What can be done, about the utterly shocking situation of decent autistic mothers (some who were undiagnosed at the time), intelligent and caring women who love their children, having them ripped away on the basis of false accusations, misrepresentation and/or misunderstanding of autism, discrimination – and who in no way were neglectful or abusive to their children? How can this be allowed? What sort of society are we to stand by and watch while it happens?
I have encountered 3-4 autistic mothers online just in the last year or so, who have had 1-4 children stolen this way, as a result of accusations of MSBP/FII. All the women have come across as caring, warm-hearted and desperately loving their children and wanting them back. I have contacts who know of far more cases through almost daily pleas for help, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine all those out there who don’t know where to turn and never contact anyone for help?
Genuine MSBP/FII cases are very rare. It is not a condition in itself, it is a set of behaviours caused by mental illness, or in some cases personality disorder, making the parent/carer either induce or invent conditions in their child for attention. Approximately 2/3 to 3/4 of general child protection concerns turn out to be unwarranted. Imaging how much rarer it is for an MSBP/FII accusation to be true. In this presentation, Dr Helen Hayward-Brown (medical anthropologist) goes through the relevant points showing how wrongly it is used against parents and how they don’t stand a chance against such accusations. She wrote a 1999 paper in which she explains extremely thoroughly, how this “diagnosis” is misused and is almost impossible to prove innocence of, citing many valid points which are overlooked by the authorities blindly accepting it as a truth. Many of the supposed “traits” of it, are the traits any concerned parent would show in a medical situation with their child. But autistic mothers being misunderstood are very vulnerable to these false accusations.
Autism is one of a variety of conditions, which can be either misunderstood or unrecognised by doctors and when parents persist in trying to get their child’s difficulties recognised or supported, sometimes professionals retaliate with accusations of MSBP/FII. It does seem to be becoming increasingly common for professionals, protecting resources, irritated with parents seeking support for their child, or parents disagreeing with professionals, to be instigators of revenge accusations. Professionals stick together, one makes an accusation and it is immediately taken as valid by all the others. Something documented, however false, follows someone round from report to report, where they all quote the original and one another, as gospel.
Autistic traits in a parent, mean they may communicate in an atypical way, not show the deference professionals expect and are vulnerable to being misunderstood. Discrimination makes people ill – the NHS admits it here. If the child is autistic, especially if undiagnosed, professionals can mistake their autism traits as signs of abuse or neglect.
When an autistic parent is in court, especially if they are undiagnosed, they face a system which despite the law, does not proactively provide reasonable adjustments and is a bed of ignorance and lack of awareness of autism by those in power. This leaves the parent highly vulnerable to being misinterpreted.
Some autistic parents are wrongly accused of or diagnosed with, having personality disorders. I have compiled a list of autistic traits which can be mistaken for grandiosity or narcissism:
- outspokenness/bluntness because people with Asperger’s are very honest often due to not processing likely impact;
- lack of recognising ‘status’ in people of authority/professionals or lack of understanding of social hierarchies (hence talking to them at an equal level and not showing the deference that NTs might);
- difficulties in voice modulation (speaking either too quietly or too loudly) and loud volume of speech can be mistaken for domineering attitude;
- intense research and absorbing of facts which gives a “mini professor” appearance that can be mistaken for a “know-it-all” by others;
- difficulties in interpreting when it’s turn to speak, giving wrong impression of interruption purposely and in ignorance of the opinions of others;
- monologuing, mistaken as opinionated or selfish;
- difficulties focusing when in conversation with others, so needing to ‘get out’ everything has to say in one go, mistaken for being overbearing;
- difficulties knowing when others are bored or unwilling to listen, can be mistaken for arrogance or selfishness.
There may be some autistic parents (like non-autistic ones) who need parenting courses or support to adequately parent, but that does not mean that autistic person cannot be a good parent! There are plenty of amazing autistic parents out there!
The trauma to the child and parents from removing children are massive and lifelong. That damage cannot be undone. Your DNA carries forward trauma to future generations. So what such state abuse does, is damage those they traumatise and their future generations of children too. Considering also that the care system has such appalling outcomes for children, considering how many foster and adoptive parents abuse children (blood is thicker than water) too, how can they excuse this?
And added to that, as autistic parents often have autistic children, neurodiverse children that have not been diagnosed, are handed to new families on the pretext that their challenging behaviour is caused by abuse or neglect. How many autistic children are wrongly diagnosed with attachment disorder? A 2014 Parliamentary Inquiry into UK CAMHS, found that particular groups of children were being failed, one of these groups was adopted children. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out, how many supposedly suffering attachment disorder, actually had autism or ADHD? So some supposedly abused or neglected children were removed wrongfully and even where it was known they were autistic and they were removed because the parents couldn’t cope, services clearly failed to provide the right support to enable them to keep their children. Only this week, a story has surfaced about a little boy who has been taken from parents with learning disabilities (the mother was said to have autistic traits), who were admittedly devoted and all they needed was the right support to parent adequately. The little boy’s behaviour was blamed on their lack of boundaries, but with both parents learning disabled and one potentially autistic, what are the odds his behaviour was in fact due to autism?
Autistic children do not necessarily have the same needs as non-autistic children either. A social worker may for instance believe the parent is not socialising them enough, but many autistic children have meltdowns in the company of peers due to sensory issues, or do not want to play with peers who ridicule them, or they prefer playing alone. So social workers are judging parents by neurotypical standards, and autism families will therefore always be found lacking.
Social workers are not taking up the autism training they are required to according to the Autism Act 2009. So more parents will continue to suffer misrepresentation and discrimination. This is appalling and cannot continue. Things have to change and soon. With adoption being (ridiculously) irreversible in the UK, it’s too late for many.
If you consider how ordinary parents can fall victim to wrongful child protection interventions, imagine how much worse it is if you have a condition they are ignorant about?
Added to which, the DoH statutory guidance regarding autistic adults is so wishy-washy, authorities can get away without doing very much at all to diagnose and support autistic adults. The DoH Statutory guidance for Local Authorities and NHS organisations to support implementation of the Adult Autism Strategy applies to all local authorities, NHS bodies and NHS Foundation Trusts and replaces the 2010 statutory guidance. It relates to England only. Shockingly, authorities’ provision of a diagnostic pathway, adhering to the NHS NICE Guidance on assessing adults with autism and triggering of post-diagnostic assessment of needs, only come under the “should” category, which means, despite the Autism Act 2009, no authority will be held to account if they don’t ensure these are in place and working for all relevant adults. So misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis, which are all too common, will keep on happening. What incentive will there be when autism is the most expensive diagnosis to support and authorities are trying to save money?
So the issue of autistic parents being unsupported, misunderstood, misrepresented and discriminated against will continue, unless the Government does something to change it. The Government has to listen to it’s people, so we must speak out, and speak out loud!
Edited 29.5.16: Preliminary research research results about the discrimination against autistic mothers here: https://imfar.confex.com/imfar/2016/webprogram/Paper22166.html with full research findings available shortly. Quote from the link: “Allegations of fabricated illness, and high rates of surveillance by social services suggest there may be discrimination towards mothers with autism.”