“Autism Assessments – Lay Parents vs Clinicians!”

hello-i-am-an-expertMost people are expert at something – even if it’s something negative!  Autism diagnosticians such as psychologists and psychiatrists, are, purportedly, the experts in assessing and diagnosing children for autism.

So those clinicians, are the ‘expert’ assessors in making decisions on your child either having, or not having autism.  This is a person (along with colleagues), who most likely has never met the child before.  The child will be in an unnatural clinic environment and with one or more strangers, so naturally will likely not behave in their usual, natural way (the older the child the more likely this is) and may actually be inhibited through anxiety.  The diagnostician will information gather as part of the assessment process, from parents, school (nursery/playgroup/college etc.) and they really merit information that is deemed a ‘professional’ source.

Parents, the Government tell us, are experts in our own children.  Yet all too often, parental evidence taken during an NHS assessment, is seen as inferior to school or other professional advice on the child.  All children behave differently between school and home (and this can be an extremely marked difference in autistics), autistic children can mask a huge amount in school and there is so much autism ignorance among school staff anyway, why should they be relied upon to any degree and certainly not more heavily weighted than parental advice.  What’s the preciousness about ‘professionals’?  I mean think about it – a teacher in charge of a class of 30+ children, who sees an unnatural presentation of the child in an artificial setting that is focused on following ongoing instruction – or the parent who birthed that child, knew them all their life in multiple different settings and sees the best and worst of them while they are unmasked – who is more likely to have the more accurate evidence to provide!

novice-expert

The questionnaires (‘clinical tools’) diagnosticians use are standard, often they have the scoring key on the form (and when they don’t, these are easily obtained) and the rest is common sense, analysing traits, behaviours and difficulties from and in, a real life context. Anyone with half a brain can information gather. It’s just looking for a pattern of evidence, and knowing what to look for in the beginning.  It doesn’t take years of training as a medical professional or psychologist to do this.  The sad thing is, many of these so-called highly qualified people, are so clueless about autism much of the time (they don’t have to have specific autism expertise as a psychologist or psychiatrist to diagnose – basic  ADOS administration training seems to be considered by CAMHS to be all they need), that this is why they over-rely on the clinical tools and sometimes ignore or minimise vital parental evidence.  You can almost see the fear of diagnosing in their eyes.

And of course all the while they disrespect parents as people seeking diagnoses for the sake of claiming benefits, they will continue to overlook parental evidence.  A little bit of respect here please!

What with the agenda not to diagnose in the first place, meaning they may attempt to derail the cause of the autism traits onto something else, such as anxiety or OCD, is it any surprise some autistic children are remaining undiagnosed. These conditions may be co-morbid to the autism, but there can be a deliberate avoidance of looking at the underlying condition that causes the co-morbidities.

An assessor does need to understand other conditions that could have some superficially similar traits as autism, hence a proper assessment should be differential. They would say that this is why it takes a qualified clinician, but there are also assessment tools for those conditions too and a little bit of the right questioning would tease out reasons behind certain behaviours, to know what they were attributable to.  Autism is after all diagnosed as a syndrome of behaviours, it’s an entirely clinical diagnosis – meaning if you have the triad of impairments you are autistic (or as they say ‘meet diagnostic criteria’ or ‘meet clinical threshold’), so there is no reason why a lay person who has done a bit of reading and has the right insights, could not in theory be accurate in diagnosing. Some of the clinicians I have come across are so inept and so reliant on questionnaires, seemingly fearful of deviating from them and unable to give credence to parental information, that it wouldn’t be hard to do better.

Of course, they are also looking for other types of alternative cause for the traits, such as attachment disorder, trauma, or something amiss in the home environment.  Whilst they do need to do this for an fully considered assessment, the parent blame culture ensures these avenues are pursued with far more regularity than they should be.  It’s another stumbling block to diagnosis.

expert-knowledge

“An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study.”

Therefore, who better to know and identify the reason for the child’s difficulties – it is the child who is being assessed after all, not autism as a concept – than their expert parent.  Of course this couldn’t be said for everyone, not all parents would have the ability to do the right reading, express their child’s difficulties in accordance with the concept or context of a condition, especially if it included analysing potential alternatives.  But a fair whack of parents with reasonable intelligence and some research skills and insightful, analytical approach, could do as good a job of assessing their child (or someone else’s!) for autism as a clinician (and in some cases better).  You can also pay to go on ADOS courses.  Of course it will never be, that parents will be empowered with diagnosing their children, or that any such diagnosis would be accepted.  Potential bias/ethical considerations, ulterior motives in a few bad eggs and all sorts of other reasons exist for that.  But the point being made is, that parents are usually the first to recognise their child’s difficulties and ‘experts’ need to take that gold dust on board, value it and respect it.

The NHS has to stop misdiagnosing, failing to diagnose and making such a meal out of assessing children for autism.  Why are there such ridiculously long waiting lists?  NHS NICE states that children should be assessed within 3 months of referral!  Trust what the parents are telling you, utilise their expertise and respect them.  Realise that telling a parent “autistic traits but not enough for a diagnosis” is  failing that child and their family.  They will walk out of there without any support, unless they happen to have co-morbid mental health conditions which they are treated for.  But any such treatment may be useless and even harmful, if their autistic neurology is not taken into account.  And if you do fail that child, their already compromised outcomes may become direGet your autism act together NHS clinicians, or you might just find an army of parents at your doors, who can do a better job at it than you!

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“You Know You’re Autistic When…”

you-know-youre-autistic-when Your browser keeps crashing ‘cos you’ve got four hundred and fifty-five tabs on the go…

You have filed your household bills, neatly stapled and hole-punched, in a lever arch folder in strict date order with a note on each one, of when it was paid with full payment reference…

You have a massive collection of matching shoes and handbags but you only wear the same worn, comfy footwear every day…

When trying to recall something you read, you open up a photograph of the scene in your mind and mentally scan the photograph for the information…

You can’t help correcting errors in the messages section below other peoples’ blog posts…

You can tell if a picture is perfectly straight on the wall or not – and if it’s not you have to adjust it until it is…

You line up your ornaments and they have to match either side of the central one…

You buy the exact same meals in your shopping week after week…

You go into a fast food place and are so overwhelmed by the mass of choices, the lights and the expectant face of the cashier, that you end up ordering the same thing every time…

You stand in a queue and the sounds of sniffing, clearing throats, coughing, scratching of the others in the queue makes you want to vomit or have a meltdown…

You go to the cinema and when the trailers and adverts start you have to clamp your hands over your ears…

Hearing someone crunching their food or slurping makes you see red…

You fall out with someone and you cannot forgive the injustice of what they’ve done wrong…

You monologue without realising your partner is bored, but even when they start to walk away to show you they’re bored, you follow them continuing your monologue…

When you’re upset, you suddenly realise you’ve been rocking…

When you’re very stressed by a situation you don’t know how to handle, you suddenly realise you’ve been hand-flapping…

You don’t know when it’s your turn to talk on the ‘phone…

When a seven year old neurotypical child is joking with you, you don’t realise it until they point it out…

You make a mental note to self, to put Post-it notes near the car controls so you can remember which switch does which light…

You bother to write a list of autistic idiosyncrasies…

 

“Male Ego and Autistic Progeny”

male-ego Ego is a funny thing.  It makes people proud and vain at one end of the scale or insecure and paranoid at the other.  It isn’t therefore, necessarily a good thing to possess.  But most people have one, unless they have learned to master it and let such burdens go.  The male ego is something that is famously guarded, it’s something females are not supposed to dent.  A man must not feel his “masculinity” is under question.  Machismo, manliness, masculinity…no matter how well hidden it is, in a metro man, a nerd or a hippy, they all have male pride…an ego.

When a man becomes a father, he often seems to see the progeny as a reflection of himself.  The participation of his seed in the process seems to take on a role larger than it played in reality.  It’s almost a primal thing.  He of course only contributed 50% of the genes and therefore characteristics, to that child, but the ego seems to be slightly blinded to that and if something goes awry, many men take it as a personal fault against their self.  This is probably more so in the case of an invisible disability, which is not apparent in the baby, lulling the father into a false sense of security for a while, only to be told later their child is disabled, is autistic.

Many dads of autistic children brush away the worried mum’s initial voicing of concerns, sometimes this leads to disagreement about whether to have the child assessed for autism.  Stories abound on community forums by such mothers, here is a sample:

  1. http://community.autism.org.uk/discussions/health-wellbeing/parents-carers/father-ex-husband-denial
  2. http://www.circleofmoms.com/autismaspergerspdd-awareness/i-need-help-my-husband-will-not-discuss-or-even-acknowledge-our-son-s-diagnosis-398383

Media articles and blog posts too:

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/9602643/Accepting-Autism-one-fathers-path-to-understanding-his-son.html
  2. http://www.popsugar.com/moms/When-Mom-Accepts-Child-Disability-More-Quickly-Than-Dad-27330829

Let me tell you what that type of ego-driven denial can do to a child and the family.

Mothers usually know their children intimately.  OK dads usually know their children well, but unless they have become the stay-at-home primary caregiver, they don’t know the child like the mother does.  Mother’s instinct is a very strong thing.  Mothers spent nine months growing that baby in their body, feeling it move, nourishing it, being joined to it by a cord. They often are the ones to feed the baby, sometimes from their own body.  They learn every habit, nuance, whim and personality trait of that child.  They take the child to playgroups and other places where mothers (who notoriously compare their child to the children of peers) congregate, so they pick up a lot.  Of course, if a child is severely autistic it will be blatantly obvious from early on.

So, when you have a dad dismissing mum’s concerns, telling her it’s all in her head, she often will believe it, especially if it’s a first child.  She will question herself, tell herself she’s worrying too much.  And if the dad is unsupportive and attributes the behaviours to the mother’s parenting-style, she will often believe that too.  Especially if she has spoken to any professional about her concerns as the initial reaction is to fob parents off on parenting courses to avoid conducting assessments.  He will cause self-doubt and insecurity in the mother.  He’s worried about his child being stigmatised and the disability being a reflection on himself.  So mum won’t take the child to the doctor for an autism referral, the child won’t be diagnosed and won’t get support.

You then have a situation, where mum is dealing with often very challenging behaviour and nobody believes her that something is up.  This may cause tension and arguments between mum and dad too, mum may be struggling with the majority of the child’s difficulties alone a lot of the time.  Even if mum takes the child to the doctor, if dad-in-denial is there, he will, with that ego of his driving his fear and denial, feel compelled to say that he hasn’t noticed anything wrong, hint that he thinks mum is worrying too much.  And of course, with age-old stereotypes still abounding in society, mum will be viewed as a worry-wort, a bit neurotic and if it’s a first child, inexperienced and needlessly panicking.

So mum may resort to internet research to help confirm or deny her fears.  The pet hate of the vast majority of doctors is internet research.  No matter how bone fide the source, many will dismiss it, because mothers couldn’t possibly know more than the doctors.  Only they usually do when it comes to autism: “Parental Recognition of Autism – Professionals Must Listen!”

Mother Research

Bearing in mind the incompetence of seemingly the majority of CAMHS, who are only too happy to fob families off with “not enough traits for a diagnosis” and the parent blame culture that is rife, with one parent unsupportive the child is almost destined not to be diagnosed, unless their autism is blatantly obvious.  Because all too many doctors say “we don’t want to label the child do we”, what with them guarding resources tightly, we know the real reason they don’t want to.

What does lack of diagnosis do to a child?  They exist in a world of social confusion, struggling with friendships and not knowing why.  They likely have sensory issues and find the world a painful place, wondering why life is so difficult.  They become overwhelmed and meltdown, often feeling ashamed afterwards – because that’s the thing, “high-functioning” autistics are usually painfully aware of their differences.  They may stim and feel ashamed and compelled to hide it, because they’ve noticed other people don’t do it.  They are likely to think themselves weird and wonder why they don’t fit in or feel like other people.  They are likely have additional conditions (ADHD is co-morbid in around 43% of autistics and OCD is often in-built) placing additional pressures on them.  They are likely to go on to develop mental health issues such as anxiety and depression from finding things so difficult.  Mainstream school is very hard for most autistics and impossible for some.  But without a diagnosis that’s where they will be.  Figures of over 80% have been cited for autistics being bullied – other children seem to home in on someone who is different and target them. They will lack understanding of themselves, by secondary school things are likely to start falling apart if they haven’t before.  By then, mental health conditions probably more ingrained due to struggling with an undiagnosed primary condition for so long.

