Vanish – Me, My Autism & I

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Vanish has unveiled its Channel 4 Diversity in Advertising Award-winning campaign which is backed by £1 million worth of advertising airtime across the whole Channel 4 network.

Called Me, My Autism and I the three-minute-and-forty-second film aims to nurture a conversation to broaden public understanding of autism, particularly in girls, who are three times less likely to receive a diagnosis than boys. The Vanish product helps clothes last longer and, for most autistic people, familiar and consistent clothing can help with sensory regulation and provide a source of comfort.

Me, My Autism and I is created by Havas London with support from charity Ambitious about Autism, directed by SMUGGLER's Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper, and tells the story of one autistic girl and the visceral importance of her hoodie.

The brief for this year’s Diversity In Advertising Award, which offers advertisers and agencies the opportunity to win £1 million worth of commercial airtime on Channel 4, encouraged brands to tackle the on-going lack of authentic portrayal and representation of visible or non-visible disabilities. It marked the first time Channel 4 revisited a theme, having first tasked brands with supercharging their efforts to improve disabled representation in 2016’s award. 

New Channel 4 insight revealed that only 4% of TV adverts in the UK feature disabled people, compared to 22% of the UK population who are disabled. Vanish’s winning campaign shines a light on the staggering gender gap in autism diagnoses to celebrate and support autistic girls. 

The film follows a day in the life of 15-year-old autistic girl Ash – cast alongside her real family and best friends – and her relationship with her favourite hoodie, which was central to the bespoke script. An evocative portrayal of living with autism – reflecting the fact the condition can be challenging but also empowering – the story doesn’t shy away from depicting autistic traits such as stimming and shutdowns, while simultaneously showcasing Ash’s warmth, talent, friendship and humour. 

“It was so important for me to cast an autistic girl at the centre of this film, and ideally a real family," said Hooper. "I was astonished by Ash and her family. Ash is an extraordinary actress, a unique talent who commands the camera in every frame. Going through the rushes in the edit she was incapable of being false or untruthful. The fact that she’s never acted before, and never been in front of a camera (apart from a school play!) is mind blowing.  As a culture we’ve been going on an important journey about representation and identity.  Ash’s brilliance shows the talent that you can unleash by allowing people to tell their own story.

“The film was truly a co-production with Ash and the family – I wanted it to be their voice. Everything in the film is based on Ash and the family's experience of living with autism. The script was completely rewritten to reflect their lived experience, and we used improvisation on set throughout so that I could capture their voices. Ash’s mum has a background in stage acting, but Ash’s dad and her sister Lily were also acting here for the first time. Even Ash’s two friends in the school scenes were played by her actual best friends – also non-actors!  

Everything in the film is based on Ash and the family's experience of living with autism.

“The theme of acceptance is so important – being highlighted now in World Autism Acceptance Week. Acceptance as a theme has always fascinated me as a filmmaker – from the theme of acceptance and forgiveness in my first film Red Dust to the acceptance of stammering and the acceptance of help in The King’s Speech to the themes of acceptance I explored through the trans pioneer Lily Elbe in The Danish Girl. Ash was only diagnosed 18 months ago – the diagnosis took three years. Changing the system so that autism in girls can be understood and accepted is so important. Girls are underrepresented in the autism narrative. I hope this film in a small way helps to start to readdress that, by giving Ash and her family their voice.”

“Working closely with teams across Reckitt [the makers of Vanish] and Ambitious about Autism, we identified a universal truth among the autistic community: that clothes can be a lifeline; a source of comfort to help navigate a world not built for them," added Elliot Harris, Reckitt Global ECD and Creative Partner at Havas London. "For Vanish, this represents a clear, credible role for the product and a natural synergy with its purpose: keeping these clothes the same, wash after wash, really matters. 

“We set out to shatter the misconception that autism primarily impacts boys – balancing positive portrayals of autistic girls’ talents with honest, authentic insights into their struggles. This campaign, which includes a commitment by Reckitt to becoming more inclusive in their own approach to neurodiversity, platforms autistic female voices across every touchpoint, will broaden public understanding and, ultimately, help an underrepresented community feel seen, heard and supported.”