Interview by Nadia Duncan
Returning to our screens for a second series this October, acclaimed kids’ TV show Pablo is the brainchild of Co. Down-based production company, Paper Owl Films, and is centred around the adventures of Pablo – a fun, smart and curious five-year-old boy with autism. Now a firm family favourite, it first aired in 2017 and was the first ever series to feature an all autistic cast, and is recognised as an inspirational communicator for parents and children to develop their understanding of the autism spectrum. Pablo is voiced by Jake Williamson (13) from Holywood, Co. Down…
Q) How has your life changed since Pablo began?
I was nine and in P6 when I auditioned and now I am 13 – so quite a lot! Although I knew I was autistic since I was diagnosed when I was seven years old, being part of the show has helped me learn that there are so many other people with autism. I was the only child at my primary school but now I know that it’s not so unusual at all to think differently.
Q) For anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet, what’s it all about?
Every episode opens with Real World Pablo in a situation where he doesn’t quite understand what is happening. It helps him to draw himself in The Art World and then his Book Animal friends work together to help him find another way to see the problem – or explain it from another perspective so that it makes sense.
There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK –that’s more than one in 100. More than 300 children are diagnosed with autism every year in Northern Ireland. Rates of children being diagnosed have quadrupled since 2002. A 2015 report released from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety confirms that there has been a 67 per cent increase in school-age children here diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (autismni.org).
Q) What’s the best thing about being the voice of Pablo?
The show has given me so much acting experience! I have recorded 104 episodes and it has been such fun. It has been so positive to know I am part of a team of autistic voice actors and writers who are working on a show to help better understanding. Knowing the show is winning awards is something for all of us to be proud of too!
Q) You must be very proud of its success, why do you think Pablo is so popular?
Simply because there has never been anything like it before! There are so many people who can identify with the stories as they illustrate everyday experiences that a five-year-old might need to make sense of. All the characters; reliable Mouse who endearingly speaks in the third person; gentle Llama who repeats sounds made by others – a condition called echolalia; Tang the Orangutan is great fun but his spontaneous nature can lead him struggling with social cues; Noa the kind dinosaur who struggles with speech but is great at problem-solving and Draff, the smartest of the group is a highly intelligent giraffe who loves to say, “In point of fact” and explain things to others… they all show how autism can be different for everyone.
Q) We’re looking forward to the new season, do you have any favourite episodes?
I love seeing the animations worked around our voices and seeing the dentist, park and zoo in the Real World, as they are all places I know. The first episode ‘The New Sofa’ reminds me of when the same thing happened to me when I was little. It can be very difficult for autistic people to deal with unexpected change.
Q) What’s the most important message adults and children should learn from Pablo and what impact do you feel it has made?
I learnt how being autistic means different things for different people. Also, how autism can be very misunderstood. It’s important to know everyone is an individual, and just because a kid is very verbal (like me!) it doesn’t mean you can just be like everyone else. Little children learn easily that everyone is different and can accept it. I do hope that it teaches adults too… That’s where the biggest impact will be made to make things easier for autistic kids. They have a pretty hard time if the adults around them don’t understand!
Pablo will air each weekday on RTÉjr at 6pm and 12pm at the weekends, whilst CBeebies will air in the afternoon at 2:35pm every day. You can also watch on Catch up or there is a dedicated Pablo YouTube channel for additional fun.
“I was the only child at my primary school but now I know that it’s not so unusual at all to think differently.”
“Autism can be very misunderstood.”