It seems like a tiny thing, I know, but it’s really bugging me.
The late Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who died this week aged 45, was diagnosed as autistic in 2014. It did make news at the time, but apparently not as much as I thought, because in all the articles I read through about her death and describing her life, not a single one gave this as much as a passing reference. With all the coverage she’s had over the last few days, most people I’ve mentioned this to (including autistic people) didn’t even know.
And honestly, it feels a lot like erasure – of autistic adults, of autistic women, of late-diagnosed autistic people, of autistic people in general who don’t fit the rigid stereotypes. It feels strange that, alongside a couple of other autistic women I’ve seen on social media, I seem to be the only one who’s noticed.
Of course, a late autism diagnosis is hardly the most important thing about Palmer-Tomkinson’s life, and we can’t really know how she would have wanted it to be dealt with anyway. But leaving it out across the board is particularly interesting when we consider what the media have been more than happy to leave in. More specifically, the meltdowns – here’s a more sensitive take on the Heathrow incident, written at the time by another autistic woman. Given that many of the obituaries eagerly discuss this and similar incidents in great detail, sometimes in a critical and almost mocking tone, it’s difficult to see why autism would be deemed irrelvant. And in prioritising this unwanted attention on a vulnerable moment in her life over the autism revelation given willingly in an interview, it’s incredibly difficult to frame this omission as a matter of respect. On a more positive note, several articles noted her charity work with autistic children – but still, despite the obvious relevance, leaving out the autistic adult in the picture.
In the interests of honesty, I had another quick Google before I started writing this up this morning, and I did find this clip from Good Morning Britain on the OK! website; Carrie Grant does note the autism diagnosis, and that quote is included in OK!’s write-up. It’s worth noting at this point that Grant has autistic children herself and is involved in campaigning around autism; it’s sad that this one mention has come from someone already in the wider “~autism community~” because nobody else seems to want to bring it up!
Representation matters – for combating stereotypes, and for ensuring everyone knows that they’re not alone, that there are others like them. Erasure prevents this. Stop erasing autistic people.