On set shot from EastEnders

Tonight’s episode of EastEnders saw the start of a new storyline for the Carter family, which follows Linda, Mick and their young son Ollie on their autism diagnosis journey. We’re really pleased we can now announce that, for the last six months, our charity has been working with the script team at EastEnders on this important story.

Our Director of External Affairs, Jane Harris, said: “We were absolutely delighted when EastEnders contacted us to say that they were planning to introduce an autistic character into the show. We jumped at the chance to be involved with the storyline because we recognised that it was a fantastic opportunity to help millions of viewers understand more about autism.

"There are over 700,000 autistic people in the UK and most people know someone who is autistic, whether it's a friend, classmate, colleague or family member. Yet only 16% of autistic people and their families feel the public understand autism and half of autistic people sometimes don’t leave the house because they’re afraid the public won’t understand them. So it's hugely encouraging to see more TV drama writers representing autistic characters in their work.

“Very often children on the autism spectrum and their parents lose friends after a diagnosis because they don’t understand the challenges they’re facing. Too many families end up in exhausting fights with councils and the NHS to get the right support for their children. We hope that by following Ollie and his parents' autism journey, viewers might understand a little bit more about the experiences of autistic children and their families.

Some of the biggest leaps forward in understanding of autism have happened because of primetime TV shows like EastEnders, and we hope that eventually at least 1 in 100 characters will be autistic to reflect the real world.

Jon Sen, EastEnders Executive Producer, said:EastEnders has a history of doing ground-breaking stories that resonate with the nation. When Mick and Linda start to worry about Ollie’s behaviour, they face various challenges as they search for the answers necessary to help their son. EastEnders has been privileged to work closely with the National Autistic Society to accurately depict the pressure and struggles that can be felt by parents as they begin this journey.”

The National Autistic Society decided a few years ago that we should put time and effort into working directly with film and TV production teams, particularly with companies developing factual or drama shows featuring autistic people for TV. These shows reach millions of people in a way our charity can’t do on its own, and we felt it was worth getting involved so we can do all we can to ensure they portray autism as accurately as possible.

The National Autistic Society has been consulted on lots of other amazing programmes, including our ambassador Chris Packham’s BAFTA nominated documentary Asperger’s and Me, BBC One’s long running drama series The A Word, BBC Two’s Employable Me and Channel 4’s Autistic Gardener and Are You Autistic?

In our experience, drama and documentary film makers really want to get things right, and are extremely keen to learn more from autistic people about their experiences and how they see the world. We hope that the range of representations of autism on our screens will continue to grow.

Watch our film to find out more about autism.

Watch our film