Saturday, 20 October 2018

Autism - Consent. And about not consenting.

A black and white artwork of two people holding hands.

Content warning for abuse.

In the UK this week, newspaper headlines have detailed the life of a young autistic woman.  She is reported to have a very low IQ.  A Court had decided that she was free to consent to have sex.  It soon became known that she was indeed consenting to sex, and a wide variety of men would turn up to have sex with her.  Some she barely knew, others she didn't seem to know at all.  

Allegedly, she was 'consenting' to this horrific abusive circumstance.  Understandably, concern has been raised and this whole matter is, as I understand it, being reviewed. 

 This was not consent.  This was shameless exploitation of a young adult who was extremely vulnerable.  The capacity for her to have been deeply harmed by this succession of 'opportunists' was there for all to see.  Given her vulnerability, one could argue that stronger words could be used for them.  I shall leave that to the Courts.

I am grateful for the wisdom of Peter T Hughes QC, writing to The Times, 19th October 2018.  I have highlighted part of it in bold.

"Sir, further to your investigation the question should not be whether an individual has the capacity to consent to sexual intercourse but whether that individual has the capacity not to consent.  Only with such capacity does the individual have the freedom of choice."

The capacity not to consent.  That's exactly right.  

In my work as an autism specialist, advising nationally and internationally, I see much planning, thinking and training around 'consent' to all manner of things, and nearly all of it is based around teaching autistic people to say yes.    'Say yes, or you are being defiant.  Say yes, or you are being 'challenging'.  Say yes, or you are not respecting those who know better than you.  Say yes, or people won't like you.'  Paraphrased.

We have a problematic behavioural protocol in place in far too many of our centres where autistic people live or are educated. One saying that any non-compliance can be marked as a 'challenging behaviour' which is to be 'extinguished'.  The individual is taught to say yes to whatever is planned as an 'enrichment activity', otherwise they are not 'accessing the community'.  Often this is framed as 'positive behaviour support'.  In reality, if the individual doesn't comply, they are the not allowed access to things of meaning for them, whether it's hobbies, much needed rituals that are part of autistic life, treats, trips out, anything but basic food, or even access to fresh air and exercise.   I've viewed some of the list of punishments (not phrased that way of course) and been shocked.  

 Saying yes becomes an absolute imperative, to survive 'life inside' in such establishments.

I watched one such 'trainer' online, talking to autistic women.  They had to agree with him.  He was absolutely relentless.  If they disagreed, they were argued with until they left.  If they stood up to him and shouted at him for his bullying behaviour, he'd report them to the social media platform to get them banned for a time.  No-one was allowed to disagree.  He was having a fantastic time.  Less so the autistic women.   Such 'trainers' can get £500,000 an individual a year off the commissioners for services, to train autistic people to comply.   I wish I was joking.  I'm not.

I also wish this situation regarding the young woman was one case.  I fear it is not.  We've done this to a generation of autistic people in too many care settings.  We've never taught them that it is OK to say no.  That saying no is vital. And, as a key part of this, that it is always OK to refuse to consent to sex, or to any other form of intimacy.


This is a t-shirt logo that I value.  On it, the words, "Noncompliance is a social skill".

Arguably, it's the most important social skill of all.

Some autistic people are unable to speak, at times.  Mostly when under stress or afraid.  In the very situations when it may be the most important time to be able to say 'no'.  Are we considering that ability to speak clearly and articulately if someone pressures them into compliance?Plenty are able to communicate clearly and to decide for themselves.  We're not discussing autistic people who clearly have capacity to make their own decisions in this blog.  

To those placed 'in charge' of those autistic lives in care home or other institutional settings, I would say that we need to move away from compliance-training, as if autistic people are dogs.  I cannot think of a worse starting point for humanity.   We need to move to a culture of  integrity, courtesy, respect and thoughtfulness.  A culture where safeguarding and planning means sensible safety, and where Peter Hughes's statement is uppermost in our minds.  A culture where there is access to joy, to beauty, to music, to art, to all that makes life worthwhile - in safe and responsible ways.  And a culture that enables an autistic person to explore relationships  and friendships in happiness and respect.  Yes, some can be free to make an occasional error.  That's part of life.  But never, ever to be left exploited by every passer-by on the street.