The parents will be seeking out mental health support for their child once things start falling apart, by that point it may be inevitable that a diagnosis follows, but what a tragic and unfair way to reach that point.  And if the child reaches adulthood without a diagnosis, by the time they do (hopefully) obtain one, they may well become very bitter towards their parents for not having them diagnosed sooner.  I have read of some autistic adults estranging themselves from their parents as they were so angry at what felt like a betrayal, for them choosing not to get them assessed and diagnosed and leaving them to live through the above difficulties all that time, without understanding or support.  Most autistic adults are relieved to finally have answers for their difficulties, they know their difficulties are not their fault and they are freed by the knowledge.  So who is any parent to deny their child that right?

The other thing of course, is that if dad is denying the difficulties and brushing them off to other reasons, the child will feel misunderstood and even disbelieved.  For instance, some dads believe a meltdown is the child being naughty and will treat it as such.  If a child school-refuses, they may blame mum for not being firm enough.  This will likely end up being the cause of a less than close relationship between father and child.

Ostrich

So any fathers out there, who are being told by the mother of their child that they believe they need assessing for autism, listen.  What have you got to lose?  If the child is not autistic they won’t be diagnosed.  If they are, you will be enabling them to access the support they need.  The diagnosis only needs to be disclosed on a need-to-know basis.  If the child’s difficulties are that obvious people will have noticed already anyway.  No matter what any official tells you, support usually is diagnosis-based not needs-based, no matter what it says in any policies and if your child has a high enough IQ to manage well enough academically, professionals won’t care about the other difficulties – so that means you must.  And you want your child to have the right support.  The earlier the intervention the better for their longer-term outcomes.  You owe that to your child.  After all, this is not about you, it’s not a choice, it’s a necessity.

 

“Anosognosia and Autism – A Real Concern”

anosognosia_lobe_capture2
Image courtesy of http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org

Most strictly speaking, anosognosia is the individual’s ongoing lack of awareness of or insight into, a medically diagnosed condition they have, due to damage to the brain, a variety of anatomical structures are involved, especially the anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, medial frontal cortex, and inferior parietal cortex.  It is insufficient to simply be in psychological denial, for it to be termed anosognosia, but anosognosia is present in people with not only neurological injury e.g. from an accident, but also in people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  This means, that the brain differences in those conditions, are damage to the normal functioning of the brain.  Sometimes, the term anosognosia is used to describe denial of the diagnosis too.  I think this should be the case when the level of denial is so absolute, that the individual cannot move past it.

There is however, a dearth of literature on anosognosia in autistics.  Autism is genetically related to schizophrenia (as well as bipolar) and some autistics have co-morbid schizophrenia.  So it stands to reason the the brain differences in autistics can be such, that they could also cause, or contribute, to anosognosia about their autism.  Some autistics may simply deny their condition because they are newly diagnosed adolescents who are embarrassed about being seen as different than peers, or a late diagnosed adult who is struggling with the shock of re-evaluating their whole life through a new lens, or the individual may have co-morbid anxiety which makes them too scared to deal with it.  That’s not actual anosognosia though, time usually resolves this reaction.

Autistics can, not uncommonly, suffer with alexithymia, the difficulty in recognising emotions and the reasons  for them.  I believe this can  contribute to anosognosia.  My eldest autistic child seems to have true anosognosia.  Since being diagnosed with autism over 2½ years ago, she has steadfastly refused to accept her diagnosis.  And I tried selling all the positives, pointing out celebrities and historical figures known to be, or believed to have been, autistic and talking about the talents and abilities it conferred on her.  She was diagnosed late, at age 12, due to professional failures in recognising high-functioning female autistic presentation, but that’s a whole other story.  I thought it was fear and being an adolescent that made her refuse to believe it.  But over time, I have come to realise that it’s more than that.  When she was assessed, she completed self-report questionnaires and selected all the answers that highlighted her as having no problems whatsoever, for personal traits and difficulties.  Everything she was struggling with in school and elsewhere, she attributed to being the fault of others.

She struggled socially, but that was because everyone was “mean”, not because she was emotionally and developmentally behind her peers and couldn’t converse about the same things they did, or because she struggled with reciprocal conversation.  When the teacher’s voice was too loud for her, it was the teacher “booming”, not because she had sensory issues.  She described herself as very helpful, when for example, she has sat many a time, watching me struggling back and forth past her loaded with heavy shopping bags and never once offered to help.  When she wet herself several times in school, it was because she was laughing too much, not because she was so anxious and overwhelmed that she was unable to listen to her body and recognise that she had a full bladder in the first place, or had difficulty speaking up.  When she is constantly unable to manage basic daily minutiae without asking for guidance, it’s because I’ve brought her up to be helpless.  It’s very hard parenting a child who thinks this way.

Even her school, who were trying to deny there were any problems, whilst she was suffering an emotional breakdown failing to cope there, scored her as having difficulties in various areas that she didn’t admit to.  She couldn’t cope with the demands at secondary level, the adult content of the lessons – which was shocking and traumatic, to her developmentally delayed brain – it was like dumping a little 8 year old in high school and expecting them to cope.  She would come home from school and download at length, a monologue of her daily school stresses, pacing in a circle, followed by breaking down sobbing and having meltdowns, where she would bang her head repeatedly on the floor and pick her skin until it bled – but that was because the school was “horrible” and people were “mean”.  Her inability to cope in school and the effect it had on her, resulted her being diagnosed with co-morbid anxiety and depression.  She changed schools, but the same thing happened, so she clearly couldn’t cope in mainstream and then school-refused, she has been off now for 18 months.  Yet she is a very intelligent child, academically excellent with a very superior vocabulary.

So over time, I realised that her denial, is beyond being mere denial.  It’s a literal belief that she really isn’t autistic, an inability to believe it.  Never mind that she has an autistic sibling and parent, so genetically there is something going on, it still couldn’t possibly be her.  I thought time would make her come to terms with it, but it hasn’t.  If any support offered has been autism-related, she refused it.  She has refused social opportunities that would help expand her horizons, yet is upset at having no social life.  As I see signs of alexithymia and very low empathy in her, I believe there is a part of her brain that doesn’t see herself as she really is.  She is confident in some ways, but has a poor-self image at times and will tell me she’s “weird” or “a freak”, which to me are far worse terms than ‘autistic’.  She misunderstands people a lot, she thinks people have been mean all the time.  She externalises her difficulties to such a fervent degree, that the only conclusion is anosognosia.

But this worries me.  Quite a lot.  Her social misunderstanding, naivety and vulnerability mean she does not have the ability to be as independent in the way she imagines she should be.  Her life dreams revolve around fictitious cartoon characters, that ‘autistic living in a fantasy world‘ described by Tony Attwood.  Questions she has asked me, such as why a man would want to abduct a child, coupled with her inability to cope with learning “bad stuff” that would allow her to understand why, means she is stuck in a no-man’s-land of semi-reality.  Her inability to cope when unexpected problems arise, to overreact to phobias she has when outside, her hyper-reactivity and general tendency to panic, all leave her vulnerable.  She flatly denies particular difficulties she has and will only admit to something if she believes it isn’t related to autism (she doesn’t know difficulty speaking up and asking for help is a trait common in autism so she’ll admit to that!).  She has an EHCP because of her difficulties, but asks why she should have one when the other children don’t.

At the age she is now, she will all-too-soon, be considered to have rights, independence and responsibilities that would only be denied/managed on her behalf, if she was deemed to lack capacity.  Because of her high IQ, she would likely to be considered to have capacity, because she would be able to intellectually answer questions that would make it appear so.  And her superior vocabulary, alongside her serious and passive manner with strangers, makes her seem mature, but they can’t see what’s going on inside.  They wouldn’t realise that her understanding of consequences, potential scenarios, awareness of an adequate range of manifestation of danger, lag far behind.  She knows you aren’t supposed to talk to strangers, but she isn’t street-wise, she misunderstands people, she’s innocent and gullible, she panics at the unexpected.  Many autistics can answer questions about dangers and risks based on logic, but there is a mismatch between that logic and an ability to be able to apply it in real life, in real-time.  High-functioning autistic females can also be masters of camouflage and masking.  And parents are elbowed out of the picture sharpish when children reach a certain age.  She has actually said to me that as soon as she is an adult she will have herself “undiagnosed”.  So what happens when a child refuses to accept their difficulties, denies there is any problem and makes a superficially convincing show of it?  What happens when a parent knows that this puts them in a really vulnerable and potentially at risk position?  Professionals will put the rights of the child above the parent’s knowledge of their child and ignore the parent – especially when it conveniently means they can avoid providing resources.  What happens with in situations such as DLA/PIP interviews, if they arise?  She will deny any difficulties and likely lose her DLA.

So I asked myself, do I get a professional to state on record that she has anosognosia?  Trying to foresee the implications of that causes new concerns.  On the one hand, it will be officially recognised and is evidence for any of the above scenarios that might arise, on the other, what if it followed her to adulthood and caused her problems?  What if she became a parent one day and professionals deemed her (rightly or wrongly) as having parenting deficits and lacking insight into them and unable to change?  Knowing the parent-blame culture that exists now and the tragedies occurring to autism families misjudged by social services, it could happen.  It’s a scary prospect.  And if she became a parent, there is a significant chance she’d have an autistic child, what if she refused to recognise autism in her own child and seek help for them?  There are so many potential issues with this.

I believe there needs to be focused research on anosognosia in autistics, there needs to be a way to reach someone with this, to help them understand their neurology and be at peace with it.  Autism is an integral part of who someone is, you can’t separate it out.  If someone needs help, it’s important that they recognise that and accept help from others.  How can someone grow and problem-solve in their life if they don’t understand themselves?  We all need to recognise our weaknesses as well as our strengths, not to allow them to hold us back, but to work with what we’ve got and make the best of it.  And there needs to be recognition in the professional world, that a high-functioning autistic, no matter how high their IQ, cannot be deemed to have full capacity, if they do not have the capacity to recognise their own difficulties and the parental knowledge of the individual must not be dismissed.

The “It’s Just a Difference” Delusion

Brain structures implicated in autism I’ve read this so many times now.  And it gets more tired every time.  “Autism is not a disability, it’s just a difference.”  It’s oft-quoted by the more strident and vocal autistic campaigners, who are affronted by the mere hint of autism being seen as disabling, or an encumbrance for the autistic or their parent.  They talk of the gifts of autism, of how it’s only a different way of thinking and cite all the famous people either with it, or who are retrospectively suggested to have been autistic.

So who am I to say different?  I am an autistic adult, parent to two children who are also both autistic.  We are all considered “high-functioning” (that over-quoted misnomer).  Therefore I speak from two perspectives, as an autistic adult dealing with the difficulties autism has given me, surviving in a world that doesn’t understand me and as a parent of two children with immense difficulties and for whom I have to battle constantly, to get their needs met.

I am all for singing the positives of autism.  We do have them and some have splinter skills or special talents (my family included!).  I also believe in selling the positives to a child old enough to be told of their diagnosis, because childhood is a time when people are finding their place in the world and need to build confidence and self-belief.  This can apply to newly diagnosed adults too, who are re-evaluating their life to date through new eyes.

I’m still struggling to get my head around what “ableism” means.  I thought I knew, but it’s used at the drop of hat, sometimes about such subtle and complex scenarios, to the point I don’t know any more.  It’s the hotcake of the autism community, well at least among those strident campaigners.  All I can tell you is the truth.  I’m not interested in arguing about whether “person with autism” or “autistic” is more appropriate (although I much prefer the latter), I’m more interested in getting understanding of autism and the adjustments we need, out there.  Because all the while they are lacking, the world is way more challenging than it needs to be for autistics.

