It’s not often that I publicly disclose my diagnosis of Aspergers online or in person, yet it would be very helpful for other people to understand how I appear and behave the way that I do. However I am unfortunately not interested in potentially becoming a role model or spokesperson for the condition. Why? I feel that I am a textbook example in certain cases. Therefore, I choose not to tell others so I can avoid judgement or worse.
Aspergers falls under the umbrella diagnostic called the autism spectrum. I like to think of it as a major key behind my performance (in creativity, in academics, in a potential workplace environment, etc.) but only when everything’s okay. This definition I came up for it doesn’t really acknowledge or explain the common behaviour of a “special” or focused interest in something. But of course I have one, myself. I’m really into Teletubbies. I think it’s prominent in my illustrations, ideas, and how I ultimately want to design my own whimsical children’s television show, but I’ll get to that a little later.
Let’s remember that I’m only 22 years old and so was within the target demographic when it first came out in 1997. Telling people about this for the first time was a major feat and afterwards my heart would race and my legs tremble as I think of some way to justify fate giving me this ridiculous topic for my autistic mind to fawn over… but my friends and family over time have helped me get over that as they’re mature enough to understand that loving something for kids doesn’t make you as stupid (for lack of a better word) or at a similar developmental level as one.
I enjoy watching Teletubbies as an adult because it’s like looking into a personal window of my early childhood, and I am naturally fascinated by its whimsy. Indeed, I still strongly remember my times with it as a child and having it on tapes. I really appreciate David Buckingham’s thoughts on the subject that he wrote in a chapter in defence of the show’s shortcomings, suggesting that the teenagers and adults at the time (sober or otherwise) were enjoying it as it’s really good at letting them get in touch with their inner child.
A Double-Edged Sword
I enjoy having this world-famous children’s show as my focused interest, but it’s not something I’m very outwardly proud of. Something about it feels extremely textbook, perhaps because it’s common for people and children like us for being equally really into Thomas the Tank Engine (it’s even singled out by the National Autistic Society). I don’t want to be a stereotype, but I fit into it anyway… which I would rather not be the case because as it’s a spectrum condition, the way it affects us all differs from one person to another. I don’t want to be just another embarrassing person on the Internet because I am passionate and draw unconventional things.
I’m not into Teletubbies because I’m autistic, basically. It just happens to be that way and same applies for all those who there who like Thomas. That is not to say that I think I am better than or am distancing myself from the more outward people who exist out there, making videos and writing wikis. I envy them, actually. I’m just aware and conscious that it’s unfortunate that expressing an autistic side of you can go either one way or another.
“Yet [the success of Teletubbies with young people and adults] could also be interpreted as a necessary process of recovering ‘childlike’ pleasure – in silly noises and games, in anarchy and absurdity – for which irony provides a convenient alibi.”
-David Buckingham, “Child-centered Television? Teletubbies and the Educational Imperative”, from the book “Small Screens”.
A Source of Inspiration
Despite all of that, I continue to develop and explore my focused interest. It truly makes me happy, as the NAS points out that it is fundamental to our wellbeing if we keep at it. This usually means that I keep a small Tinky Winky plush toy at my desk. Regarding the bigger picture, I let it fuel my creativity and so make transformative (fan-made) and original content using Teletubbies as a springboard.
One example was ‘School of Ragdoll’, a fan-comic I was producing from September 2014 to October 2015 during my first year of study at University. It explored the lives of the main characters but reinterpreted as young adult humans, set in the recent present. The comic may have enjoyed its long run but I still have plans with this idea, potentially in collaboration with a good friend I’ve made since then.
My goal is to pass down my experiences with Teletubbies as a child to another somehow. In my final year, I laid down the foundation of an original concept based on my very old drawings. I would absolutely love to take it further one day. Perhaps this could be in the near future, depending on how successful I’ll be as an artist?
- National Autistic Society, “Obsessions, repetitions, routines”, last updated October 2016
- D. Buckingham, “Small Screens: Television for Children”, published 2002
If you’d like, you can read ‘School of Ragdoll’ from the beginning here.