Is this person able to say no, and have 'no' respected?  If not, there is no consent.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Irresponsible Information: Autism

Photo and drawing of a woman at a laptop computer, covering her eyes with her hands, looking sad and shocked

Content warning.  I'm going to discuss some really shocking and untrue statements about autism from professionals.  These are ones that I've heard, or been told about, in just one month.  Information so utterly wrong that I barely know where to begin with the actual facts.

First, a report from a well respected professional.  She had been told by an eminent healthcare practitioner that if there is a murder investigation, you should assume the autistic suspects did it.

Second, a report from another well respected professional.  She had been told by a different eminent healthcare practitioner that autistic people have no empathy, because if they did, they would care for their health more effectively.  One cannot begin to even understand the logic of that one...In reality, many autistic people struggle with the sensory pain of self-care such as showers and tooth-brushing, or may be too depressed to look after themselves.  It's nothing to do with empathy.

Thirdly, a parent reporting that a well respected autism charity alleged that autistic people were very likely to be rapists.  This adds to a psychologist having to be diverted by me before alleging that autistic people were more likely to be perverts.  Shockingly inaccurate, and hugely damaging misinformation.

In each case, I've been there with the counter-information to pass on.  But, how irresponsible are such statements...

We know from very good research that autistic people are by a vast majority repeat victims of crime.  Assaulted, defrauded, bullied, mocked, terrorised, impoverished, sometimes quite literally starved near to death to teach them how to 'comply' with instructions from our alleged-betters.  I've seen so much that has been worrying beyond measure.  And of course the result is anxiety, depression, and a huge number hoping to die, to get away from the pain.  A population desperate for better understanding, friendship, caring, opportunity, thriving, art, music, culture, all the things that make life liveable.

We know from very good research that autistic people are generally more moral and less likely to commit crimes than other people.  But, alas, more likely to be 'framed' by actual criminals, and more likely to be misunderstood by the Court systems and wrongly convicted.

I did a lot of research into the 'murder myth'.  I found, for example, that a number of newspapers had assumed that autism is a lack of empathy.  This is not so.  This was some informal research on the empathy levels for autistic people.


So, having assumed that autism  = lack of caring about others, they looked through Police reports for anything saying the murderers didn't care.  Then the papers invented that person being autistic.  I kid you not.  In reality, there was no greater link to autism.

What about the allegation that autistic people are more likely to be perverts?  I tracked that one back through several decades of research papers.  It came from one study, decades ago, on a small group autistic young men in a care home.  And some anecdotal evidence from forensic Psychiatrists, working with criminals who happened to be autistic.  From that, professional after professional just parroted that data, it would appear - passing it on as if it was fact.  It bears no relation whatsoever to most of the 2 million wonderful autistic people of all kinds  in the UK - young, old, all genders, all cultures, all backgrounds and faiths.  Many of them excellent members of the community, honest, diligent and caring.

We had a well respected church publication arguing that autistic people were likely to be stalkers.  When we looked at the research, it was based on a professional misreading one old report, which said autistic people's attempts to start a relationship might be misread as stalking...but that this was a miscommunication between the two people.  Autistic culture is different, and so is autistic communication.  It's nothing to do with stalking behaviour.  Worse still, other research showed that more than a third of young non-autistic people admitted stalking someone, so in fact it's a society-wide thing.  Not autism.

Where do we even start with this nonsense?  We know that autistic people are dying in extraordinary numbers and far too young, by suicide, by lack of access to healthcare, by lack of recognition of intense pain from sensory and social overload in today's busy, noisy, overwhelming environments.  And yet we have a few professionals adding hate and fear to our lives, for absolutely no discernible reason whatsoever.

I work with many excellent fellow professionals nationally.  People who care about facts, and who care about the lives and welfare of our much loved autistic people.  I want to make that clear, because this isn't a statement about 'all professionals'.

Yes, a few people of any kind can be criminals.  Any kind at all.  A few women can be.  A few men can be.  A few people who are 5 ft 10 can be.  In fact, you can take any category of person on the planet, and find that some are criminals.  And of course if someone of any kind is a criminal, they need to be stopped and a way found to keep others safe.

