Thomas Henley is a Harrogate-born autism and mental health advocate, a popular YouTuber/Podcaster, and creator of the Aspergers In Society documentary.
Thomas recently created in collaboration with the University of Manchester. It’s currently at over 4,800 views on YouTube in under a month, has been featured on many media platforms such as The London Post, BBC’s John Offord Podcast, BBC Radio Manchester, Psychreg, and the National Autistic Society’s Stories from the Spectrum page.
Since the release, I have been asked to be an ambassador to a BIG figurehead in the world of autism, Anna Kennedy OBE, and her charity AKO. I made an appearance on Gateway 97.8 Radio to announce my ambassadorship, and since then we have been in contact about possible future documentaries and projects we could do.
He has been nominated for the 2020 National Diversity Awards in the ‘Positive Role Model (Disability)’ category, for my dedication to the autistic community and my achievements despite mental health conditions.
The film is a documentary called Aspergers In Society, covering the mental health crisis in the autistic community.
Thomas said he finished in the first few weeks of isolation and released it should ne completely ad-free, so it’s wholly for the purpose of raising awareness of the extremely high rates of severe depression (1 in 3), suicide, bullying, and social exclusion.
I’ve always had an up and down struggle with mental health conditions, and for the last 3-4 years I’ve been creating content around autism and mental health. Through the comment section, talking to charity heads and listening to the experiences SEN leaders and other individuals, I realised just how little support there is for autistic people struggling with mental health conditions. In my final year at university I took on the Manchester Leaderships Programme which really made me think about the impact I could have on society, I achieved the gold award for my 70+ hours of volunteer work at my local Taekwondo club, working with low confidence autistic individuals, and decided that my efforts in life were best suited to the causes I believed most in.
Throughout my final year project I was presented with many testimonials and some horrific statistics around mental health, social isolation, bullying, unemployment and lack of effective support. All this made me more sure I had to create my documentary ‘Aspergers In Society’
AKO Ambassador – https://www.annakennedyonline.com/ambassador-thomas-henley/
Website – https://www.aspergersinsociety.com
YouTube Channel – https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCJr76B0ZPGNGEHvZHCenSdg
The documentary was made expressly with the intention to appeal to any person, no matter the level of experience or understanding they have of autism. The personal accounts were included to show the varied and real life views of autistic people, and the main story line was crafted in a graded way so the interviews could be better understood by a mainstream audience. I spent ~300-400 hours creating the documentary independently for the most of it, and started with little to no editing or filming experience. Whilst it was frustrating at times and seemingly impossible at others, that trial and error process allowed me to perfect it in my own unique way.
Talking about the difficulties that lockdown has give for autistic people, Thomas said:
I think lockdown highlights some really key issues for autistic people. Most people I think would assume lockdown is a utopian haven for autistic people or at the least be quite in tune with our regular schedules… no social interaction, freedom to work on our interests etc. Lockdown actually presented a lot of challenges to myself though; I consider myself quite extroverted so it’s been difficult to not have that contact with my friends. Furthermore, the lockdown really destabilised my routine, which left me in limbo for at least a month and caused me a lot of stress until I finally constructed a new one.
Thomas spoke about his teenage years and how he was influenced:
When I was much younger I used to cling to the idea that one day I could use all my negative experiences to help other people. My teenage years were one of the worst times in my life, and when I entered university I made a YouTube channel to share my experiences. Soon, I realised that the advice I was giving out based on my own experiences, was actually making a difference in others lives. I started up the Thoughty Auti Podcast, worked more on my video skills, and decided to take a larger public role by speaking on radio/podcast shows around the country.
Before my late grandad past away he told me to learn and help others. He was an incredibly supportive, sensitive and loving man during the time I’ve known him and so his words struck deeply. Since then, I always try to help others in whatever I do, whether it’s through content, inviting other driven autistic advocates onto my podcast or even supporting other grass roots individuals to share their own experiences and help them learn new media-related skills.
The possibility of having a markable impact in the world is the reason I get up in the morning and battle through my own conditions.
Gone are the days of Idolising my own happiness, I want to eradicate the future and present problems facing autistic individuals at school and in adult life. It’s much easier to suffer for a cause rather than suffer for no reason, the former is the path I’ve chosen for the time being. I hope in the future my own mental health will stabilise to a cope-able level, but in the meantime my life goals are what I live for.