were taking their lives after exposure to things on social media. I could have done that,” he said.

What is Asperger’s syndrome?

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people.

According to the NHS, autistic people may:

  • Find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
  • Find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
  • Find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
  • Get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
  • Take longer to understand information
  • Do or think the same things over and over.
  • Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease.

As the NHS explains, it means your brain works in a different way from other people.

“It’s something you’re born with or first appears when you’re very young.”

According to Bupa, doctors use the term autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to include both autism and Asperger’s syndrome because both conditions are now seen as parts of one spectrum.

Can it be treated?

While there isn’t a cure for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there are ways to manage the symptoms and behaviours it leads to.

“What works best for you or your child will depend on how they’re affected by ASD and the impact it has on day-to-day life,” explains Bupa.

If your child has ASD, you may be offered the following:

  • A course or programme for parents that helps you to understand ASD, manage your child’s behaviour and give them the right support. There’s also a range of therapies to help children develop positive behaviour or adapt their behaviour.
  • Play activities, which may help your child with their communication and social skills.
  • Support to make physical changes to your home and school to make it more manageable for your child, such as changes to lighting or reducing the amount of noise.
  • Help to develop ways to prevent or manage challenging behaviour, including having structure and routines and managing times of change.
  • Treatments to manage other health problems and to help with any difficulties with sleeping and eating.
  • Extra help and support at school.
  • Therapies for specific problems such as speech and language therapy, physiotherapy to improve movement and coordination, and occupational therapy to develop daily living skills.
  • A cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) programme if your child also has anxiety.

According to Bupa, medicines can sometimes help to ease the more severe symptoms of ASD.

“For example, if your child has specific challenging behaviour or severe sleep problems, their specialist may prescribe medicines.”

The health body adds: “Medicines are usually only considered if other approaches haven’t worked. Ask your doctor for more information.”



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