But autism does not 'cause' such criminal behaviour at any greater rate than for anyone else on the planet, and it never has.  



Thank you for listening. 


Saturday, 6 October 2018

Autism, Transgender and Avoiding Tragedy

Picture of a young woman sitting down, looking sad.  Behind the picture, the flag used by some of the Transgender communities.

Warning for discussion of suicide.

Long, happy, healthy lives.  It's something we want for all autistic people, I think we can agree?  Yet we know from recent research that the suicide rate for autistic people is huge.

For a discussion of this, see for example https://molecularautism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13229-018-0226-4 which talks about the underlying reasons for this, and includes the deeply concerning statistic that, "
 In a large sample of 374 adults newly diagnosed with.. autism.., 66% had contemplated suicide".   Risk factors included having to disguise autistic identity (camouflaging/masking).  Why hide our autistic identity?  Fear of bullying, ostracism, prejudice, desperation to make friends in a world too eager to see autistic people as 'broken' instead of a minority who use a different communication system and usually have a diffferent sensory system.

What of the large numbers of autistic people who identify as part of the Transgender or non-binary communities?  What is it like for them in a world also often hostile to Trans individuals and those of other minority gender identities?

If you want to do a bit of background reading on those gender terms, I would recommend the glossary at this link
Are there large numbers of autistic people who are gender-diverse?  Yes.


An example graph showing the large proportion of autistic people who identify as a gender minority

We know this from recent research.  For example that by George & Stokes, an example above.  Top bar shows the chosen gender identity of autistic people who were described as as female when born.   Bottom bar shows the gender identity for 'typically developing' (non-autistic) people who were described as female when born.  Blue = still identify as a woman. Other colours - not now identifying as a woman.  That's a big proportion of the autistic people who are not identifying as 'woman'.

What are lives like for autistic people who are part of gender minority groups, though?  Again, we have a growing amount of research on this.  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-018-3723-6 is one new article (2018) describing the personal accounts of 22 individuals, and well worth a careful read.


https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10803-018-3469-1 is an important new paper by George & Stokes (2018).  It looks at the mental health outcomes from autistic people who are in sexual and gender minority groups, and of non-autistic people.  Big numbers surveyed.   It's not good news.  Let's have a look at some of what they discovered, on the graph below. 

First, what do the abbreviations really mean?  TD = non-autistic.  ASD = autistic.  GDT = gender minority group e.g. Trans, non-binary. (I call this gender-diverse in this blog).

The scale of numbers across the top starts from 0 (extremely good mental health) to 20+ (increasingly poor mental health).
People who are not autistic scored about 7.5 on average. Pretty good mental health on average.
Non-autistic people who are gender-diverse, average score about 16.  Not so good.
Autistic people who are gender diverse, average score about 20-ish.  Really not good.  Perhaps predictably, being a member of more than one minority group means more stress in an often non-accepting society, and thus more mental health difficulty.



A graph showing the mental health stress on different groups of autistic, sexual minority and gender minority groups

Why are there greater mental health stresses on autistic people from gender-minority groups?  To quote from the research paper, 

 "The increased rates of mental health problems in these minority populations are often a consequence of the stigma and marginalisation attached to living outside mainstream sociocultural norms (Meyer 2003). This stigma can lead to what Meyer (2003) refers to as ‘minority stress’. This stress could come from external adverse events, which among other
forms of victimization could include verbal abuse, acts of violence, sexual assault by a known or unknown person, reduced opportunities for employment and medical care,
and harassment from persons in positions of authority (Sandfort et al. 2007)."

Does transition (GCT: hormones, surgery etc to align the body with their gender identity) lead to better outcomes?  A starting point may be this recent paper, looking at results from 697 Trans individuals, which says, "Body-gender congruence and body image satisfaction were higher, and depression and anxiety were lower among individuals who had more extensive GCT compared to those who received less treatment or no treatment at all".

What is certain is that we need to work together, and well, as different communities.  To support one another.  We need to learn about different aspects of gender diversity and autism, and to find really good ways to lessen the stress on autistic gender-minority people.

