Graphic of illustration from the TV show 'Pablo' in the spectrum, next to text

Sumita Majumdar is an autistic writer and the voice of Wren on CBeebies’ Pablo, a television show featuring a five year old autistic boy who draws friends who come to life with magic crayons. Sumita told us about bringing her own experiences to Pablo, and why it’s so important to have autistic people working on creative projects about autism...

As well as writing for Pablo, you also voice the character, Wren. Did you bring any of your own experience to the character?

The characters had been designed before I became involved with the show, although I felt that they developed a lot through the writing process. The more stories we wrote, the more we learned about the characters. I often found myself expressing my own feelings and reactions, or thinking: ‘Wren wouldn’t say that, she’d say this’ based on my own experiences - though I did this with the other characters, too. Wren is sensitive to the emotional energy of a situation, and my own experience of over-empathising may have enhanced this.

Learning Wren’s character helped me to understand and embrace self-stimulatory behaviours such as hand flapping. Having masked, mimicked and repressed all my life, it was freeing to think about the purpose and effect of something like hand-flapping. For me, it’s a way of outputting excited or anxious energy. Allowing this urge to express itself through my body without my mind constantly focusing on trying to repress it enables me to use my energy much more positively and efficiently.

There are lots of autistic staff working on Pablo. Why do you think this is important?

It is important that a show representing autism has a direct influence from autistic people, to ensure its accuracy in portrayal. The stories are written from Pablo’s perspective and Pablo is autistic, so every story needed to be from autistic people’s personal experiences. Of course, autism is not the same for every autistic person, and everyone on the Pablo team is very different - yet we can all relate to each other’s scripts. With so many misconceptions in the media, and in the world, about autism over the years, autistic people must be encouraged to participate in, and lead, the conversations around autism. Autistic involvement in autism-related projects is not just important, but essential. If something is about us and is going to have an impact on us, we need to be allowed to share our own voices, so we can empower other people to share theirs.

What has the impact of Pablo been?

Pablo encourages autism understanding and acceptance around the world. It has helped young children to explore the way that they think and understand their own behaviour as well as other people’s behaviour. It has helped autistic people to feel represented, and has helped parents of autistic people to gain an insight to what might be going through their child’s mind, as each story is based from real feelings. It has encouraged conversations not only about autism, but about the different ways in which people think and experience the world, which for me is essential to understanding neurodiversity.

It deconstructs some of the misconceptions about autism, and celebrates the power of creativity and imagination.

Pablo has an autistic writing team and an autistic voice cast, which I hope has an impact on employers as well as autistic people, in terms of autistic people being valued and supported for their skills. Pablo shows what can happen when autistic people are accepted and appreciated, not in spite of their autism, but because of it, or as well as it. I knew I could express myself honestly, which meant I could put my energy towards the work more efficiently and perform better.

Do you think the public understand autism?

Some people think that they understand autism when they understand their own perspective of autism, and others feel that they don’t understand autism when they might have more understanding than someone who thinks that they do. I don’t know if autism can ever be something that is entirely ‘understood’, because its presentation is constantly morphing due to society constantly morphing. I feel that the expansive diagnostic criteria won’t ever be static, because reactions are based on social elements which continue to change, hopefully towards a more positive outcome each time. I do think that the public understanding of autism has increased a lot. I definitely wish there was this kind of awareness and understanding when I was a child… although I’m also aware that there is still a long way to go.

Do you have any other projects coming up?

At the moment, I’m in the middle of studying an MSc in Creative Arts in Mental Health. This year I hope to be busy with various creative projects, while continuing to share ‘Pablo’ as a tool for understanding and acceptance. I feel there is still a lot to be shared with Pablo, I am very excited for Series 2 to be out in the world! I am lucky in that all of my interests are intertwining at the moment. There aren’t really boundaries between my studies, my work and my personal projects, which is great - all of the energy is one big sparkly magnetic pool of twisty light… Some people prefer to have separation between work-mode and personal-mode, but for me, it's one of the positives of being autistic. If I’m passionate about something, I enjoy letting it entirely immerse me.