“Do they understand what love is?” Paddy McGuiness admits he is afraid of his three autistic children

Top Gear host Paddy McGuinness shares a candid new documentary about his family how his children’s autism diagnosis left him feeling clinically depressed and confesses his fears about the condition’s impact on their relationship.

Paddy, 48, and wife Christine, 33, live in Cheshire with their three children, eight-year-old twins Leo and Penelope and five-year-old Felicity, all of whom have been diagnosed with autism.

In a new BBC documentary, the father-of-three admits he initially struggled with the diagnosis and Christine recounts how he threw himself into work and tried to make sense of the news by earning money to support the family.

Paddy, 48, and wife Christine, 33, live in Cheshire with their three children, eight-year-old twins Leo and Penelope and five-year-old Felicity, all of whom have been diagnosed with autism.

In a new BBC documentary, the father-of-three admits he initially struggled with the diagnosis and Christine recounts how he threw himself into work and tried to make sense of the news by earning money to support the family.  He gets emotional when he discusses the condition

In a new BBC documentary, the father-of-three admits he initially struggled with the diagnosis and Christine recounts how he threw himself into work and tried to make sense of the news by earning money to support the family. He gets emotional when he discusses the condition

During filming, Christine finds out that she also has autism. Paddy embarks on a journey to better understand the neurological condition and how it could affect the lives of his children.

“One of my biggest concerns is bullying and kids seeing something they don’t recognize as ‘normal’ behavior,” he says during a high school visit. “But you forget how resilient children are.”

One of his biggest concerns is that he fears that his children’s struggles to interpret and understand emotions would mean that they don’t know how much he loves them.

“What touches me about all of them, and it’s just how I think, I think, ‘God will they ever know how loved they are. Do they understand what love is?’

“When I’m in bed with Leo every night, I’ll always say to him, ‘Who loves you more than anything in the world?’ and he’ll say, “you do,” and I’ll go, “who’s your best friend?” and he will go, “you are”, and i will go, “do you love daddy?” and he will go, “yes”. But I think to myself, is he just saying that, or does he know?’

When she sees her husband getting emotional, Christine says, “Of course he knows you love him. You’ve been saying it about love for years and it’s something…

During filming, Christine, pictured with one of her daughters, discovers that she also has autism.

During filming, Christine, pictured with one of her daughters, discovers that she also has autism. Paddy embarks on a journey to better understand the neurological condition

One of Paddy's biggest concerns is that he fears that his children's struggles to interpret and understand emotions would mean that they don't know how much he loves them.

One of Paddy’s biggest concerns is that he fears that his children’s struggles to interpret and understand emotions would mean that they don’t know how much he loves them.

“Patrick was afraid the kids wouldn’t feel love or understand, and I’ve always said they did. They have a hard time showing it, or sometimes they have a hard time appreciating what you’re doing for them because they’re autistic.”

The children were diagnosed four years ago when the twins began to miss developmental milestones.

“When we were first told they were autistic, I was so upset because I didn’t understand. That’s all. Once I understood it, I realized it doesn’t change my kids at all.

“I think my husband buried his head in his work and took every opportunity to get out and go to work. Sometimes he just can’t handle it. There are times when I want to shake him up and say, “Just keep going. It’s not that big of a deal.”

“But then the softer side of me thinks how awful it must be to live in a house with kids you might not understand or might wish you didn’t have. That must be really terrible.’

Paddy and Christine started from very different places, as they filmed and learned more about autism, they grew closer together and came to a much better understanding of what autism means to their families.  Pictured, with Simon Baron-Cohen

Paddy and Christine started from very different places, as they filmed and learned more about autism, they grew closer together and came to a much better understanding of what autism means to their families. Pictured, with Simon Baron-Cohen

Paddy takes especially comfort in conversation with footballer Paul Scholes, pictured, whose 16-year-old son is non-verbal and autistic

Paddy takes especially comfort in conversation with footballer Paul Scholes, pictured, whose 16-year-old son is non-verbal and autistic

Reflecting on how he coped with the diagnosis, Paddy said, “I understood I needed to see a therapist and he diagnosed me with clinical depression.

“I used to think I was the last person in the world who would have depression because I made a few pounds.

“I didn’t go straight, ‘oh I’m depressed because it was a very slow process. It broke me down, with all the things you have to do, things you have to deal with as a parent of children with autism. It dawned on me that, that’s it, that’s it forever. There is no “they will get better with age”.

“In all that haze of clinical depression, if you had given me the chance to take autism away from my kids I would have said yes, but autism is part of who they are now, so why should I be a part of it.” away from my children, which I love?’

He adds: ‘That’s what I like about him [his son] so why would I want to take that away from him? It’s actually selfish.’

Paddy and Christine started from very different places, as they filmed and learned more about autism, they grew closer together and came to a much better understanding of what autism means to their families.

Paddy gets emotional when he says he's afraid his kids don't know he loves them

Paddy gets emotional when he says he’s afraid his kids don’t know he loves them

Christine, pictured, says she was able to process the diagnosis much faster

Christine, pictured, says she was able to process the diagnosis much faster

Candid: While footage was played of Paddy being comforted by Christine, he was heard saying, 'Autism is part of who they are now.  Why would I want to take some of my children?'

Candid: While footage was played of Paddy being comforted by Christine, he was heard saying, ‘Autism is part of who they are now. Why would I want to take some of my children?’

He especially takes comfort in a conversation with footballer Paul Scholes, whose 16-year-old son is non-verbal and autistic.

“The main thing he said that really resonated is that you don’t care what people think. I don’t care what people think either, but of course I do because I get up.

“If someone were to mention the word autism to me, I would say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to think about it’. Now I’m finally talking about autism, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time in fear of everything.’

Christine was diagnosed with autism in August after she and Paddy met Sir Simon Baron-Cohen, director of Cambridge University’s Autism Research Center, while filming.

The pair both completed an AQ questionnaire designed to measure the expression of autism spectrum traits in a person. And while an average neurotypical person would score about 15, which Paddy did, hers was 36.

The TV presenter, who has three autistic children (Leo, Penelope and Felicity), said that in some parts of the UK it can take not months but years to get a diagnosis.

The TV presenter, who has three autistic children (Leo, Penelope and Felicity), said that in some parts of the UK it can take not months but years to get a diagnosis.

She later decided to diagnose and Sir Simon confirmed she was autistic.

Paddy previously said he decided to make such a “personal” documentary after homeschooling his children during the lockdown.

“Our children were declining and it reminded me of families that could be in a similar or worse position to us.”

He added: “I was having a hard time, so I thought if we made the documentary, maybe other families wouldn’t feel so alone or isolated.”

Paddy and Christine McGuinness: Our Family and Autism airs Wednesday December 1, 9pm, BBC One and BBC iPlayer

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