So I want to ask some questions, of those autistics who insist that autism is not a disability, not a deficit.  How is it not disabling when…

  • …my youngest child cannot understand what peoples’ intentions are, leaving her to constantly assume negative things, leaving her having a meltdown that lasts up to 2 hours?
  • …my eldest child (at the age of 13) has needed to sit on my lap for 4 hours sobbing, after first circling the room endlessly downloading what’s happened, because of the stress of her school day?
  • …I go to a meeting and my brain cannot handle all the voices contributing and it leaves me unable to process what’s going on properly, and afterwards I need days to recover?
  • …my youngest child has aggression and hyperactivity that cannot be curbed and which leaves me at times getting punched and hit with objects?
  • …we all have sensory processing disorder, causing much discomfort and difficulty?
  • …my intelligent eldest child with a superior vocabulary, is excluded by peers and cannot talk about things at their level, leaving her isolated and lonely?
  • …my youngest child has to control everything and everyone around her to an extreme degree and does not respond to any normal parenting technique, leaving her potentially unable to find a successful place in society?
  • …my eldest child has such bad OCD that she repetitively questions me until I think I will go crazy from no let-up and why she wastes hours on her OCD habits daily?
  • …I am overwhelmed instantly by every meltdown or incessant questioning episode from either child?
  • …my children are unable to cope with the “bad stuff” in the school curriculum and are in fact traumatised by it, left with nightmares, intrusive thoughts and panic attacks?
  • …we can’t bear busy, chaotic places, they tire our brains and make us overwhelmed?
  • …my communication is constantly misunderstood and criticised by neurotypicals, causing constant challenges and making things way harder than they should be?
  • …I suffer ‘Aspie burnout‘ with such ridiculous regularity, that I feel obliged to refer people to Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory on a regular basis?
  • …my children are emotionally and developmentally delayed, meaning they don’t have a full understanding of potential dangers (yet have irrational phobias that affect their lives) and cannot be left alone?
  • …my eldest child cannot handle plans changing and will shriek, cry and wail in an overwhelming way when they do, no matter how many times I have explained why life is like that?
  • …my youngest child hyper-focuses on sources of anxiety and will find everything a negative?
  • …my youngest child has sleep problems and cannot sleep without melatonin?
  • …why both my children are on medication for anxiety because nothing else has worked?
  • …I feel like an utter alien in the world, my differences are so apparent to me and it seems there is nowhere I fit?
  • …my children have all-consuming phobias that cause them to panic?
  • …my eldest is so offended by her diagnosis that she refuses to accept it?
  • …my eldest was bullied for her differences in school even though nobody knew she was autistic and someone once, outright incredulously asked her if she was autistic?
  • …my eldest was so stressed in high school that she was unable to listen to her body and wet herself several times?
  • …my eldest has been off school for 18 months and counting?
  • …my youngest was unable to integrate into mainstream because it stressed her too much?
  • …my children don’t have any idea or understanding of the impact they have on others?
  • …my children won’t go out with their dad if I don’t go too, because they have separation anxiety?
  • …I was repeatedly passed over for promotion in work and was once sent on a training course in how to interact with people (pre-diagnosis)?
  • …my children come at me with multitudes of worries day and night that they can’t stop thinking about, to pour onto me?
  • …why I’ve had to buy PECS social stories, punch bags for aggressive behaviour and sensory toys for my child?
  • …there have been times when I wanted to take my brain out of my head and leave it on a shelf just to get some peace?
  • …my youngest has major meltdowns and rants in public which show no signs of stopping at 11 years old?
  • …I find it so hard guessing when it’s my turn to speak on the phone and end up butting in accidentally and hate phone calls?
  • …when my youngest has a meltdown which overwhelms me she won’t let me escape to another room, she will follow me, screaming at and hounding me?
  • …why I have had endless battles and tribunals to get statements/EHCP’s, diagnoses, school places, support and more?
  • …why my eldest has no initiative whatsoever and needs to ask me endless daily minutiae to the nth degree?
  • …how even a simple planned or spontaneous outing can end up not happening due to meltdowns and other challenging or exhausting behaviour?
  • …you can get a diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s syndrome, which by the nature of the diagnostic criteria, describes deficits and impairments?

I could have made that list so much longer, but I think you get my drift.  As a parent of autistic children, I can honestly say that I frequently go through hell with them.  It is interspersed with the odd moment of humour and there is a whopping amount of love, but the negatives far outweigh the positives and that’s the simple truth.  Not only seeing their difficulties and wanting so much to make things OK for them and feeling irrationally guilty for giving them autism (I had no idea I was autistic when I started a family), but also the awful, health-destroying, relentlessly challenging behaviour I have to deal with day-in, day-out. The sort of behaviour that is unimaginable to some and makes me wonder how I am still standing.

And don’t forget, being autistic myself, I try to see off as many problems as I can, I know in a general sense what things to avoid or will help, but still there is so much you cannot account for, so many difficulties that will still happen and so much behaviour over which you have no control.

I worry about my children.  They have difficulties I don’t remember having as a child.  They seem to be more autistic than me, I see traits that I desperately hope will ameliorate as they grow, I fear for what will happen if they don’t.  And I fear for what might happen when I am no longer here for them.  Who will care?  I have spent their lives anticipating and catering to their needs, nobody else will have that depth of care for them.  So many of their difficulties will not be understood and will be brushed off by others, even those designed to help.

I saw that today, as I have seen so many other times.  In meeting a professional specifically intended to advocate for children.  She didn’t get it and I could see that she would never fathom what she was doing wrong.  So please, don’t tell me it’s not a disability, that it’s only a difference.  I don’t want to be the same as everyone else, because from my autistic eye-view, I don’t like the way a lot of people are anyway.  But there are so many ways in which we are so disabled and it’s definitely not all down to the social model of disability, it’s down to our brains and our internal experience.  The world is never going to be able to change into everything we want or need, because there is too much of what we endure, that is nothing to do with the world.

“Fluffy” Forums Exclude Autistics

Fluffy dog that can't see The internet is home to a vast array of forums, forums that cater for every type of group possible.  There are support groups relating to particular conditions, whether that be for the individuals with the condition, or parents of children with it.  Autism is no exception.  Sometimes, autistics also have other conditions and will frequent the associated forums.  (We do get about online!)

Being autistic, usually means being frank.  Honesty is the logical approach for autistics, saying it as it is.  The most “high-functioning” among us (usually the ones that mask the most – use a persona to follow social rules) will use forums, sometimes being open about our autism even where the forum is not an autism-related one.  But being “high-functioning” is a curse when NTs expect you to behave exactly like they do, because they give no quarter.

Now, I have touched on this before in a previous post, the issue of being made unwelcome on forums, how sometimes it’s parents of autistic children who surprisingly, are the quickest to exclude autistic adults.  This time, it’s a slightly different angle.  It’s about a seeming culture of fluffiness in forums, where moderators are too quick to jump in and warn or ban members who are telling the truth, because despite it not being told in a malicious way, other members want to stay blind to the truth and are quick to report such posts.  Of course it’s most likely autistics who will fall victim to this happening, precisely because we do tell the truth.

Neurotypicals will all too often take offence at the truth, they want it dressed up, if spoken at all it much be couched in apologetic terms which are mere hints, rather than a bald truth plainly spoken.  But autistics don’t play those games, they aren’t the way we are wired, our brains don’t compute or lend themselves to such social games.  We are intensely confused by them.  Of course, when you are “high-functioning” and analytical, you can recognise behaviours and patterns of behaviour.  But that doesn’t mean you can take part in that – or if you can, it’s an exhausting process of going through the rules in your head and calculating the desired response.  And we may not always get it “right” even then.  I use quote marks there of course, because it might be right for NTs but who says you guys have the prerogative on communication-style?

Don’t forget, an autistic trait is a protected trait according to equality laws, so warning or banning an autistic who is not acting with malicious intent, is discrimination, plain and simple.  Would a moderator take such an action against someone with dyslexia for mis-typing their posts?  If it was possible to display a physical disability into online communication, would they say that wasn’t acceptable?

The line many moderators often draw as to what is considered unacceptable behaviour has been drawn in an unrealistic and discriminatory way.  For instance “be nice” is a seemingly pervasive (and entirely arbitrary!) criterion.  But if autistics speak honestly, they are usually defined as not having been nice, because they didn’t use the fluffy approach.  I have myself, had posts removed, been banned and felt obliged to leave forums due to this problem – and I’m no trouble-maker!  (We can’t have an autistic ruffling the fluff!) Of course I am generalising, there are NTs who do appreciate the honest approach…so this post is of course not aimed at them.  It’s more aimed at the culture allowed and encouraged to pervade by the forum owners.

It also begs the question, if forums are for people to pretend, for people to avoid the truth and to merely seek sycophantic assurances, how useful really are they?  The image at the top of this post intends to represent the point in hand, a fluffy and cute dog, but it has been bred to look like that (nature likely wouldn’t have been so stupid!) and is effectively blinded by it’s facial fluff.  So what use is it’s cute and fluffy fur?  It’s mere decoration.

And this leads me to the fact that NTs are so quick taking offence at the autistic’s lack of fluffiness, that they are missing the fact that an autistic replying to their post is trying to help them with practical solutions, telling them why something is the way it is, so they can recognise the issue and resolve or work on it.  Most autistics want to spread awareness, most autistics offer solutions by default.  Autistics often excel in a particular area (which can be anything!) and we have analytical minds, a tendency to think outside the box.  Why wouldn’t NTs appreciate that type of input and welcome it?

So if fluffy forums have a use, is it not just to have a warm, cuddly environment where people just go for reassurance and similar tales?  I’d rather have forums where you could also obtain practical advice and knowledge, where truth was the main aim.  Who wants misinformation after all.  Isn’t denial a form of misinformation?  And as for dressing up the truth, if an autistic is the person seeking that truth they might miss the hint if it’s couched in fluff, so that again, is a form of discrimination against them, a lack of reasonable adjustment they need to access the service on an equal basis.  Would an able-bodied person expect a person hobbling on crutches to use the stairs the same way they did?  Invisible disability is no less deserving of adjustments.

Of course, some of what is behind this fluffiness is the “PC Brigade“.  Rules have become more and more overbearing, control ever-present and it can feel like the “thought police“are out in force, pervading everything we do.  Maybe there is a fear of forum members taking legal action (for the truth?!) and forum owners are busy covering their collective asses at the cost of discriminating against the minority.  But the minute people stop having empathy for people with communication differences, being appreciative of genuine efforts to help, of making forums as inclusive as society is supposed to be…is the moment humankind has lost it’s humanity.

Miscommunication

The Autism Parent’s Social Diary Poem

female robotHere we go, off to CAMHS again
Fighting the LA is such a pain

Another meeting with the school
Where they will treat me like a fool

Need to call Parent Partnership yet again
Must go to the GP with kiddo’s belly pain

Drat, is SENDIST really so close
Now what is that probiotics dose

Need to get a melatonin scrip
Then off to the SENCO I have to nip

The EHCP needs amending
And the LA is ever unbending

Oh yes, the appointment with the EP
Trouble is, I have no time free

In-between dealing with meltdowns galore
There are no ‘not-too-tight’ socks in the drawer

Where are the ear defenders I bought
And the scissors to reduce labels to nought

Surely today, will be calm after school
If not, it really won’t be cool

You’re joking, already the EHCP review
But we have the OT, so what shall we do

I remember reading when I had the time
I remember enjoying a glass of wine

I vaguely remember what it meant to go out
But now all the days in my diary are crossed out

Full of endless battles and meetings galore
There is no time for anything else any more

The Uncharitableness of Autism Charities

 

wolf in sheeps clothing Sometimes, you can feel no choice but to speak out about wrongs you encounter.  Sometimes, something happens which triggers you to do so.  Today was one of those days.  This is the tale of autism charitable organisations at both national and local levels.

The seed to this post was sown, when I started questioning what autism charities actually do, initially based on my own experiences but then reaffirmed by liaising with others who had  found the same, as well as reading about the experiences of others on forums.  A little bit of reading of some accounts bolstered these views still further.

A few facts about the National Autistic Society (NAS):

The NAS‘ income includes Government funding and also public donations.

71% of it’s  funding goes on staff costs, leaving only 29% for everything else – including actual support for autistics.  This staff, includes staff for it’s schools and admin staff. NAS schools support 500 autistic children across the UK.  The UK has a population of around 150,000 autistic children.  So…tokenism?  Smoke and mirrors?  A very conservative estimate of how many autistic adults there are in the UK, is based on 1%, 641K – but I have seen the figure quoted as 700K and research shows that for every 3 diagnosed people there are at least 2-3 undiagnosed (and it also cites the rate as 1 in 64).

I once asked some questions about their accounts on the NAS’ Facebook page, I was instructed to message them privately – as if they were scared to let the cat out of the bag and then they blocked me from commenting at all, no reason given.  All I had done was quote some figures from their accounts and make associated points.    (A cached version of their latest accounts.)

The NAS runs campaigns, does surveys from which they produce reports, has lots of information about autism on it’s website, runs conferences and training courses.  Of course conferences and training courses are at a charge to delegates and attendees, to at least cover their overheads in running them.  They also have some regional coffee mornings etc. and people can apply to be NAS ambassadors to run things under the NAS flag.

But what physical difference do most autistics feel from such an organisation?  How does it translate on the ground, in day-to-day life?  The NAS has a helpline, when I once called it prior to my youngest child’s diagnosis (whilst on the waiting list to be seen), I was told “We can’t help you without a diagnosis.” and that was that.  I was stunned, as well as left high and dry.  On other occasions having used their email helpline, I discovered that they could not take any action to assist in any form and they sent generic information and links, all of which I had already tried the avenues for, before reaching out to them for help.  And some of their replies took about 4 months to arrive.

