Kawerau autistic savant describes life as a walking Wikipedia of television trivia

Patrick Te Pou knows a lot about TV, which is surprising since he doesn't actually watch a lot of it.

For the 32-year-old, who is an autistic savant, what's on the box is a full-time obsession.

Autistic savants exhibit exceptional skill or brilliance in a particular area. It's a rare and special talent that affects one in a million people and Patrick's specialty is TV.

Anyone who spent some time in Patrick's company can witness his uncanny, encyclopaedic knowledge of television trivia. He knows facts about television shows that screened before he was born and his favourite show is the British soap opera Coronation Street.

Patrick's mum May Te Pou can't work out where her son's talent came from. The two share a unique bond, a closeness forged in the struggles of a single parent raising a child with undiagnosed, complex needs.

"There were some dark times. Patrick didn't sleep normally. Just one hour a night - that was enough for him,"  she tells The Hui. 

"So I had to end up locking ourselves in the house when I went to sleep. I would tie a rope around my foot to his foot so I could feel him moving or he would get out.

"I was really, really tired and I wanted to find him dead. That sounds wrong for a mother but that's how tired I felt."

May knew something wasn't right, but she was in the dark.

"You've got to remember, this is back in the day where autism wasn't talked about, it wasn't spoken about. I was called a bad mother and I was told I should put him into a mental home because there's something not right with him," May says.

"It was hard, but we continued because I kept on seeing little sparks in my son's eyes."

Patrick and May Te Pou.
Patrick and May Te Pou. Photo credit: The Hui

Finally, at age three, a child psychiatrist diagnosed Patrick with autism, which was a life-changing moment for a mum desperate for answers.

"It gave me something to go research and look at. That doctor was the only one who actually listened to me and told me it's not my fault, and that's the first time I ever heard from anyone," May says.

Patrick has lived all his life in Kawerau in the Bay of Plenty. He makes the most of the limited independence and goes for walks and swims following his type two diabetes diagnosis. 

Autistic savants can be overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and struggle with communication and social interactions - but Patrick never tires of talking about TV. 

Superior memory recall is an autistic savants' superpower, with Patrick committing decades of television listings to memory.

He has plans to put his TV knowledge to good use and has created his dream television network, PTV Network New Zealand.

"If PTV network becomes a reality I hope to bring back some of the most iconic New Zealand-made programmes like Sale of the Century, Wheel of Fortune," says Patrick.

Patrick's devotion to TV is only rivalled by the aroha of his whānau - he's surrounded by a loving family who is proud of all he's achieved. 

May's advice to parents of autistic children is to not be afraid to get the support they need.

"It's going to be long and hard but keep on going, the rewards are endless," says May.

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.