Chris Packham, the BBC presenter and naturalist, has criticised the ‘charlatans and sharks’ trying to cure autism, claiming he would not have succeeded without the condition.
Packham, 56, who has enjoyed a 30-year television career anchoring programmes including The Really Wild Show and Springwatch, was diagnosed with Asperger’s in his late 40s.
In a candid new documentary, which will be broadcast next week, Packham allowed BBC camera crews to film his daily struggle with autism for the first time, and travelled to the US to visit clinics and educational programmes which claim to be able treat the condition.
The presenter said he was troubled to see that the positive sides of autism were often ignored in the desire to entirely stamp out the disorder.
“There is no doubt at all in my mind that a great number of people in the past that have led advances in our civilisation have had autistic traits,” he said.
“We have to see this breadth of neurological difference as extremely advantageous to our species. There are many aspects of Asperger’s which are enormously positive.
“I don’t like the idea of comparing autism to a cancer that requires a sort of educational chemotherapy. These charlatans and sharks circling round a vulnerable group of people throwing random science at it and then peddling it like snake oil over the fence. We found it quite disturbing.”
In the film, Packham reveals how he has always battled to communicate with humans, preferring the company of animals and choosing to live on his own in the middle of The New Forest, because it is ‘the only place I feel normal.’
He also described how he was forced to develop a range of coping mechanisms to allow him to work as a television presenter, including learning to look people in the eye, and suppressing urges to make inappropriate or unprofessional comments.
But he claimed Asperger’s also allowed him to acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world, by homing his focus on plants and animals, to the exclusion of everything else.