The NAS has also failed to speak out about the issue of parents in autism families being falsely accused by professionals, with those accusations sometimes even resulting in children being taken from their families.  They are fully aware of it, they even ran safeguarding workshops to see what angles professionals were dealing with autism families from.  An email conversation and long telephone conversation with a relevant member of NAS staff is also how I know how very aware they are of this problem.  But they have not spoken out publicly whatsoever.  They took the softly-softly approach with the safeguarding workshops, I attended one.  They did not challenge a horrific CAFCASS professional there, who had the most shocking ‘parents are the enemy‘ attitudes towards the family in the role-play.  The most they have stretched to, is giving one such falsely accused parent speaker, Tim Gilling (who also happens to be Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Health and Social Care at The Centre for Public Scrutiny), a platform at a January 2015 safeguarding NAS conference “Getting it Wrong: The Impact on Families” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDKS6NmAEWo  (Most parents however will never have such a platform and no recourse or help, when they find themselves falsely accused, and most professionals will carry on regardless).

Where was the NAS when Monique Blakemore of Autism Women Matter went to the United Kingdom Human Rights Committee “Human Rights Violations Against Parents That are Autistic, Have an Autism Spectrum Condition“?  Why didn’t they publicise the call for research participants for the important survey on autistic motherhood on their website?

I have previously contacted the NAS’ campaigns department over important issues that need raising by them, they are after all the UK’s main autism charity and so have the largest voice and it could be argued, the largest responsibility.  They didn’t respond on any occasion.  I also had cause to contact their legal department over an issue involving an authority’s breach of various laws in regards to autism, three emails and a year later, they never responded there either.  Not a bean.

I additionally contacted them asking for their assistance in organising a fashion show to highlight the issues of females with autism being under-diagnosed.  They were initially enthusiastic – when they thought I wanted to do it all myself and just put their name to it as a ‘supporter’.  Why not after all, free publicity which makes them look good.  But once I clarified that I wanted them to fund it and help source a venue etc. they told me their funds were all already spoken for and they couldn’t help.  Really?  What are ticket sales for then if not to cover costs?  And surely a charity’s funding is there to highlight issues for the people it represents anyway.

The NAS cannot police the Autism Act 2009 or the Autism Strategy 2010 (and nobody else is either).  They never highlight that the Government is not policing it either, at best only pointing out how local authorities are faring on implementation of provision across the UK.  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you eh?

A recent post on their Facebook page was met with a string of comments of people speaking out about how neither they nor their children saw any benefit from the NAS and asking what their funding was being spent on.  Some of these people send monetary contributions to the NAS and pay to be members.  As I used to, but found the quarterly magazine didn’t confer any practical help in everyday life and membership didn’t benefit me in any way.

No Better the Devil You Know…

dancing with the devil

But it’s not just the NAS.  I have encountered a dismally woeful and shocking provision from a local Asperger’s charity which has also shown me how these organisations fail the  very people they are set up to support.

This charity, among other things, assists autistic people with benefits such as DLA by liaising directly with the DWP on their behalf (phone calls and letter writing can be difficult for autistics, especially dealing with layers of departments to get through and staff who don’t explain things clearly).  I gave them authority to do this for me, by signing their requisite letter and was assigned a caseworker, who I met.  Twice.  Other autistics will understand what I mean when I say, that being required to attend meetings is often very stressful, meeting new people is very stressful.  Communication itself, is at times stressful.  It’s a condition with social communication disorder so doesn’t it go without saying?  Other parents of autistic children will also understand when I say that supporting an autistic child requires a lot of work, assessments, meetings, reports, forms, frequent school liaison, EHCPs, DLA, tribunals …ad infinitum.  When you have two autistic children as I have, you can double the stress, exhaustion and time involved.  When you also have autism yourself…well, you get the picture.

So when this caseworker (who had a pattern of being very tardy – and sometimes non-existent – in responding to status update request emails, involving lots of waiting and chasing) went on maternity leave without a word to me, or what was happening with my case (and apparently not handing it over to anyone either), leaving matters (it transpired) unresolved and with much time having wasted, needless to say this was difficult.  In chasing up and finding out there was a new caseworker, I found he was insisting on me going to meet him at their offices, it was even more difficult.  Especially as they knew I had a school-refusing child on my hands, it involved a train journey to-and-from a not well-served station and multiple other regular commitments to contend with – plus having Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, I am frequently physically exhausted.  Finding out that his manager backed him up on this requirement, despite that I had previously met his predecessor and they had all my personal papers and details and therefore knew exactly who I was.  I reminded them that I was entitled to reasonable adjustments and that it was very difficult for me to comply with their request, but they wouldn’t budge, so reaching stress overload with it, I ended up cancelling use of their  service – even though it meant me taking on a challenging matter alone, the like of which they were set up and funded to help people with in the first place.

Fast forward to today, they sent me some of my related post they had received, reminding me indignantly (replete with exclamation mark and it only having reached me by great luck, the caseworker having totally missed out the whole first line of my address resulting in an associated Royal Mail sticker on the envelope, telling me to inform the sender and with RM having worked out where to send it) that I should have notified DWP of the change in arrangements.  At no time when they ceased providing me their service had they told me I needed to do this.  As it was them who instigated the arrangement with my signature of authority, I assumed they would have taken whatever action was required to reverse this.  Us autistics tend to take things at face value, we are not good at predicting or knowing peoples’ intentions.  And I kinda had a whole host of other things I had to deal with taking my attention too.  So, with my PC freezing, making emailing impossible at the time and feeling this needed imminently dealing with (indignant exclamation marks can make you feel that way), I had to ‘bite the bullet’ and phone this charity.

Just phoning them dredged up the emotion and stress they had caused me previously by refusing to meet my reasonable needs  and putting barriers in the way to assisting me, so when I asked for the manager (didn’t trust the caseworker with his exclamation marks and inability to even address the envelope correctly) I expected it to be simple to resolve.  How wrong I was.  For the duration of this call, I was made to feel I was in the wrong and that they had tried to be so flexible.  Autistics can find using the phone very hard, I am one of them.  It’s hard knowing when it’s your turn to speak and often you misjudge and can blurt out your points – often at moments you are intending to be helpful, but also the act of communicating over the phone is fraught with uncertainty.  So when this manager started to say something and I uttered a short contributory sentence related to what she was saying, she tersely told me “Can you let me finish!”  How silly of me to expect an autism charity to be autism-aware.  It was like being a naughty schoolchild being told off.

I explained how stressful it was having this situation arise, especially after them having caused all these delays in the first place and having refused to proceed without putting me through another stress-inducing meeting.  She couldn’t see it – and she wouldn’t have it.  She told me they had tried to be flexible by offering to come to my home.  But I am not alone among autistics in hating having people come into my home, especially strangers.  And by the point this had been suggested they had already ramped up my stress by being obstructive and causing me to worry about the whole DWP issue still being unresolved due to the previous caseworker not dealing with it during all that time, that this was no good either.  It wasn’t even a policy requirement – this was their personal preferences!  I again questioned why they needed to meet me again at all.  The manager staunchly defended the caseworker’s insistence on a meeting, saying she too “…would feel uncomfortable assisting someone they had never met, with something”.  I asked how it was right, that an autism charity would put their own personal feelings above the very people they were set up to support.  She had no answer for that.  Stony silence.  I pointed out that even if it was a policy I would be entitled to reasonable adjustments in having things done differently, according to the Equality Act 2010 and was told that they knew all about the Equality Act as they advised other organisations on it!  I was given buckets-full of excuses as to the reasons previous handling of my case was so delayed – including part-time staff, people going off sick etc. – despite these pressures they still had the time to insist on superfluous meetings based on their own personal preferences (do busy people with a lack of resources have time for such things!).

The emotion of having to deal with this whole scenario had made me upset.  My voice was wobbling.  You could hear I was upset, though I definitely wasn’t shouting.  But instead of offering sympathy and empathy, this manager told me accusingly “you’re raising your voice!”.  I truly wasn’t, I had not been rude or offensive in any way and it was clear this was upset and not anger.  Aside from the fact that voice prosody in autism is often affected as part of the condition and we can speak too loud without meaning to or knowing we are doing so anyway.  But she wanted to belittle me and accuse me, and had no understanding of autism.  She wanted to defend their indefensible actions.  I was blameworthy.  She even said to me “well sorry you *feel* that you’ve not had a good service” (this response is intended to imply it’s untrue, and you are blamed for having that wrongful view, or are being unreasonable – it’s almost legalese to deny liability).  This autism charity, funded by the local authority and barely hanging onto their funding as it is, was discriminating against me – the very person they are supposed to help.  Isn’t charity work about being caring and compassionate?  Isn’t it about having full understanding of the very people you support and meeting their needs?  Isn’t it about providing a service that is accessible and behaving responsibly?  Don’t they have a duty to use their hard-won resources correctly?

And when you point out the effects of what they have done wrong, to still not accept it and try to right the wrong, just makes it cruel.  Quite ironic that their website claims part of their service is to improve wellbeing!

And before I end this post, the ridiculousness of it is, I just had an email from said manager, telling me that the caseworker had only set up the arrangement to receive my post – not to liaise on my behalf with DWP as she had told me she was doing!  So for all those months (at least a year) they were a glorified post office for me and any issues that needed dealing with I was totally unaware of.  Having handed me back a pile of correspondence that I now cannot face.  At least when I had to deal with it myself I knew where I was and what was outstanding.  And after all that, I am left with having to also now contact DWP to sort out redirecting my DLA letters, they won’t reverse the arrangement they set up for me in the first place!  Who knows with all the other stuff I have to contend with, if or when I will be able to sort this out.

I can’t bear incompetence.  We all make mistakes, we are all human.  But to not have any pride in your work or thought for others in doing a good job and getting it right, especially in charitable work, to treat people with such disrespect and contempt is a gross failing.

Shame on them.  But this issue brings it home, that charities exist, flying their own flags bragging about what they do, with their staff no doubt patting themselves on their backs for their philanthropic endeavours (“Me?  Yes, I do charitable work luvvie.”), but it’s largely lip service.  The true measure of whether a charity is doing the right thing, is if as many people as possible benefit from the service, if they meet their service user’s needs, if they bother to learn about the condition they supposedly support and if they spend their money to benefit the people they serve.  Hence the wolf in sheep’s clothing – the outside is an admirable cause, but the inside is all about the money, self-serving, self-glorification and self-aggrandisement.  So I say to these charities:

charity justice quoteYour Job

Judgmental Looks, Tuts and Glares

judging  As any parent of an autistic child will tell you, people can be really judgmental.  Autistic children can have meltdowns wherever you are, in shops, parks, family outings… you name it.  When the child is very young, you may get an understanding smile from another parent, who views it as an ordinary toddler tantrum, but as the autistic child gets bigger, the looks become more and more disapproving.

You can almost hear their thoughts “Can’t s/he control their kid!”, “What a rubbish parent!”, “That child needs some discipline!”.

Some people are obnoxious enough to actually give filthy looks or make nasty or sarcastic comments, even to your face (occasionally even to the autistic child’s face).  Some, if they realise your child has a condition, can even make discriminatory comments about not bringing your child out in public.

How easy it is for those people, to have their perfect children, who don’t panic and start to meltdown because the shop is too busy or too hot, or the hand-dryers in the toilets are too noisy, or because the shop assistant spoke to them.  How easy it is for them to grab a bag and go out with kids in tow, without having to first identify if their child is having a good day or a bad day, think through whether the destination is going to be busier on that day, or whether it’s too hot and their temperature-sensitive child is going to become overwhelmed before half an hour has passed.  Or even whether as a parent, you possess the wherewithal that day, to deal with it, if anything like that does happen.

Autism parents don’t expect everyone to automatically know about autism, or what effects autism has on the person with it.  But we do expect that when they see a child who isn’t a toddler, having what looks like a toddler tantrum, they realise there is clearly something up that can’t be helped.  When they see that child repetitively and apparently aggressively questioning their parent, or loudly demanding x, y, z, they should think twice before they look child and parent up and down like dirt on their shoe.  (Yes, middle-aged lady in Asda, that was you, at your age I would have expected more compassion and understanding).  Because that child was in a panic they couldn’t control.

