Florence Leslie in interview

When I was diagnosed with autism in 2016, I would trawl through Google late into the night. There would be resources for boys, resources for the parents of boys, reviews of television dramas about raising autistic boys with resources for boys in addendum. There were no stories that reflected my own. 

Today, on the front page of the internet, there is Anne Hegerty.

Many people are quick to decry the manufactured nature of reality television, either because the cast follow emotional cues from the production team or because vulnerable viewers can be influenced by the characters. But portals into other people’s lives can also act as a catharsis. 

More men are currently diagnosed with autism than women. Various studies suggest that the ratio of autism diagnosis between men and women ranges from 2:1 and 16:1.  Minutes after sharing the story of her late autism diagnosis on I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here, the National Autistic Society’s website overloaded from traffic and the twitter hashtag filled with celebration from the community.

Despite tireless campaigns to normalise the experiences of people with a disability, in reality, it can still be awkward to open up about autism in an everyday setting for fear of judgement or prejudice. By choosing to highlight Anne’s bravery and vulnerability on national television, in a few short minutes, the producers have created a platform that validates the experiences of people who have struggled to get an autism diagnosis and highlighted how medical professionals can often fail to spot autism in women and girls. This will encourage people to find out more about autism, seek professional guidance for the first time, or, with stories like my own, foster the courage for women to revisit medical professionals and demand to be taken seriously.  

When reality television is at its most compelling, it allows people to empathise with the characters as if they were ourselves. I was particularly moved when Anne opened up about how she can find it hard to deal with change and the other celebrities reacted with curiosity rather than shutting the conversation down. I, too, am a crier (happy, stressed, stirring pop ballad) and people often find this bewildering when the clouds have passed as it’s as if it never rained at all. Last night, Anne not only set the stage for autistic representation, but also a model for compassion. 

I am looking forward to watching Anne overcome the challenges of the Jungle over the next few weeks and crucially, the hundreds of women recognising Anne in themselves. 

Anne Hegerty in the 'I'm a Celebrity' jungle