I’m just going to come right out and say it: I am terrified of my autistic son. He is sixteen years old, stands at about five foot eight and has the strength of three grown men. The slightest sign of frustration in him when I visit and I want to get as far away from him as possible.
Show me any news story about a parent who has injured their autistic child and I’ll show you a family who has broken down through beurocratical neglect. Show me an autistic person with bruises and I’ll bet you any money that the parent or other adult responsible was trying to protect themselves, the autistic individual and those around them from harm.
As a care assistant I was given training in manual handling, but even then I would cause accidental injury to my son when trying to avoid his harming anybody with his violent meltdowns. What chance did I ever stand of not accidentally harming him when he can buck me off him, break my nose and kick me in the neck or face at the drop of a hat? You have to act quickly, and a few minor injuries are far better than other possible outcomes. I would rather that my son had bruises from being gripped by the arm than have him put himself or somebody else in hospital.
When I see news stories concerning autism families that have been driven to breaking point I do not judge; I wonder where the help for them was, why there was no professional or organised respite to step in and give them a break. I am not talking about the abuse that the young boy on the school bus suffered – that was evil in its purest form – I am talking about the autistic individual who doesn’t know how much hurt they’re causing with their actions. I’m talking about the mother who cries herself to sleep at night, knowing that she’s going to wake up the following day and fear – even hate – her child all over again. I have been there; I have felt that fear and loathing towards my son and I have felt the subsequent guilt for daring to feel that way.
But, you know… when you’re balled up in the corner of a room, screaming and sobbing and begging your child to stop kicking, punching and repeatedly pulling your hair… it’s easy to feel that way. It isn’t actually your child that you hate, but the autism that causes that child to become so frustrated that they resort to anger and violence.
It doesn’t help when you, yourself, are autistic. You are completely unable to control your own fear and subsequent reactions. Sensory overload robs you of all reason.
When my son was born I had no idea that I, too, am an autistic individual. I certainly didn’t know that I had epilepsy, or that either of these things ran in my family. Perhaps it really does take one autist to recognise another, because from the moment R was handed to me… I knew. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was that I knew, just that something wasn’t “right”. He was different somehow.
Why, you might ask, am I writing this? I am mostly writing this because I need people to understand that families who do not receive help and support with an autistic individual as profound as my son face a hard road. They should not be judged for whatever happens when they reach breaking point – the government and social services ought to be doing more to protect these families and to prevent the unthinkable from happening. I am certainly not condoning infanticide or murder in this instance, but I have become so frightened in the past that I can understand why some people have killed their child – either accidentally in self-defence or deliberately because they are not of sound mind, are desperate and don’t really know what they’re doing any more.
Where is the help for these families? Why do these horrific incidents happen when the right measures could be implemented to avoid that level of anger, fear and desperation?
I am also writing this because I discovered, yesterday, that my son has been expelled from his college. The two staff members he injured are too frightened to work with him again and it is felt that he is too much of a danger to staff and students. His foster family are at their wits’ end and none of us know what will happen now. It isn’t even R’s fault – he becomes frustrated, can’t convey his issues because he is almost non-verbal and he doesn’t have the first idea of his strength.
Please, when you see a harrassed, frightened-looking individual and a child attacking them, remember that there is a darker side to autism. When you see a parent behaving in a way that you find unacceptable, bear in mind that they might well be taking measures to limit the damage caused by an autistic meltdown.