They should realise, that when they see a parent with such a big child behaving that way, the reason the parent is not telling their child off and is staying oddly calm, what looks to them like a passive ‘doesn’t-give-a-damn’ parent, is in fact a parent who knows their child has reached the point of being overwhelmed and the last thing they need is their parent shouting at them to behave.  That if the parent deals with it the wrong way, it could push that big child into aggression through sheer blind panic, that could affect members of the public around.  Is that what they would prefer?

And when their own perfect children all stop to stare open-mouthed, it would be nice if they could tell them not to stare with open mouths.  To lead them away and explain that the child cannot help it and it can make them even more overwhelmed if they realise everyone is staring.  And actually, yes, it is also rude.  And if you could also actually supervise your children, so they don’t gather in a circle round the autistic child, that would be appreciated too.  A little compassion goes a long way as they say.  While you have the luxury of not even watching your children, so may not even be aware they are treating an autistic child like a zoo exhibit, there is an autism parent who never gets a minute off, who has to supervise their child the whole time to keep them safe and ensure they are keeping their equilibrium.

While members of the public having perfect children, can go on holiday without a second thought, leaving them rested and full of beans, so that they have the energy to take such an interest in the lives of others and generate negative looks and comments, there are autism families who don’t get to take holidays at all.  Or if they do, they have to restrict themselves to certain types of holidays (perhaps nowhere involving an airplane, or no hotel – only detached chalets to avoid inflicting meltdowns on those in adjacent rooms, or no coach journeys) meaning potentially higher costs, less holidays overall or no opportunities to see the world and have a relaxing beach holiday.  Some autism families are unable to leave their children with friends or family because of their child’s needs.  So they can never have a ‘me time’ break or holiday.

So some sympathy, even some admiration would be welcome.  But when autism parents go out with their children, what they don’t need is judgmental looks, tuts and glares, nor sarcasm or nastiness.  Most autism parents are not receiving the support they should receive from health or social care, they are unpaid heroes doing their best to raise their children to achieve whatever is possible for them to achieve.  They are battered by having had to fight the system every step of the way for their child’s basic rights and the difficulties in being included in society.

So take a leaf out of this man’s book we don’t expect you to pay our tab, but this sentiment is what mattered most to the autism mum when her son had a meltdown in the restaurant:

God Bless Note

You may just restore an autism parent’s faith in humanity and feel better about yourself as well.

State Kidnapping of the Children of Autistic Mothers

kidnapped child 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 were in no way 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 each 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 to ¾ of general child protection referrals turn out to be unwarranted.  Imagine 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 for the reasons it is currently being misused, 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 false 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 ~ either through confirmation bias, or collusion.

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 and wrongly judged.

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 (a particular Aspie mum lost her children by use of such false accusations):

  • 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 (as with 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 according to the tick-boxes.

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 (shockingly “public policy” ~ AKA saving face, is considered more important than destroying families lives), 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://insar.confex.com/insar/2016/webprogram/Paper22166.html  “Allegations of fabricated illness, and high rates of surveillance by social services suggest there may be discrimination towards mothers with autism.”

The Aspie Adult – An Uncomfortable Reminder?

Ostrich This is a challenging post to write, but never one to shy away from speaking the truth, I decided to go ahead – and hope it would make people think – and not jump to defensiveness.  Buzzing around in my head, were questions such as “will it offend people?” and “will it alienate people?”  As an adult with Asperger’s, I have been only too aware of my differences over the years and the difficulties I have faced.  Granted, I was not diagnosed as a child, so I existed without any of the supports that are available today for autistic children and it could be called into question whether I would have fared better with those supports – but I suspect not.  I slipped under the radar – as do many Asperger’s females, people might have thought I was shy or a bit anxious, but no-one ever questioned me being “normal”.  The majority of high-functioning adults of today, were not diagnosed as children, many are still undiagnosed, but we exist.  Childhood supports or not, you can do nothing to undo the fact that you are autistic – and will always be autistic.

As an autistic adult using the virtual world of online forums, I have found that there is just as much (in fact probably more) risk of communication problems with others as there is in “real life”.  I wondered if I was singularly argumentative; didn’t realise that my directness was viewed as just plain rude by others and I questioned myself.  But this still didn’t explain it, bearing in mind that no matter how cross someone might make me online, I remain calm and collected and respond as professionally as possible.  At times this seemed to inflame people even more, because they were losing their cool and I wasn’t.  And what puzzled me even more, is that these were people already immersed in the world of autism, who were criticising ASC traits, or communication style, in an adult, yet their children had those same traits that they were asking society for understanding of.  Then I started reading of the experiences of others on the spectrum, who also faced problems on forums.  It struck a chord, when one person described themselves as being targeted and pushed out, by parents of autistic children, who they assumed would be grateful for a window into the mind of an autistic adult, to enable them to understand their own child better.

I have found this too and I am still trying to understand why.  Of course there are the social games that exist in NT society, those games we on the spectrum fail to understand; do not play and tend to either fall victim to – or are blindly oblivious to.  It stands to reason I guess, that those games will be the same on forums.  I have realised that parenting forums, seem to be about exchanging mutual stories and supporting one another, but that the expression of oneself as an Asperger’s adult, doesn’t always seem to be appreciated, especially if it involves the hard facts of life.  The NT parent often doesn’t seem to want to face, that no matter how much supporting/treating/attempting to “cure” their child, they will still be highly unlikely to have the same life as an NT.  They will remain autistic as an adult, even if they are existing in a mainstream way, they will have anxiety over things that NT’s won’t; their sensory difficulties will always play a part in their lives even if they manage to mask the impact of them for periods of time; they will always need a certain level of control; they will usually be exhausted by socialising and may avoid it; they will misunderstand others and be misunderstood by them; struggle in employment (around 75% are unemployed or only in part-time employment) and relationships – including romantic ones.  Even those with the so-called mildest form of autism will struggle and will be prone to mental health issues, due to trying so hard to fit in, but always having difficulties doing so, or it just being so plain exhausting.  This link gives some examples of how autistic adults struggle: http://www.iancommunity.org/cs/adults

Parents love their children and desperately want the best for them (I’m a parent too!), are trying to ensure they are able to “fit” into society, but this is part of what is driving the lack of acceptance, lack of understanding, lack of reasonable adjustments, for us ASC adults.  We don’t want to have to conform to an NT way of being, we want to be allowed to be us – and for that to be OK.  NTs wrote the rules for society, but they often don’t fit us, why can’t new rules be added, most of the existing ones are ridiculous anyway!  It’s why I challenge my autistic children’s schools to make those adjustments, to adapt things for them, because they are suffering in being forced to fit in and change is needed.  If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why places like Autscape and Autreat exist.

So I came to the realisation, that it is because an autistic adult is an unwanted reminder, an uncomfortable acknowledgment for some parents of autistic children, that their child will be like me one day.  An autistic adult, still having struggles.  For any parent, they want their child to have equality and be able to achieve.  Admitting that it might not happen, certainly not the way they hoped, could be a tough thing to face.  That all those supports that help their child get through school, and catch up with childhood milestones, might not bring the idealistic end result they hoped for.  There are parents veritably traumatised by their child’s autism diagnosis, they go through a kind of grief, depression and sadness.  So perhaps they plough all their efforts into obtaining those supports, hang on to the fact that it must be helping and their child will somehow “recover” enough to not seem autistic.  But what they don’t see, is that sometimes, this might enable an autistic child to grow up to “pass” as NT, to mask many of their difficulties, but inside, they are often still going through the same torments, difficulties, challenges and stress as they ever were.  An acquaintance told me once, that she had immersed her Asperger’s daughter in as many play-dates and sleep-overs as possible as a child.  She grew to be a past master at fitting in, but it did her absolutely no favours as she was suffering greatly inside as a young adult.  The pretence actually adds to the pressure and the stress we suffer.  It’s what I advocate as being ill-advised, the square peg into the round hole mentality.  I understand that it is doing a child a service by giving them speech and language therapy, potty training them and calming aggressive tendencies, but there are so many autistic traits that need to be accepted as just, OK.

It just saddens me, that NTs often want to play those games, to make themselves feel better.  So here are some questions for NTs to ask themselves:  Can’t we celebrate some of the positives of having autism?  Can’t we allow autistics just to… be?  Do we have to be shocked and angry when someone tells the honest truth without malice?  Do we have to shut people out because they don’t conform?  Do we have to expect them to be like “us”?  Do we have to continue to force these square pegs into round holes?  Because society is currently blinkered, does that mean it has to continue to be?  When we face an autistic adult, can we not stop turning our faces the other way?  Can we not stop criticising their traits as something to be ashamed of, or ganging up to ostracise them?  Is this what we want for our children?  When our children are bullied or ostracised in the playground, is this what we want to replicate as adults?  Or do we want to be like those playground bullies?

So next time you are online (or even in “real life”) and you don’t like an ASC adult challenging the status quo, delivering information in a factual way, or saying the things no-one else will say, maybe try opening your mind and realising that if we don’t do it, perhaps no-one else will.  Everyone has their purpose in life.  Some of the greatest minds that have existed are thought to have been autistic.  Sometimes, it’s the black sheep that makes the biggest mark.  And that person allowed to be themselves, could be your child.

Autism and Education: Does Inclusion Work?

Inclusion“Inclusion” – that education buzz word that every parent with an autistic child, most likely has at least some reservations about.  Children at the “severe” end of the spectrum usually attend special schools, as their needs or difficulties are great enough to interfere with education in a mainstream setting.  What about those at the “high-functioning” end of the spectrum?  They are intelligent, with at least an average IQ, they are verbal and can usually manage basic functions like the toilet and self-care to varying degrees that are considered acceptable enough, to be absorbed into mainstream education.  Does inclusion work for those children?  I strongly believe it doesn’t.

High-functioning autistic children probably wouldn’t get their academic needs met in a special school (and there would likely also be sensory difficulties from learning along side children with severe disabilities), so we need to have more schools specifically for these children, who have a very unique set of needs, being academically able but also needing the right amount of reasonable adjustments to make their experience accessible and their wellbeing ensured. Autism rates are rising so this issue can’t be ignored.

Autism awareness is shockingly low in the UK. We end up with lots of ASC children excluded, becoming “school refusers” or just suffering terribly with anxiety and behavioural issues, because mainstream inclusion isn’t working for them. But still, the tick-box mentality prevails and the Government wants to do their utmost to force autistic children into mainstream schools which demand, cajole and pressure them into an NT way of being – the square peg into a round hole.

I’m far from alone in believing inclusion doesn’t work, here are several articles about it:

  1. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/specialneeds-education-does-mainstream-inclusion-work-470960.html
  2. http://www.teachers.org.uk/files/active/0/costs_of_inclus-pt2.pdf
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/jan/11/comment.publicservices
  4. http://behaviourguru.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/when-everyones-special-no-one-is-how.html
  5. https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/people/staff/galton/Costs_of_Inclusion_Final.pdf
  6. http://www.allfie.org.uk/pages/useful%20info/integration.html

There are organisations set up specifically for the purpose of assisting parents to communicate their child’s needs to their school.  Surely if inclusion worked, the schools would be prepared for autistic children, trained to support them and understanding of what reasonable adjustments they need?  It’s law after all, the Equality Act 2010 states that everyone with a disability is entitled to reasonable adjustments in accessing education and other sectors of society.  Hearts and Minds is one such organisation set up to help parents:  http://heartsandmindsphones.co.uk/advocacy/  They state:

“The research revealed that 67 per cent of parents worry that their child is not supported appropriately at school, with more than half admitting that their child has experienced negative comments, or bullying, as a result of their condition. Parents described mainstream schooling as a ‘lonely’, ‘scary’ and ‘very anxious environment’.

“With 69 per cent of parents stating that schools are not appropriately aware of their child’s condition and receive inadequate support and information from central Government on how to sufficiently teach them, it’s clear that something has to be done to address this growing problem.” – Ian McGrath, Founder of Hearts & Minds

In my personal experience, having moved my eldest child from one secondary school where she suffered terrible bullying which the school refused to acknowledge or support her with, and her next school seemingly wanting to do the right thing but needing a lot of badgering and still not “getting it” adequately, I have learned the hard way.  My younger daughter, being in an ASC unit from which she integrates for part of the day, I thought this would give the right support, but ironically (and shockingly) the unit staff seem to have extremely low autism awareness and both children struggle terribly socially.  I don’t feel mainstream staff have anywhere near enough training and they don’t understand the autistic child’s needs, let-alone have the time to support them.  The environment is often too busy, noisy, stressful and demanding for an ASC child, which they may be unable to communicate, instead melting down and disintegrating when they go home.

