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Too Much Information (TMI) is a campaign delivered by The National Autistic Society to increase public understanding of the five core features of autism and to give people an understanding of what actions they can take to help autistic people.

Those five core features are:

  • anxiety in social situations
  • anxiety with unexpected changes
  • sensory overload
  • meltdowns
  • processing time

Public awareness of autism

In 2015, we carried out a YouGov poll and found that 99.5% of people in the UK had heard of autism. This means that, more or less, we're all aware of autism: 'autism awareness' has arrived.

However, this doesn't mean the public understand autism. 73% of autistic people and 60% of their families told us that they change their own behaviour to reduce the chance of intolerance from the public. Our TMI campaign has been designed to allow the public to find out how they can change their behaviour and help open up the world to autistic people.

Autistic people and their families tell us that increasing public understanding of autism is the most important thing The National Autistic Society should be doing (alongside improving social care, education and access to diagnosis).

Having focused on shopping centres, in the workplace and school, the next place we wanted to focus our attention on was public transport. Nine out of ten autistic people say unexpected changes, like delays, diversions and cancellations, can make them feel anxious.

The star of our film Saskia’s own experience closely parallels that of the character of our film. All our films have starred autistic people. For Diverted, we held open auditions for autistic actors for the starring role. Saskia can only depict her aspect of autism – but throughout the campaign we will be sharing the stories and experiences of a wide range of autistic people.

We always consult with autistic people on our campaign ideas and messages at every stage. The campaign is explicitly designed to reach the general public, but we always make sure that autistic people agree with anything we say or show.

young woman looking concerned

TMI was always designed to be three year campaign. We calculated that it would take at least three years to have a real impact on people’s levels of understanding. And, most importantly, on the experience of autistic people and their families.

We know the campaign has had a real impact, with our films going viral and reaching millions of people – nearly 60 million saw our first film.

We’ve found that people do recognise and feel more understanding towards autistic behaviour. It’s hard to measure impact on people’s behaviour, but our public polling showed a significant shift in people’s understanding of people having a meltdown – people were less judgemental.

Autistic people and their families consistently rate increasing public understanding as one of their top priorities. Our research for the campaign proved just how damaging a lack of understanding can be to lives of autistic people and their families. Therefore it is vitally important, that the charity invests in improving public understanding. The most effective way of doing this is through producing films, case studies and social media content – a reasonable investment, we think, that could change the lives of a generation of autistic people and their families. 

Why is TMI the way it is?

As a campaign, TMI is designed to directly reach the general public in their millions. We have been successful in doing this over the past two years and that’s because of the approach we take with TMI.

In achieving this, we have to make decisions about our approach and tactics that not everyone agrees with.

Our TMI films have been viewed almost 70 million times. One of the reasons for that is that we design them in ways that we know the general public will engage with.

To be successful, films have to be emotional, short and snappy, and say something quite direct. It also means that in creating a film that will have an emotional impact on the general public, we have to show autistic people having a negative or difficult experience. This sometimes means that the complexities and huge variability of autism and individual’s personal experiences are difficult to convey in such short space of time. However, our films are designed to show a mix of experiences and are always based on what autistic people tell us about their lives. 

We also know that the public is much more likely to engage with video content when it features children. We’ve always ensured that we talk about autistic children and adults, along with their families.  We have featured autistic adults in two out of the four main TMI films we have created so far. 

In the supporting stories that we share through the campaign we always try and use a broad range of autistic people all different ages, to show how every autistic person is different. And we always ensure that our lead actors who are portraying autistic characters are autistic themselves.

When we are dealing with a public whose level of understanding of autism is pretty low to begin with, we have to take people on a journey, build their understanding bit-by-bit, and make sure that over a longer period of time we are building a society that works for autistic people.

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