There is no doubt that individuals who are autistic and are part of gender minority groups are at high risk of very poor outcomes, and major misunderstandings.  Listening carefully to those individuals, and to the best of the charities and groups who offer excellent support and education services, is really important.

What we cannot afford to do is to pretend that gender diversity is nothing to do with autism, and autism is nothing to do with gender diversity.  Too many young lives are at stake.

Thank you for listening.


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Autistic and Trying to Find a Faith Community?


I'd like a world where autistic people have the choice of looking for a safe, welcoming faith community.  No-one should have to.  Lots of people decide not to explore a faith.  But if you do want to, what should you look for?  I'll talk here about churches, since that's my own faith.  But the same things may be true for other faiths, too.

Firstly, maybe ask other autistic people locally if they know of a good church.  Online autism groups, perhaps?

Maybe there's information online about places that are welcoming for autistic people.  For example in the UK, there's a site called https://www.achurchnearyou.com/ You can put the word Autism in the search box, and a town or city location, and it may show some nearby from the Church of England.

Have a look for the website and details of that church.  Anything online that gives you a clue what sort of church it is.  Some have online recordings of their teachings (sermons).

Churches have different ideas about disability or neurodiversity.  It depends on the leaders of the church and their own background.

Jesus was pretty brilliant with neurodiversity and disability.  He had an autistic friend, Nicodemus, for example.  And he usually asked people what they would like for themselves; he didn't just barge in and do things to them without their consent.

It'd be good to find churches that are like that.  Churches where people see you as a friend, and want to know what works for you (if you want to share that information with them).

As we know, autism is a brain design difference, for life.  A diversity.  On average, autistic people are more fair, more keen on social justice, more accurate, more determined to follow rules.  More loyal, and more focused on our specialist areas.  Many are church leaders, musicians, prayer partners, children's team members and all sorts of other roles in church.  So, it's important that a church is willing to learn what it is. And to realise it's every age, gender, background, IQ.

Many autistic people, as we know, also have major sensory and social differences.  We socialise differently, and we encounter the world differently.  It can be too bright, too loud, too intense.  We may use different body language and different speech and writing patterns, which are our culture and our way of communicating (not a broken version of 'real' communication).   So we need churches that are keen to learn about the different communication, and keen to help us stay in sensory and social situations where our brain can cope OK.

Some of us need a bit of extra support, for example knowing what sensory and social hazards are ahead of us in that church service or event.  It is important to have a church that doesn't do the whole eye-rolling thing where this is seen as a Huge Burden.  We are all members of God's church, all loved, all important.  All part of the Body of Christ.  We're not a burden.


So, what different ideas about autism might a church leader have?  Important to start by saying that lots of church leaders are great.  But here's a few to be wary of:


Some believe that autism is a medical condition that needs curing.  Either by doctors, or by praying at the person. It's not.  Although individual autistic people may wish for a cure, and that's a personal choice.


Some believe that autism is caused by sin, and it's our fault for not being sin-free.  It's nothing to do with being sinful.

Some believe that autism is our choice, and we could just choose to not be autistic.  A bit like thinking that being (say) 5 ft 6 is a choice, or having size 7 feet is a choice.  Very strange indeed.  But, some think it.   And they're not correct, of course.

Some think that autistic people are a special gift from God, given to the church so that people can show how Kind they are to us.  You will be pitied and helped, whether you like being pitied and helped or not.  Mmm, not good. Others in the church will be given praise for being kind to you, possibly awards and publicity for it.  You will be barely mentioned in the article.

Some think that autistic or disabled people are given 'suffering' by God, and therefore it's good that we suffer.  Because that way we'd get into heaven faster, or similar.  Very strange.  Also wrong.  But in places like that, no-one would give you any assistance if you needed it, because they think God wants you to struggle.  Cruel, really.

Some think that church should be all about them, and don't like anyone else getting any attention.  They think that autistic or disabled people get unfair attention that should be Just For Them.  So they will make you out to be attention-seekers.  Someone is.  It's them.