If an autistic child needs a statement to get by in mainstream school, doesn’t this tell the Government something?  I would also like to ask why autism training is not compulsory for all school staff?  How are they supposed to even try to support autistic children if they don’t understand them?

It seems to be pretty common that autistic children are punished at school for autism behaviours, in the belief that they are just being naughty.  Until there is understanding that the neurology of an autistic child is different to a neurotypical child, then things like this will keep on happening.

It’s hard enough trying to support an autistic child in a mainstream school, but then parents also often have to battle the LA to get a statement (now EHCP) for their child in addition.  There doesn’t seem to be much sympathy for the fact that high-functioning autistic are struggling hugely with anxiety or depression because they are academically able.  If the child is female it’s much worse, because females on the spectrum tend to internalise their difficulties and schools often fail to accept that the child is really in that much distress.

So my belief is that inclusion does not work, staff are untrained in autism, they don’t have the capacity to support the child to the level they need and what is needed is autism-specific schools that cater for the needs of high-functioning autistic children.  Those schools would be set up in such a way that they take into account sensory needs, are run in a way to reduce stress and pressure on the children so that they don’t feel the need to explode onto their families after school, they should allow the children time out when they need it and have on-site ASC trained counsellors who can help them reduce stress throughout the day.

These are the adults of tomorrow, if we don’t get things right now, we could be left with a much greater burden in years to come.

The Injustice of State Abuse

1984 George Orwell The increasing paranoia and accusations against parents, of “emotional abuse” and even “potential for future emotional abuse” has taken hold of the nation.  No parent alive in the UK today, is safe from such accusations.  If you are a parent of special needs or disabled children, your risk increases.  If your child (or you as the parent) have what is termed as an invisible disability (such as autism), the risk shoots higher still.  Ignorance of the presentation of some conditions that are classed as invisible disability, means that behaviours and family dynamics can be misinterpreted.  Unwillingness to admit they got it wrong, causes professionals to dig their heels in further and continue on the path they have chosen.  Dr Nigel Speight a doctor specialising in ME, gave an interview with a Dutch presenter on his own experience of supporting families falsely accused this way.  The Government is aware of this issue, but is protecting professionals who commit such state abuse, there is no accountability for these professionals and the hypocrisy that they are falsely accusing parents, yet causing the very thing they accuse the parents of, cannot go unnoticed or unchallenged.

I read a blog today, about the so-called Cinderella law, which could see parents face up to 10 years in prison for “emotional abuse” of their children.  I am angered at the fact that many special needs children in school, mainstream especially, are being emotionally damaged by their experience in the school environment, but this is not only ignored but considered as normal and acceptable.  Let’s list some environmental factors that social services might consider emotionally damaging to a child and due to which they would intervene:

  • showing children films and videos that they are too young for and are traumatic to them
  • turning a blind eye to mistreatment of the child
  • denying the child their basic human rights to drink water and visit the toilet when they need
  • brushing off the child’s concerns that are distressing to them, thereby denying them a voice
  • punishing the child unfairly
  • forcing the child to become aware of things they are not emotionally ready for
  • ignoring the child’s special needs and not adapting their environment accordingly
  • ignoring and denying the voice of the child regarding all factors in their environment

Rightly, you would expect social services to question the child’s parenting and possible emotional abuse of the child wouldn’t you?  Now take on board the fact that this is a list of just some of the environmental factors schools subject children to on a daily basis.  Not only is this accepted by the state, but it is actively condoned.  A disability social worker actually said to me “we won’t say anything against a school” and this was witnessed by an independent person.  If a child was showing such distress over their home environment as they do over school, social services would view this as serious harm and remove the child.  Yet a very senior person in social care told me, that my distressed autistic daughter must “get used to it” because “it’s a tough world for these children out there”.  Would they use this same justification if a parent had been responsible?

So why is there such a massive double standard?  How is such state abuse condoned?  The above list represents the average school day, and doesn’t even go into the cases where physical abuse and neglect have occurred in care homes and schools by their staff.  There are never repercussions for guilty parties either.

The state can trump up charges of “emotional abuse” at whim.  Many parents are finding that fighting for provision and support for their special needs child, triggers these false accusations as a result.  Here is an Autism Eye article on this issue: http://media.wix.com/ugd/58c8f1_211d0efb4ae842f5aba2e2d5b1519d42.pdf  Children can be removed from their innocent natural family and placed in foster homes and care placements in which they actually do suffer abuse.

I am sick of the tired phrase bandied about by social workers and their defenders “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”.  It simply isn’t true.  Failings resulting in child deaths, such as Victoria Climbie and Baby P are a result of the culture in social services of preferring to target decent, innocent families to fill up their caseloads with, rather than undertake challenging work with families where there may be violence, drug abuse, alcoholism and as Dr Speight says, “they’d rather sit drinking a cup of tea with a nice family than get chased off an estate by someone with a rottweiler”.

“Emotional abuse” seems to be the ‘in thing’ with social services, families are being wrongly broken up, scarring the children and parents for life.  Some families fortunately get their children back: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/council-unlawfully-took-autistic-teenager-4368205 but there must be many who don’t.  Secret courts and judges accepting biased and dishonest, cherry-picked and misrepresentative professional evidence without question, ensures that for many, there is no justice.

It’s not only about the moral panic prevalent within the UK, it’s about lack of understanding and corrupt professionals.  There must be no place in our society for such people to hold support roles.  Social workers do lie, I have direct experience of it.  They rest easy in the knowledge that they are untouchable, such that they have no compunction about doing so even when independent witnesses can verify they have lied.  It’s abuse of power and misfeasance in public office, not to mention contravention of the Data Protection Act 1998 and in some cases, breach of the Equality Act 2010.

Today I read an article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29459303 “Disabled Childrens’ Behaviour Deteriorates at School”.  When the child is high-functioning autistic, they may restrain their distress about school whilst there and release it at home where they feel safe to do so, females in particular.  This means that professionals assume that because the behaviour is happening at home, the problematic environment is in the home.  Yet, contradictorily, if the child acts out at school, they also assume the problem comes from the home environment.

When parents ask for their child to be assessed for autism, oftentimes the professionals they encounter will send them on parenting courses and look at their parenting instead of just getting on and assessing the child for autism or other issues so that they know what they are working with from the start.  This not only ensures delays to a child getting support and prolonged stress on the family, but wastes public resources.

The UK is supposedly a democratic society, a society where justice prevails and families are supported to stay together.  Instead, punitive control, misuse of power and abuse of human rights seem to be taking control steadily.  We must fight this, not become complacent, not wait until it happens to you, before you stand up and speak out.  So I’ll re-use a quote I have used before:

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse”.

10 Myths About Autism

myth busting  There is such a lot of ignorance about autism around, I blame the Government for not raising awareness with public service announcements, lack of realistic representations in the media and lack of training for those who need to have the awareness.

Here are some of those myths:

  1. Autistic people have no/severely impaired theory of mind – utter tosh, read this article: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-02/uow-eqp021606.php;
  2. Autistic people have no empathy – there are several types of empathy: cognitive – being aware/accepting of, the feelings and views of others, affective – also known as sympathy, are two of those types and whilst we may have some impairment in cognitive empathy we most definitely have sympathy http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3494975/;
  3. Autistic people do not have feelings/show affection – we may show them differently at times, but I can assure you we most definitely have them and and whilst some people on the spectrum dislike hugs for sensory reasons, many of us are very huggable on our own terms;
  4. Autistic people do not love – we can love intensely, see the Intense World Theory of autism to see how we may actually experience the world more deeply than NTs https://medium.com/matter-archive/the-boy-whose-brain-could-unlock-autism-70c3d64ff221 and some spectrumites even have a person as the object of their special interest (we’re not talking stalkers here!):
  5. Autistic people do not get married or have families – where do you think all the autistic children are coming from! Many have autistic parents and it is largely a genetic/epigenetic condition, what is clear is that divorce rates can be high among ASC/NT marriages but then they are high in the general population too;
  6. Autistic people are violent – we are no more violent than anyone else, meltdowns are a state of overwhelmedness not aggression or violence and like everyone else, we are also a product of our upbringing, environment and life experiences, do not confuse us with sociopaths and psychopaths.  In fact, people on the spectrum are more likely to fall victim to violence than the average person.  (There can be co-morbid conditions such as ADHD which can make an autistic child especially, tending towards aggression but autism itself does not cause violent tendencies);
  7. Autistic people are mostly male – my belief is that the real ratio is actually 1:1. Because diagnostic criteria were researched and written on males, they do not take into account female presentation of the condition and therefore many females have failed to get diagnosed.   Slowly awareness is rising (although still not anywhere near good enough) and diagnoses of females are increasing, with clinics such as the UK Lorna Wing Centre currently estimating the ratio at 2.5:1 even though the official UK statistics are often quoted at their lowest, at 4:1;
  8. Autistic people all have learning disabilities/low IQ – even at the lowest functioning end of the spectrum, whilst the individual can appear to be locked into their own world and non-verbal, they can still be intelligent (look up Carly Fleischmann). To have an Asperger’s diagnosis you must have an IQ of >70 and they don’t call Asperger’s the geek syndrome for nothing – but that doesn’t mean we are all savants either, pro rata I would guess that people with AS/HFA number as overall more intelligent than the average population of NTs;
  9. Autistic people cannot hide their condition – at the higher functioning end, many of us (especially females) mask our condition – at great expense to ourselves. In fact, it is the higher-functioning autistics that end up with the most risk of anxiety and depression out of all autistic people, due to self-awareness and feeling forced to fit in with society and not getting any support for their condition;
  10. Autism is a mental illness – this is utterly false, it is a neurodevelopmental/neurobehavioural condition, in which the brain is wired slightly differently. It is not a mental illness and it’s a shame that assessment and diagnosis of the condition usually falls under the mental health services umbrella because this perpetuates the myth. In mental health services, people encounter psychiatrists and psychologists who may legally be qualified to assess and diagnose ASC, but are often not experienced or well-trained in it and therefore many adults end up wrongly in the mental health system, misdiagnosed and wrongly medicated, which sadly can in itself produce mental ill-health as a result.

So, Jeremy Hunt, MP and Secretary of State for Health – when are you going to start doing something about the lack of autism awareness?

CAMHS and autism: A story in pictures…

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so this post will be telling a story in pictures…

THE CLAIM…

useless at job (CAMHS) 5useless at job (CAMHS) 6

 

AND THE REALITY…

useless at job (CAMHS)useless at job (CAMHS) 3useless at job (CAMHS) 2useless at job (CAMHS) 4waiting list incompetence incompetence 2CBToverpaid This is a story of thousands of children on the autistic spectrum, not getting their needs met, by a service that is unfit for purpose.  The NAS website has documents entitled “You Need To Know…” regarding evidence on this problem, as reported by thousands of parents UK-wide.

The UK Government is undertaking a Parliamentary Select Committee review on this national disgrace that is CAMHS: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/health-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/cmh-2014/

Thought for the day (and  this one is directed at CAMHS):

Your Job

The “square peg into a round hole” mentality and it’s value to autistics

square peg round hole

There seems to be an overwhelming desire in all areas of life, to make people with autism fit into a neuro-typical (NT) way of being.  Apparently it’s better for us to be like NTs.  It applies to how we are socialised, educated, and how as adults, we work.  There is an all-pervading view, that autistic children must be exposed as much as possible, to the same levels of socialising as their NT peers, to make them like it and get used to it – and because “it’s good for them”.  NT parents don’t always realise, that doing this won’t necessarily help their child and can actually cause much unhappiness and discomfort.  Most parents are only trying to do what they believe is best, but an NT parent can in some cases struggle to be in tune with their child in the way they need.  Sometimes of course, they are working from bad advice from professionals too.  I read on an autism forum, how a parent (who is themselves on the spectrum) tried to expose their autistic daughter to as many sleepovers and socialising events as possible when she was younger and how once the daughter reached young adulthood, it hadn’t done her daughter any favours.  Because as an ASC female she had good masking skills which may have been further honed by her typical life experiences, to the point that she could pass as NT, but suffered internally because she still has the same autistic experience as a person on the spectrum who isn’t good at masking their condition – yet feels pressured to hide her true self.

Many autistic children, having experienced a full day at school, are exhausted and want quiet time, to be alone or to find their own ways to de-stress.  Insisting on putting that child in after school clubs, visiting friends/having friends or relatives round, or going to activities after school, or having sleepovers can overwhelm the child.  Don’t forget they will have been interacting and socialising all day at school, the very thing that is challenging and tiring for them, so it’s perfectly fine if they don’t want to do yet more.  Not all children on the spectrum act out their distress either, the passive autistic can internalise it and end up depressed and self-harming as a way of dealing with their internal state.  They will have endured sensory input all day and are being asked to endure yet more.  An autistic person’s ears can actually feel more sensitive by the evening, be less tolerant of sound, as if they have reached their input limit and need a rest.

