Anne Hegerty: Living with Asperger’s
Star of television quiz show, The Chase, Anne Hegerty has been widely praised for opening up and discussing her Asperger’s. Currently appearing on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, the 60-year-old has spoken frankly about her life with Asperger’s – inspiring other people and leading to the subject trending on social media.
Asperger’s is a condition on the autism spectrum disorder and can affect a person’s communication, social interaction, interests and behaviour. It was formally identified by British psychiatrist Lorna Wing in the 1980s and named after Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger, who wrote a study on the condition in 1944.
People with Asperger’s see, hear and feel the world differently. They are often of above average intelligence but may find it challenging to understand and process language. It’s a condition that they have for life and there isn’t a “cure” but some people feel their Asperger’s is an integral part of their identity and wouldn’t wish to change anything.
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Living with Asperger’s
For Hegerty, who was diagnosed relatively late in life at 45, living with Asperger’s hasn’t always been easy. Born in 1958 in Westminster, she revealed that although she was okay at maintaining friendships, she had social anxiety. Although she may come across as a bubbly person, she prefers being alone, rather than with a lot of people.
These feelings of stress and anxiety had been with her all her life, although they weren’t explained until she explored how she felt as an adult. Her decision to go into the reality show, where she was surrounded 24/7 by camp-mates for the duration of her stay in the jungle, was lauded as particularly brave under the circumstances.
Hegerty is highly intelligent, as has been proven by her role as “The Governess” on The Chase, where she tries to outwit contestants (often succeeding) in the popular general knowledge quiz show. She worked as a regional newspaper journalist in her youth, on the South Wales Argus in Newport – as a news reporter and feature writer.
She went on to find fame on The Chase in 2010 and has become a celebrity, thanks to her “schoolmistress” type attitude, with more than a sprinkling of humour. In fact, she said her character on the show was originally going to be called “The Headmistress”, but at rehearsals, show host Bradley Walsh would jokingly call her “The Governess” and the name stuck.
Hegerty said she had never tried to keep her Asperger’s a secret, but prior to her rise to fame on The Chase, no-one had been interested in hearing about it – and she said it wasn’t something she would drop into the conversation when meeting new friends.
She used to turn to the Aspire charity, because although not a specific charity for people on the autism spectrum, it was a place where she could chat freely about her Asperger’s. She also contacted the National Autistic Society, explaining, “It’s just good to know that you’re not alone.”
She admitted to having no idea where she would be, or what job she would have, if The Chase hadn’t taken off in such a big way, adding there should be more advice out there for people with Asperger’s, in particular when looking for work.
Viewers of I’m a Celebrity were moved when Hegerty opened up to actress Rita Simons, a former EastEnders star, while they chatted in the camp. She revealed the launch of the show had unsettled her, admitting to camp-mates she was close to saying she couldn’t do it.
Living in the jungle camp on basic rations, sleeping on mats on the ground and completing tasks such as eating insects to earn food and treats, were the mainstays of her day-to-day existence. She revealed how she had to visualise herself fully completing any tasks before physically tackling them, or she may not be able to do them.
She says that she is confident and happy to talk about her condition – which has led to a massive, positive reaction on social media. Hegerty is raising awareness of the condition, while showing there are no boundaries to what someone with Asperger’s can achieve in life.
On Twitter, people with autism have commented that Hegerty is an “amazing person” who’s doing “revolutionary things” for people with autism. One boy’s mum posted an open letter on Twitter that her 11-year-old son had written to Hegerty. He explains how he has autism and after watching her in the jungle, he thinks she’s “very brave”.
He writes, “Sometimes, people are mean to me because I am autistic, but watching you makes me see that other people can have autism too and maybe I can have a cool job like you when I am older.”
Hegerty’s camp-mates in the jungle have been praised for their reaction to her admission about her Asperger’s. She told the cameras they were all “nice and sympathetic” towards her because she had felt “overwhelmed” at all the things she had to do, admitting she had never been good at multi-tasking.
Since finding success on The Chase, the star has appeared on other TV quiz shows including Mastermind, Are You an Egghead and Brain of Britain. She has also starred in Christmas pantomimes, including Jack and the Beanstalk in Portsmouth in 2016 and Aladdin in Torquay in 2017.
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