TV presenter Paddy McGuinness and his wife Christine are due to share their family’s experience of autism in a BBC documentary.
All three of their children have been diagnosed with autism – as has Christine, 33 – and Paddy, 48, told listings magazinethat they decided to let cameras into their Cheshire home in the hope that “other families might not feel so alone or isolated”.
This ‘raw and intimate’ documentary follows the family at home and as they meet other parents, experts and people on the autism spectrum, including former Manchester United footballer Paul Scholes, who has a 16-year-old, non-verbal autistic son.
The documentary is being hailed as an important insight into the difficulties faced by autistic people.
The National Disability Authority in Ireland estimates that "between 16,379 and 23,079 adults aged 18-64 with an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and without an intellectual disability live in Ireland".
Peter Watt, managing director of national programmes at the UK's National Autistic Society, says there’s “simply not enough support or understanding for autistic people and their families” but that it’s important to show the positives too.
He says: “Almost everyone has heard of autism now, but not enough people appreciate what it’s actually like to be autistic. Not just understanding how hard life can be if you don’t have the right support, but celebrating the different perspectives, passions and skills autistic children and adults can have. Autistic campaigners are changing this.
“We sometimes hear stories of people realising they’re autistic after their child or sibling is diagnosed,” says Watt. (Christine McGuinness, for example, was diagnosed much later in life than her children Leo, Penelope and Felicity.)
“This comes from seeing similar traits in themselves, for instance, an over or under-sensitivity to light, sound or touch, challenges around communication and highly focused interests. There’s clearly a genetic element to autism and there is research that echoes this.”
Every person with autism is different but the core characteristics are similar, including under or over-sensitivity to light, sound or touch, challenges around communication and highly focused interests. Watt wants to emphasise that there’s beauty in having children with autism though.
“I love each of my children for who they are and, like other parents, wouldn’t change them for the world. As Christine McGuinness so eloquently puts it: ‘I don’t think my children need fixing, I think they’re amazing as they are.'”
Paddy and Christine McGuinness: Our Family and Autism airs tonight on BBC 1 at 9pm.
- 43% of respondents’ children were aged between six and ten years of age, with 16% reporting having another child on the spectrum.
- 42% of parents and guardians have had to wait over two years to receive an autism diagnosis for their child.
- 79% said that they were not in receipt of any support from either the Early Intervention or School Age Going Teams.
- 76% said that their autistic children were not receiving any support from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
- 40% of respondents’ autistic children have regressed during the pandemic, whether that be in their educational or interpersonal skills.