Chris Packham reveals the reality of living with Asperger’s – and his “romantic plan” to be reunited with his dogs after he dies
The Springwatch presenter opens up ahead of a new BBC documentary on living with autism
Sitting at home in his New Forest cottage, Chris Packham is talking very fast, and getting faster. The words are rattling out as rapidly as his mental assembly line can deliver them – but not once does his fluency falter.
“I’m anything but normal,” he agrees, staring at the floor. “I experience the world in hyper-reality. Sensory overload is a constant distraction. I’ve just been for a walk in the woods, and it was very different for me than it would be for you – the sights, the smells, the sounds.” He frowns, and glances at his partner, 41-year-old Charlotte Corney. “But we need to go to the supermarket later, and I’ll do anything to get out of it because supermarkets are a swamping of the senses. The lighting is hideous, it’s crowded, and the complex of smells is overwhelming.
“Bookshops are similar. I love books, but I hate bookshops – all the colours, the shapes, the geometry, books all over the tables – oh my God. I have lots of books, but I don’t like seeing their spines because my visual perception is hugely sensitive. Every item in my home relates spatially to every other item, via the vectors co-joining everything.” He points around the room at the invisible vectors. Then he fleetingly makes eye contact for the first time since the interview began, and smiles.
Like 700,000 or so others in the UK, Chris Packham is autistic – he has a developmental disability affecting how he relates to other people, and also how he experiences the world. Specifically he has Asperger’s syndrome, so he doesn’t have the learning difficulties or problems with speech that many autistic people have. The form Asperger’s takes varies, but difficulties can include understanding body language; interpreting the thoughts and feelings of others; relating to the non-literal use of language, such as jokes or irony; anxiety if familiar routines aren’t adhered to; being overpowered by visual, auditory or tactile stimuli; and having restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour. The cause isn’t known, and neither can Asperger’s be cured.