Being high-functioning and having good masking skills (as I have posted on my blog before) is actually a curse in many ways.  Because not only does society pressure you to fit in and be “normal” but you pressure yourself too because your intelligence allows you to notice your differences and that level of self-awareness brings inhibitions.  It’s not something you want to do – to go round explaining to all and sundry “Actually I am autistic, so sorry if I don’t act the same way you do, or do anything you might consider odd, just so you know.” to let yourself off the hook to be yourself.  It’s a hard thing to deny your whole being, by acting in a certain way.

Some children and adults with ASC retreat to their room and are content to just sit on the computer for instance, or pursue a special interest alone.  Parents especially, can worry about this and think they must encourage the individual out of their room to participate more in the world.  But sometimes, that is enough for that individual at that time.  Quiet and solitary activities are often the autistic person’s way of sorting out the jumble in their head from their day, and strengthening themselves to carry on for the next one.   It’s valuable time for us.  Many of us live in a very internal world, and solitary activities can allow the space to think through events of the day and make sense of them.  Some spectrumites want to socialise and are upset at their difficulties it’s true, but not all.  It’s wise to ask the person what they want, and if they make it clear they are struggling, then offer support on their terms.  Don’t feel it’s OK to make them like NT peers and force them into things they just don’t want.  Some people on the spectrum are at risk of becoming isolated if they are not supported and encouraged, but that’s a different thing than making someone do things just because it’s your view of what is normal.

I was not diagnosed until I was an adult, I went to mainstream school and was made to do all the things my peers did.  It did not change my coping abilities or limits, whatsoever.  I still struggle in communication, I still often prefer to be indoors alone, I go out and do things on my own terms and usually only when I feel I’ve had enough days indoors, being quiet.  If I start trying to fit too many things in, or pressure myself to keep up with everyone else, I quickly become exhausted and need days to recover afterwards, so it’s counter-productive.

Teaching socialising skills is a positive thing, it is known that early interaction is very beneficial to autistic children, but that still doesn’t mean that the individual will have the desire to interact to the same level as NT peers.  Sometimes, you need to let someone just “be”.  Listen to the quiet voice of what they are telling you.  It’s better to help provide the skills the person needs, but also understand they have a choice and can be very instinctive about what their own needs are.  Meltdowns are a child’s (or adult’s) way of communicating that they are in a situation that is too much for them or they have reached their limits.  So do listen to those meltdowns.  Perhaps it’s not that you are doing the wrong things for that child, but that you are just going about them the wrong way.

Mainstream schools sadly, educate autistic children in a way that means making them comply as much as possible to NT styles.  It doesn’t necessarily work for autistic children.  It’s not about making children on the spectrum “fit for society”, it’s time adjustments were made in society to allow autistics to be accepted on their own terms.  We are at least 1% of the population and rising.  In the US autism rates are now 1 in 50  and the UK rates are likely higher than is officially recorded because the NHS is very slow to diagnose females and seems to have set the bar too high, as in many cases they are failing to diagnose people (citing “autistic traits but not enough for a diagnosis”).  So as such a large minority, ought society not be adapting to us?  They put wheelchair ramps and disabled toilets in for physically disabled people, induction loops for the deaf and crossings have textured paving for the blind and partially sighted.  What about us?  It’s discriminatory to believe that an invisible disability is less deserving of accommodations and the law says we are entitled to them in many instances – but we need it across the board.

I have just returned from taking my eldest daughter to a medical appointment.  I told them she was autistic and they could see she was anxious.  When she had to have x-rays she started asking a lot of questions, clearly needing reassurance – which I was giving her, but the radiologist started getting snappy and saying “well I’m not going to force anyone and I have someone else to see” instead of recognising that she just needed to answer a series of questions my daughter needed to ask, to be reassured.  Where was that small accommodation?  She clearly didn’t understand autism and expected my daughter to be like an NT child and attributed her need for reassurance to her not being prepared to undergo the x-rays – in which case she wouldn’t bother.

I want to be me.  I don’t want to be a cultivated and exhausting version of me that suits everyone else.  I don’t want to be something I’m not and fear judgment and derision by society for being different.  That’s what all autistic people want.  We don’t want to hide behind a mask.  We will always be square pegs, so start making some square holes for us because as you can see from the picture above, when you force a square peg into a round hole, we end up broken.

(And just imagine, if rates of autism keep growing, NTs could end up in the minority – and who will be asking for adjustments then?)

Thought for the day:

be-the-change

 

Autism Truth ~ a poem

Image  It’s a place of confusion, this world around
Not “getting” others, commonly found
Feeling misunderstood and not knowing why
Not seeing others eye-to-eye

Like an alien being, lost in their midst
Feeling communication stutter and twist
Telling the truth, such hostility abounds
They want lies and cover-ups to do the rounds

How strangely they judge from a mistaken stance
No capacity for any face value acceptance
You can’t be for real, or are mentally defective
Because they cannot see, your honest perspective

These games they play, like tricks and deceit
Is par for their course, is no big feat
What is it you want, or what can they get
Can’t they see, this is so wrong yet

In my mind I have a different place
I can retreat to when, I can’t take the pace
It’s a spiritual plane, evolved and knowing
Whilst all around this mad world is blowing

There is wrongness out there in all its forms
I will never, to their ways conform
There’s a purpose to this, a meaning to come
One day all the wrongness will be undone

Autism Unawareness

Lesser_hedgehog_tenrec_Echinops_telfairi Meet the “hedgehog” tenrec, which isn’t a hedgehog and is more closely related to the elephant.  It lives on Madagascan islands, where there are no hedgehogs – and if you saw a tenrec, your first reaction would be to think that it was indeed a hedgehog.  The tenrec is one of many examples the world over, of convergent evolution.  There are also a variety of creatures that evolve to mimic other creatures to avoid being eaten, and can naturally be mistaken for the real thing.  You may wonder why this subject is appearing on an autism blog, of all places.  It’s because of the widespread problem people on the autistic spectrum face, in being misdiagnosed and mistaken by health professionals as having mental illnesses.  It isn’t always what it may first appear to be and assumptions are dangerous.

I will give you some examples I have recently faced myself, with my (now ex) GP who had such abysmal lack of autism awareness it beggared belief.  I have always talked rapidly, not necessarily the whole time, but episodically.  It isn’t necessarily a stress reaction, sometimes I just have a lot to say and need to get it out before I forget what it was I was saying.  The perils of verbal communication.  Rapid speech is a known feature in autism.  And yet I was automatically considered mentally ill with severe anxiety with this trait being termed “pressure of speech” being used as justification by this GP.

Likewise, my habit of wearing earplugs on a cord around my neck, to protect my ears in the event of environmental noise due to auditory hypersensitivity (another known sensory issue in autism) this was listed as a reason for some sort of mental health problem.  This GP spent a long time falsely attributing my Asperger’s traits to mental health issues and circulating his opinion within a professional network.  This is a service failing of massive proportions.  Not only did he fail to understand my ASC traits as such, but he refused to provide me simple reasonable adjustments in accessing the surgery, in direct contravention of the Equality Act 2010 and the Health & Social Care Act 2008.  I did my best to educate him, by providing him with links and quotes regarding legal responsibilities on the practice, but it was ignored.  Instead of doing his duty, he falsely recorded details of consultations and misattributed my traits to severe anxiety.  This led to highly inappropriate and unwarranted referrals because he decided that as a parent, this meant my children were at risk, without any cause.

Both my children are on the autistic spectrum.  They are intelligent, extremely loved, very well-parented, clean and healthy children.  I had chosen to home-educate them for a period, before they were diagnosed as they were unhappy at school and the younger child was not coping there.  On the basis of me home-educating, (with, by my own choice, local authority approved provision) and without asking me any questions regarding how it was going and what we did for socialising opportunities, he jumped to erroneous conclusions, decided I was mentally ill with severe anxiety and whipped up a frenzy in the professional network.  I knew nothing at the time, only finding out much later when he telephoned me and accused me of exaggerating my eldest child’s school difficulties and of causing both children’s anxiety, ignoring documented evidence from my daughter herself and professionals she had reported it to, that it was her school causing her distress.  My eldest child hadn’t yet got her diagnosis, she had recently returned to school and was being bullied there and they were not supporting her anywhere near adequately, they were in fact reducing the level of support she got which was already only lip service.  She was having massive meltdowns every day after school, begging me to to remove her from the place that was causing her such distress.  In over 70% of autistic people, there are additional conditions, with anxiety being one of them.  This GP even asked my daughter herself whether I was causing her anxiety!  She said to me afterwards “It’s not you causing me anxiety, it’s the other way round.” in reference to me dealing with her frequent school-related meltdowns and supporting her.

In the meantime, this GP was calling multi-disciplinary meetings with professionals, again unknown to me at the time, citing potential for emotional harm from me to my daughter, because he was so determined to paint me as a neurotic, mentally ill person.  And bear in mind, that he knew that I had a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.  Her persisted so much with this unprofessional, ill-judged and almost unhinged behaviour, that he was having an effect on other professionals who started to believe him, even with professional evidence available of what my daughter was going through at school being the cause of her difficulties.  The stress and trouble he caused for our family was enormous.  All because he was unaware about autism, and couldn’t think any differently from what his neurotypical, blinkered, text book mentality told him.  And all the time he was continuing this way, he delayed my child getting the right support because he had everyone barking up the wrong tree as to the cause of her difficulties.  Everything I was saying, was proven to be true because my daughter was telling clinical professionals what a terrible time she was having at school, and still I got no apology.

I subsequently found out he had made false recording on my health records when I got copies, and lied about his accusations against me.  He had even made false accusations against me of “hounding” him that he circulated to a network of professionals, because I sent him 2 emails on his NHS email address – which I checked with NHS PALS was OK to use and that it was secure.  I believe he had some sort of personality disorder to behave the way he did, which coupled with his autism unawareness was a recipe for disaster.  The shame and further injustice of it is, that I reported him to the regulatory bodies that ought to take action, and they refused – citing his “opinion” was not something they could challenge!  Never mind the lies he told, false recording he did and unprofessional comments to other professionals about me or his actions delaying my daughter receiving the right support.  And he has withheld some copies of records for the spurious reasons relating to his false interpretations of Asperger’s traits and trumped up safeguarding claims, because of his already disproven emotional harm accusations.

So you see, autism awareness isn’t just about people out there not knowing what autism means, when it’s professionals that have the power to wreak havoc on families and actually cause the very thing they are mistakenly attributing your autistic traits to – anxiety – it’s about huge injustices and abuse of power and something has to be done about this.  So my thought for the day is this:

the-greater-the-power-the-more-dangerous-the and I’ll throw this in for good measure: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ~ Isaac Asimov

Professionals Not Understanding Autistic Presentations – Masking

Masks

There is such a lot of professional ignorance about autism out there.  Well, I do muse to myself that it could just be in the UK.  We apparently have rates of 1 in 100, but in the US latest figures are 1 in 68.  That tells us that either the Americans are over-diagnosing/have higher rates for some reason – or that the UK is under-diagnosing.  My own thoughts are that the cash-strapped NHS has a directive to only diagnose the most severe cases of autism.  Severity is likely judged by things such as whether the child is disrupting the class at school.  When a child is quiet and compliant at school, their support needs get ignored.  Sadly, this is the case even when parents are reporting their child’s distress and extreme behaviours in great detail and family life is greatly impacted by the fallout of supporting an undiagnosed child.

If you look at the NHS NICE Guidelines for Autism Diagnosis in Children & Young People it says:

http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/13572/56428/56428.pdf

1.2.5 When considering the possibility of autism, be aware that:

  • signs and symptoms will not always have been recognised by parents, carers, children or young people themselves or by other professionals
  • when older children or young people present for the first time with possible autism, signs or symptoms may have previously been masked by the child or young person’s coping mechanisms and/or a supportive environment

1.2.7 Do not rule out autism because of:

  • difficulties appearing to resolve after a needs-based intervention (such as a supportive structured learning environment)

The point being, that school (whilst not necessarily “supportive”) can be a routine and structure that enables an autistic child to function with few apparent difficulties.  That doesn’t mean they are not there.  Mental health can greatly suffer if the condition is not recognised and supported.

In the American DSM (which some clinicians in the UK use), it says:

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/hcp-dsm.html

“Diagnostic Criteria for 299.00 Autism Spectrum Disorder

Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

  1. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).”

