Love Island's Niall AslamPopular Love Island contestant, Niall Aslam, has revealed his autism diagnosis in a heartfelt post on his Instagram. Following the news, Niall has had an outpouring of support from the public. Below, we share a blog from Florence, exploring what this means for autistic people like her.

If, like me, you enjoy fruity cocktails and staying inside, then you’ll watch a lot of reality television. I have approached this series of Love Island with an anthropological reverence absent in my friends. As an autistic person, reality television is a safe place to dissect behaviour that often eludes me and rebuild it into a narrative that makes sense. Clear alliances and betrayals provide effective theatre to interpret people’s true intentions, with the contestants on television shows referred to as ‘the cast’. Stereotypes suggest we are unengaged with our surroundings, however, autistic people often turn to television scripts to rehearse behaviour and recognise ourselves in a world that can be isolating. I watch because I am a person, interested in people, but don’t always know how to connect with them.

Growing up, a phrase I often heard when I didn’t react the same way as the people around me was 'play the game'. With record viewing figures, reality dating competitions like Love Island place primary value on social acceptance and desirability. The show depicts our fantastical counterparts, people with tanned, athletic bodies, who enjoy group exercise and serve flirty retorts like a friendly tennis match.

Although the show is engineered for viewers to idolise the contestants’ lifestyles, I immediately identified with Niall when he began to compare himself with those around him and expressed his fatigue to the cameras.

‘Coming out’ as autistic 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.” When autistic people are publically desexualised and stripped of our autonomy in the media, it leaves us reconstructing our identities and chasing unobtainable ideals. This is dangerous. Repressing autistic traits is often praised by society, however the constant pressure of performance is exhausting and has catastrophic consequences for 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, the fantasy has helped many autistic people recognise themselves when we are often absent in media representation. I received my diagnosis when I was 21, after the identity I constructed to protect myself fell apart. I no longer recognised myself after chasing an elusive ideal. 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 world that’s trying its best to assimilate us, and empowered us to examine the reality that’s deeper than the fantasy some of us are still trapped in.

Love Island contestant reveals autism diagnosis