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Many of the celebrities that enter the I’m A Celebrity jungle become the topic of conversation for camp romances or making amusing faces as they squirm their way through bugs for dinner, but this year there’s one contestant who’s been making headlines for possibly the best reason yet.
Anne Hegerty – also known as ‘The Governess’ on ITV quiz show The Chase – has been praised by viewers for opening up about her experience with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that can affect how people perceive the world and interact with others, which she was diagnosed with in 2003 at the age of 45.
“I didn’t raise the autism issue. It’s not like, ‘I want you to know I have this interesting disability that you have to accommodate,'” Hegerty told fellow I’m A Celebrity contestant, actress Rita Simons.
“If someone else raises it then I make it quite clear that I’m happy to talk about it.”
On Sunday’s launch show, she had also told her fellow campmates that she was struggling with her time on the show.
“I’m just really, really close to saying I can’t do this,” she said, having said in a pre-I’m A Celeb interview that she’s had to learn about what she ‘can and can’t cope with’.
While every person on the autistic spectrum is different, many can experience an oversensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours, or find challenges like change or social situations a particular difficulty.
According to the National Autistic Society, more than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, including an estimated 700,000 people in the UK – and the charity has also seen a spike in calls following Hergerty’s appearance on the show.
Anne Hegerty is known as ‘The Governess’ on ITV quiz show The Chase. Credit: ITV
Carol Povey, Director of the National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said: “An autism diagnosis can be life changing. It can explain years of feeling different and help unlock educational and employment support. Without a diagnosis autistic people will go through their lives unable to understand who they are and why they seem to struggle with things others seem to take for granted.
“Gender should never be a barrier to a diagnosis and getting the right support. To make this a reality, we need more research into the ways autism can manifest among different groups of people, and more openly autistic women like Anne Hegerty using their public profile to share their experiences.
“The numbers of enquiries to our helpline about getting a diagnosis have increased since the new series of I’m a Celebrity aired. By talking so frankly about her diagnosis on a primetime TV show, Anne is helping to create a society that works better for autistic people and their families.”
Viewers have had nothing but admiration for Hegerty – including an 11-year-old boy with autism called Joseph, who wrote a letter to the star to thank her for being such an inspiration.
Povey continued: “We’ve loved seeing the outpouring of support for Anne Hegerty. We hope this will be the start of better representation of autistic women in the media and help everyone understand the diversity of autism.
“It’s unlikely most people will be covered in slime and bugs in everyday life but I’m A Celebrity highlights how small and unexpected changes can be overwhelming and distressing for many autistic people.
“There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK. But public understanding of autism is nowhere near as good as it should be – especially the often unique experiences of autistic women and girls.
“Anne should be incredibly proud of what she has already achieved on I’m A Celebrity. By talking about her diagnosis so openly, she is raising awareness of autism and bringing the discussion to a mainstream audience.”
Bravo, Hegerty. That’s the ultimate Queen of the Jungle material, right there…