Top Gear presenter Paddy McGuiness and wife Christine have invited the cameras into their lives to show the reality of living with children who are autistic in a new BBC One documentary.
The remarkable discovery during filming of Paddy and Christine McGuiness: Our Family and Autism (Wednesday, Dec 1) was that as well as children Leo, Penelope and Felicity, Christine herself was also diagnosed as a lifelong sufferer of the condition.
The diagnosis hasn’t changed their relationship, but at least now they can now explain some of her previously inexplicable behaviour.
Paddy had to pretend he was buying Christmas presents last week when in fact he was going out to buy some furniture for the house.
“We’re in the middle of house renovations at the moment and we’ve got no furniture, and Christine would happily leave it that way,” he told The Telegraph.
“I like things very plain and simple,” confirmed Christine, who will remove pictures and cushions from hotel rooms she stays in when she’s on her own (“I always knew not to do it when I was with Patrick”).
“But the diagnosis has also helped me to understand that I need to work to compromise, too,” she added.
Autism is a broad term that covers a range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviour, speech and non-verbal communication.
Boys tend to show it by being excitable or making repetitive noises (called ‘stimming’) while autistic girls show it by imitating others, to blend in, a behaviour known as ‘masking’.
“It’s my family, and I had no idea. And now I see it all the time,” said Paddy.
“What I couldn’t believe is that my own daughter who I love to bits has been doing it with me. When it got explained to me, I thought ‘How have I not noticed this?’”
As well as their autistism, the documentary investigates Paddy’s diagnosis with clinical depression at a time when his life and career appeared to be so successful.
His breakthrough was realising that he and his family weren’t alone. “I used to think, ‘Thank God’. Everything feels like you’re on your own but there’s a bigger community out there and it makes you feel better.”
One of those people is former England and Manchester United footballer Paul Scholes, whose teenage son is autistic.
“I think it was really good for Patrick to sit and talk to Paul,” said Christine. “When you sit with someone in a similar situation, there’s no judgment. That’s what we want with the documentary – not just to raise awareness but for people to understand autism. A lot of people have heard about it but not many people understand it. I still think we’ve got a long way to go with that. And the doc will help.”
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