Pakistani dramas have finally begun telling stories with a cause.
Whether it’s Udaari tackling child sexual abuse, Baaghi shedding light on honour killing, Sammi creating awareness about gender discrimination or Khaas and Kankar serving up something more than the saas bahu time pass that we’re so used to, our dramas have indeed stepped up their game.
Saraab featuring Sami Khan and Sonya Hussyn is another upcoming serial that will be using storytelling to educate; the drama aims to create awareness about schizophrenia, a chronic mental health condition which disrupts thinking patterns and affects functions of the brain in interpreting reality.
It seemed like the teasers were attracting just the right kind of attention and everything looked promising until Hussyn posted an image on Instagram in an effort to destigmatise mental health issues. Clubbed together with terms like anorexia and PTSD was autism.
Things went south fast when the actor tried to explain to a mother of two autistic kids what autism is. Taking to the comments, the mom shared with Hussyn that autism is NOT a mental illness but instead a disorder/disability.
“I have Masha Allah 2 kids who have autism so I know what I’m talking about," she posted. "Otherwise, a great message and very important to highlight it and create awareness about a very sensitive topic.”
We don't know about you guys but usually, when someone talks about their lived experience, we tend to listen. However, the Aangan actor went on to reply that "autism was one of the symptoms in schizophrenia".
While we can understand how she could have confused the two, a simple Google search would have sufficed to clear out any misconceptions. Thankfully, most people called her out on this comment and some with autistic relatives even did the emotional labour of explaining what the difference was.
“Please do your research before picking up a script. And please don’t start throwing terms because it’s cool to speak about these topics. Autism is a neurodevelopment condition," responded one follower.
"My nephew is autistic and he would remember grocery totals from 2 months ago. He would listen to RAP song once and recite the lyrics to you in a jiffy, so please.”
Due to genetic overlaps between patients of the two distinct conditions, we can see how Hussyn might have gotten things mixed up. That said, the general consensus by professionals is that autism is not an illness or disease but a developmental disorder that just means that the brain works slightly different than that of an average person; this also means that an autistic person may have average or above average intelligence.
When artists lend themselves and their voices to advocate for important issues, it's essential for them to inform themselves. What Sonya failed to portray by her comment is the delicacy with which conversations about mental health awareness needs to be tackled.
Perhaps this can be a lesson for our public figures to enlighten themselves about a topic before commenting about it on social media or otherwise.
For what it’s worth, her acting seems on point in the teasers and we’ll wait to see how the issue is handled once Saraab is aired on screen.