BBC Panorama and autism: identifying the dots, but who is connecting them?

I don’t often watch BBC Panorama, however recently a few of their documentaries caught my eye ,as they either relate to my work, my lived experience or both. The 3 Panorama documentaries in particular I’m referring to here are

  • Mental Health: Young lives in Crisis.
  • Undercover Hospital: Patients at risk.
  • Why kids miss school.

Autistic people (or close to someone who is autistic) are unlikely to be surprised that young autistic people featured heavily in these documentaries addressing the mental health crisis, abuse in psychiatric wards and children unable to attend school. Mental health and school related issues are two of the biggest issues among autistic people. They almost always come up when I speak with other autistic people about the injustices we’ve experienced in our lives.

Although it’s not clear if it was intentional, I do find it interesting that Panorama have released all documentaries within such a short space of time (about 2 weeks). Is wider society catching on to the issues actually autistic people face far more than our more typically inclined peers? perhaps. However, my bigger concern is if the impact of these documentaries will not lead to meaningful change.

It is the same conversations many of us have been having for years being thrown in the limelight. But was it just for 1 hours entertainment? Or to finally quash down on the harmful practises we have been subjected to for decades. We are in desperate need for alternative solutions to what the current system offers, but I worry that the making of these documentaries won’t lead to that, but instead, society just pitying us in the face of injustice and then moves on (like it usually does).

Many young autistic people’s trauma and most vulnerable moments were broadcasted for these documentaries. It’s not clear as a viewer if they all consented for their stories to be told in the way they were. There are potentially major ethical issues here, and there is the possibility that people were exposed without their consent with little to no compensation too. Which makes it even worse if these conversations do not lead to something better.

So although autistic people’s struggles are coming into the mainstream conversations, will anything actually change this time? Will more people connect these dots together to find better alternatives?

I’m skeptical, but I hope time proves me wrong on this one!

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