Love Island's Niall Aslam

 

If, like me, you enjoy sitting inside on a warm evening, then you’ll watch Love Island.

I have approached this series of Love Island with an anthropological reverence absent in my friends. Stereotypes suggest that autistic people are unengaged with our surroundings, however, many autistic people turn to television to rehearse behaviour and recognise ourselves in a world that can be isolating. I watch because I am interested in people, but don’t always know how to connect with them.

Opening up about his autism diagnosis after leaving the villa early, Niall confesses in a celebrated Instagram post, “I always felt that people didn’t understand me, yet I was afraid to reveal my true scales as I did not want the label or stigma attached [to autism]… But now I think it is important that I come forward, not only so that I can finally be honest with myself and to those around me, but also so that other individuals in my position can embrace their true colours.”

Autistic people often change their own behaviour to fit in with the people around them. This constant pressure of performance can negatively impact autistic people’s mental health. Statistics on the National Autistic Society website suggest that 40% of autistic people have symptoms of at least one anxiety disorder compared with up to 15% in the general population.

Although Love Island has been increasingly criticised in the press for representing surface, unobtainable standards, maintaining a fantasy has helped many autistic people recognise patterns of behaviour within their own lives. I received my diagnosis when I was 21. Like Niall’s story, I could no longer continue performing a version of myself that I thought people wanted to see. By stating that he just wants to be himself on the most watched television show in the UK, Niall has done what autistic people do best: stood out in a society that often seems like it’s trying it’s best to hide our true personalities and empowered us to examine a deeper reality than the fantasy some of us are living.