So at school, the demands may not have exceeded the child’s capacities, that doesn’t make them not autistic or not entitled to diagnosis.  Many high-functioning ASC children are highly anxious and are so inhibited at school and trying so desperately to fit in, they manage to subdue their behaviour, but this is like a volcano awaiting eruption and once they get home, where they feel safe, they release their anxiety and stress.

Professionals seem to be very keen to blame parenting and fob parents off with parenting courses which of course, won’t make any difference to the autistic child, whether this is deliberate and part of the directive not to diagnose as many as possible, or whether they truly believe there are that many failed parents out there, I will leave you to judge.  They seem to struggle to understand that autism is a spectrum, and that traits vary in their strength and manifestation between individuals.  Because some traits seem more subtle, they are telling parents “some autistic behaviours but not enough for a diagnosis” which is outrageous.

Professionals accusing parents of being the cause of their autistic child’s behaviour is wrong on so many levels.  The environment a behaviour is present in, doesn’t automatically mean that this is the environment causing the behaviour.  So I will leave this message to all those professionals out there, that seemingly cannot think outside of their box, do not understand autism and work in a culture of blame:

Edited to add this research: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08856257.2014.986915#aHR0cDovL3d3dy50YW5kZm9ubGluZS5jb20vZG9pL3BkZi8xMC4xMDgwLzA4ODU2MjU3LjIwMTQuOTg2OTE1QEBAMA==

“Abstract

This article presents the findings of ethnographic case studies of three girls on the autistic spectrum attending mainstream primary schools and illustrates the difficulties they experience and the ways in which these are often unrecognised. The observations of the girls and subsequent individual interviews with their mothers, class teachers, SENCO’s and ultimately themselves, reveal the personal adjustments the girls make in response to the hidden curriculum and the ways in which these go unnoticed, effectively masking their need for support, and contributing to their underachievement in school. The research also identifies a misunderstanding of autism in girls by some teachers that contributes to a lack of support for their needs, despite their diagnosis. Teachers need to understand how autistic girls present, and how they learn, if they are to recognise the need to illuminate the hidden curriculum. The implications of these findings are that without this awareness autistic girls in mainstream settings are also at risk of limited access to the known curriculum and of social isolation.”

Assume

Anomalous Experience in ASC Communication…A Musing

MiscommunicationCommunication is a funny thing.  Even in the world of neurotypicals (NTs), people regularly misunderstand one another.  And that’s just those that speak the same language.   Autistic presentation in communication often seems to lead NTs to jump to the wrong conclusions.  Verbosity for example, can be mistaken for anxiety by someone that doesn’t understand ASC, both in verbal and written communication.  The tendency for people with autism not to always realise how the other party may view the communication, can also cause difficulties in communications between the parties.  Sadly, with autism awareness being so low generally, there is no hope of a magic wand being waved that will make NTs think outside of the box that they are used to being in.

This can make it ultra hard for someone on the spectrum, who not only has to cognitively process their understanding of the communication in question, but to preempt how their communication may be perceived – or misperceived.  Many people on the spectrum, have a processing delay, because of needing time to work all this out.  It’s a minefield out there, as they say.  Verbal communication is therefore usually the most challenging for us, and yet strangely, it is face-to-face communication where people tell me I come across best.  Conversing with more than one person is that bit more challenging, because you are having to follow multiple strands of conversation and process multiple participant’s meanings.  This means post-event, a feeling of exhaustion.  So I do find it puzzling that this real me, apparently comes across better than I do by the written word.

Of course written communication has its own challenges, but verbosity (the middle name of many Aspies) is a natural state, and rattling off lengthy communications is no problem.  However, NTs seem to take it for granted that language will be couched in softeners, floweriness and implications.  They may be always bearing in mind how the other person receives their communication.  Someone with ASC won’t be – or will be on an ongoing learning curve to achieve this and it can be hit and miss.  So the direct and factual style of an Aspie/autie, can easily be misinterpreted as critical, attacking or making things personal.  I am always surprised when people have taken things this way, as 99% of the time (we’re all allowed a grumble once in a while!) it was not my intention.

An Aspie will usually not be adept at, or naturally inclined to, communicating with hidden meanings, or using social tricks to get their meaning across or to achieve their goal.  NTs seem to find this difficult to interpret, so they make assumptions that a straightforward communicating style is being aggressive.  It puts someone on the spectrum at an immediate disadvantage, because then the NTs they are dealing with will form an opinion about them, which is usually negative.  NTs seem not to know how to take a blunt Aspie, and judging by NT standards will usually leave an Aspie in an unfavourable light.  We cannot change that, as NTs are the majority, it’s just one more thing that makes being an Aspie a challenge.

When miscommunication involves professionals, it can become fraught with difficulties.   Professionals will already have, depending on their particular discipline, a tendency to their own professional biases and add human feelings, egos and tendency to assume, and it makes for one runaway train of miscommunication that can cause all sorts of problems.  An Aspie is likely to assume that being factual and giving all the details, will get the other person to understand, but it doesn’t seem to work like that.  I always think people will be grateful for the detail, as it gives them a very complete picture from which to take action or understand a situation.  But NTs seem to get unnerved by what they view as a wall of information (I do punctuate!), from which they struggle to identify what is needed.  I find that strange.

Recently, two people have told me they like the way I put things across in writing, which was nice to hear.  They seemed to find my directness refreshing.  It would be lovely if everyone felt the same way.  People are often busy, and don’t have the time to read lengthy epistles, I get that.  But sometimes, if they just took the time to read it and absorb it, it would save so much trouble later on.  They tend to just file things, or perhaps skim read things, and then forget about them.  Sometimes, spending that little bit of time in the beginning, and asking any questions right then, avoids all sorts of miscommunications and difficulties later.

Cartoon miscommunicationDon’t we deserve to have a little understanding and accommodation in communication?  Why is the autistic person always expected to understand how NTs communicate and try to fit into that way (which let’s face it, if your brain is not wired that way is never going to be easy), why can’t NTs think a little more openly and not prejudge?  If someone has a visible disability, such as being in a wheelchair, NTs will automatically supply the adjustments needed, such as opening doors for them or providing access ramps.  Is it so much to ask that instead of jumping to conclusions, NTs that know of your condition, will make a few little adjustments for you?

I think one of the hardest aspects, is the NT tendency to gossip about you behind your back when your Aspie behaviours are being misjudged by them.  Even professionals do it.  They already want to pathologise and label everything as it is, so when they come into contact with someone with autism, they misconstrue and label the traits a certain way, usually unfavourably.  When you are in a family situation, that can cause a lot of problems and lead to much barking up the wrong tree.  This is why, I always go back to autism awareness, and how lack of it across the board, causes many problems for those on the spectrum.

Texting miscommunicationSo this adjacent message, represents the written word particularly and how even among NTs, people can misunderstand – imagine how much worse that is for someone on the spectrum?  So my final note here, is this quote:

“The majority of dysfunctions that arise and entrench themselves in our lives are caused because of preconditioned expectations and assumptions”

~ Ly De Angeles

When Services Go Bad…Autism Misunderstood

autism ignoranceThe word “service”, conjures up images of people bending over backwards to help, people asking what it is you need, what they can do for you.  And yet, across the UK (and no doubt other countries), autism families are coming up against obstruction, tardiness, lack of awareness and misunderstanding from these services.  The National Autistic Society has produced reports on how parents complain of the failings of CAMHS to support and understand their autistic children (click here to access their “You Need to Know” report).  Largely, this is a result of clinical staff lacking training in autism and the day-to-day issues it raises and comparing of autistic children to neurotypical children (although there also seems to be an arrogance and refusal to accept their lack of expertise too).  This doesn’t work.  A neurotypical child may have anxiety and depression because of particular triggers or events, but an autistic child likely has it because of the struggle to exist in a world that fails to understand, provide adjustments and support them.  What remedies work for a neurotypical child may not for an autistic child.

Then there are social services.  The name seems almost a misnomer, a Google will bring up multiple horror stories about people’s experiences of them, and this likely intensifies with autism families, because social services staff – even in supposedly specialist disability social services departments, just don’t get the training and have a mindset that doesn’t recognise or support autism and it’s challenges.  It’s about ticking boxes, a culture of looking for blame and cause – often directed at parents, and judging an autistic child (never mind an autistic parent) by neurotypical standards.  They fail to understand not only the autistic character, but the family dynamics and needs.  This issue has resulted in organisations being started up purely to address this problem, by determined and dedicated parents.  One such website is Parents Protecting Children run by Jan Loxley-Blount.  Autistic children (and their families) do need protecting, but what professionals seem to forget, is that their ham-fisted and uneducated dealings can cause the very thing they are supposedly protecting against and which they increasingly seem to be falsely accusing parents of – emotional harm.  An amazing blog by Sue Gerrard (hat off to Sue) goes into great detail about the problems with professional approaches in misunderstanding autism.  Sue is not only a parent to an autistic child but she is trained as a biologist, psychologist and primary teacher and I am a huge fan of her blog.  I recently attended a safeguarding workshop and was horrified at the attitude of one professional attending, who stated that parents were asking for autism assessment of their children just to get state benefits.  The suspicion and nastiness in the comment was vile.  You can’t ever be on a level playing field if they start out with that viewpoint.  The excellently researched scenario acted out at the workshop, showed a family struggling against obstructive services, and who were misunderstood at every turn.  A child suffered an accident, which it was never explained the specifics of, and which the autistic child spoke plainly, without embellishment of, leading to professional assumptions being made without checking – which were automatically directed against the parents and resulted in the parents being prevented from taking their children home.  Not once, shamefully, did a single professional in the workshop identify that the assumption was made to blame the parents, or that in this scenario it was the professionals that the children actually needed protecting from.  Does this sound like a service?  In my view social services needs entirely overhauling and transparency and accountability for their actions needs putting in place, that’s just for any family but for autism families a whole layer of specific training needs to be added.

Even schools, who surely should have good understanding of autism – not only in supporting autistic children struggling in mainstream education but also in assisting in the identification of potentially autistic children.  Some parents will never have heard of autism or have the vaguest ideas of it, with stereotypical views.  So faced with a child with challenging behaviour, especially where they are masking their behaviour at school and offloading it onto parents at home, they may need support in recognising the validity of getting their child assessed – teachers have a role to play.

In the UK, the zero autism awareness of most GPs is now recognised as such a problem, that finally the Department of Health recognised and are addressing the problem.  But these things take time, and in the meantime, parents going to their GPs for help are getting fobbed off, misled and failed by GPs, who are supposed to be referring a child for autism assessment.  When it comes to adults approaching GPs, most of them aren’t even aware of the Autism Act 2009 and the Autism Strategy, making it a legal right for an adult with ASC concerns to get referred for assessment.  So you have to ask, how many undiagnosed children and adults are struggling along without a diagnosis.  My younger child was diagnosed pretty straightforwardly (albeit with a lot of pushing due to waiting lists) but my eldest child suffered the incompetence of our local CAMHS who failed to identify her high-functioning presentation and we had to go for a second opinion.  She has Asperger’s, but the second clinicians did not do a new assessment, they relied on the flawed information from CAMHS and did no clinical testing, so she came out with a diagnosis of PDD-Other (for which no clinical description exists anywhere!) which does not recognise the severity of her traits and is not the correct diagnosis.  Who knows if this will cause her to receive less support than she should do, already one professional has refused to believe it is a diagnosis of autism.  As for myself, state diagnostic services failed me too and I was diagnosed privately (and much more thoroughly than via state assessment).

I sometimes wish people could get inside my brain, it’s like screaming at a wall trying to get understanding and awareness from others, but when it’s professionals, you kind of assume the awareness and understanding will already be there.  They are qualified and trained right?  Wrong!  Until the Government makes a stand, ensures that all relevant professionals receive a minimum amount of autism training, clinicians are really tuned in to the nature of the spectrum, clinical staff keep abreast of research and developments, and the state puts out public service adverts on radio and TV to raise public awareness and spends some money on addressing this issue, autistic people and their families will continue to face brick walls – which ironically in the end means they are likely to cost these services more.  And don’t forget, those autistic children are the autistic adults of tomorrow.  I won’t even go into adult autism services, as they are virtually non-existent.  Quote of the day:

“Without intervention today, the cost of care for adults with autism will be significantly greater and the burden will no longer lie with the parents, but on our entire society.”

~ Jenny McCarthy

Edited to add 15.5.16: new Planet Autism web page about the false accusations and discrimination against autism families (the scale of the issue is huge): http://evolutian.wix.com/planetautism#!discrimination-against-autism-families/n103x