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Visit to Loft Studios for the filming of the BBC Horizon programme

“Inside the mind of the autistic person”

By Paul Grubb

On the 10th of January, I travelled on the 09:11 train from Swindon to Paddington to take part in filming for the BBC’s Horizon documentary on Autism. I was also accompanied by my younger sister, Chloe, and Sally Grubb (who happens to be our mum and whose birthday it was!).

After a short drive from Paddington with a rather pessimistic taxi driver, we arrived at Loft Studios where we were escorted to studio number 2, which contained a main breakout area upstairs and some back rooms, allowing for quiet time away from others, if needed.

There was quite a lot of ‘hanging around’ before and in between filming activities, so after assembling my iPad (borrowed from my wife, complete with embarrassing floral cover), a picture perfect moment was had!

P1030401First row left to right: Paul Grubb and Michelle (a fellow participant)
Second row left to right: Chloe Grubb and Uta Frith

You will see me, my sister Chloe and Michelle (fellow participant with AS), standing alongside German born psychologist, Uta Frith. Uta is an expert and somewhat of a celebrity in the field of autism; she is well known for her book entitled “Autism: Explaining the Enigma” published in 1989.

I liked Uta and felt she was a really pleasant, down to earth lady and really made you feel like you were interesting. Although she’s probably met countless autistic individuals throughout her career and studies, she always listened and made you feel like your opinions were valued and original. She obviously keeps abreast with what is going on in the world as she actually spoke with me about video games and where they might go in terms of social engineering/empathy.

As well as individuals with autism, there were a number of ‘neurotypical’ people, who were also taking part in the programme.

Peter Walton

One interesting man was former professional football referee Peter Walton, who now lives in New York and manages referees in North America. He still gets to rub shoulders with top soccer players and managers past and present. Peter was also very easy to talk to and had some interesting tales to tell during filming – including the one where he held up an ‘invisible’ yellow card during an Everton/Birmingham match, after leaving his real cards in the dressing room!

For the first activity of the day, we were sent individually to one of the back rooms, where Francesca Happé, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at King’s College London, analysed our responses to 3 short animations. The animations centred on a red triangle and a blue triangle, and you had to describe what you saw in each of the animations. Naturally each participant gave different answers, but they were told there was no right or wrong answer.

Francesca Happé
Francesca Happé

A lot of time was spent hanging around which bothered a lot of people, but I managed to keep myself amused with videos on the iPad – which almost turned into a group activity in itself! I was playing episode 2 of the latest season of Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe; people were filming my reactions to different clips, but other people wanted to see what it was about, so I explained the concept of the show to them. Some BBC staff showed their lighter side and admitted to watching the show and Uta said she would also start watching it, who says psychologists don’t have fun?!

On two occasions all participants had to gather for a group photoshoot, which was quite an arduous process as we had to remain still and hold poses for a rather long time. After lunch and a second photo shoot, another waiting game ensued as participants rotated through the 2nd activity. For this activity Uta was present in an upstairs room in studio number 1 where there were four large ‘Where’s Wally?’ pictures on easels, and as the reference suggests, we had to find Wally in each of the pictures with as few clues as possible.

As soon as I came into the room Uta started talking with me to allay any anxieties and asked if I was familiar with the nature of the activity. Of course I explained that I was familiar and in fact, I told Uta I remembered solving the 2nd picture puzzle initially in 1991 when I was 8! No sooner had I mentioned this, I found Wally in seconds and stated he was right bang in the centre of the image, placing my finger over his location.

In fact I was so quick with the second picture that they had to film it again! I only had clues on the 3rd and 4th pictures and it seemed most other participants had the same experience so I didn’t lose sleep over this momentary lapse.

My penultimate activity was a shape and space test facilitated by Francesca Happé using an app for the Microsoft Surface tablet to draw a shape presented to you, choosing the correct lines to draw over on each drawing grid. In this activity I struggled a little, and in terms of score it was a clear 1 out of 3 for me, but I was only out by one line on the other two shapes.

At the end of the day we had an interview as a family with the production team and some considerable conversation time with Uta as her taxi was late; she was full of praise for our efforts.

On the way back to the station we had a pleasant ride with a good natured driver and on arrival at the station we had to dash to make the 7pm train back to Swindon with seconds to spare! Overcrowding on the way back meant there were no seats for us, but we had some entertainment in the form of a boozy ex-policeman getting friendly with a law student and some other youth!

I have good memories of the day and I felt privileged to have met Uta and Francesca and the other participants.