Some will claim that all autistic people are 'dangerous'.  In reality, autistic people are generally less violent and less criminally-inclined than other people.

A few think you are an easy target, either for assault, or for taking your money or stuff away from you and saying it was God who commanded it. And you would be punished by God if you said no.   Watch out for that, because that's criminal nonsense.  God never said any such thing.  Ask, if you can, about their safeguarding policies and training.

If your church is getting training on disability/autism etc, who from?  Do the checklist with them:
Is it material written by disabled/neurodiverse people, or in equal collaboration with them?  Equally supported, equally mentioned by name, equally paid (if paid at all).
Is it material delivered by disabled/neurodiverse people who are good and experienced people in training?  Lots of such individuals out there.   Or, at the very least, by allies who promote the work of the disabled/neurodiverse people?
If it's all non-disabled people, talking about us without us, avoid.


As I say, there's lots of really good faith leaders out there.  But there's also a few really strange ones who really do need some training.  Or a different job.

Watch, listen, think.  And if you're not sure, stay clear.

Hoping you find a fantastic place, filled with love and hope, if you so wish.






Tuesday, 4 September 2018

What do we mean by autistic females? A third are Gender Diverse.


We need to talk about autistic females, and what we mean by that.

Rita George has been working on this subject for some years.  The picture above is from her 2016 paper, Here

I'll talk us through it.  It shows the results from 216 autistic people ("ASD" on the chart) who have 'female' on their birth certificates, and 158 non-autistic people ("TD (Typically developing) who likewise have 'female' on their birth certificates.  They were asked what their gender identity is.

For the autistic people that many have been referring to as females, a third do not use the word 'woman' to describe their gender.  Some identify as male or as Transgender.  Some as BiGender, fairly large numbers identify as Genderqueer or couldn't find the right word from that list so ticked 'other'.  So, 1 in 3 of the autistic people we're calling female or woman may not identify with those words.

Why does it matter?  Because we get all these conferences for 'autistic females/women', and all those books for 'autistic females/women'.  There are blogs about autistic females, videos about autistic females...


...and the rest are erased from view by nearly all of the big reports, budget holders, major charities.  In most cases there's not a mention of gender diversity.   There's mention of males. There's not mention of the other gender diversities. 

The other gender groups may be missed from research, because there aren't studies that ask for their participation too. So we are missing up to a third of our data set, and the research on 'all autistic people' may not be correct.

Pretty much everywhere they go, they are missing from the list. 
A full third of autistic people many may think of as women (but who identify otherwise) are being routinely ignored in the places where it would matter to their lives and survival.

Why in particular does it matter?  Because we know from research that individuals who are autistic and have a different gender or sexuality are at far greater risk of bullying, exclusion and really, really bad outcomes from that.  Greater risk of suicide. Greater risk of poor health.  It matters because if we are trying to improve outcomes, we need to know what our starting points are, and we need to work with autistic people in collaborative and good ways.

We're not doing our best for autistic people until we look very seriously at gender identity, instead of only using the male/female binary and thinking we've done the job.  Do I mean that conferences for women should call themselves something else?  No.  Do I mean they should give equal billing to other gender IDs when it's a conference about males or females? No.  I mean that when someone's on that platform talking about "men and women" it would be good to remember the greater diversity too.  I mean when people commission books, they might want to commission more on gender diversities.  I mean when people set budgets for a conference series, they might want to set one for gender ID differences also (and some have - thank you).  I've worked for decades to raise public aknowledgement, diagnosis and inclusion of autistic females, and I also raise the same for the other marginalised gender IDs now.

I've focused here on what we mean by females, because this is the subject of this blog post.   More than 1 in 5 of the autistic people we're perhaps calling male don't identify as male.   We're not assisting them either by failing to notice or include them.

Autistic people are immensely diverse.  We need to be mindful of this, and of our collective responsibilities to seek good outcomes for all.  We need more good research for, by and with autistic people in partnership.  We need more support for those who are struggling to survive, in a society where hate for autistic people is too common, and hating gender-diverse individuals is too often seen as OK.  Seen all the stuff about 'Oh my, there could be a gender-diverse person in the toilets!".  Imagine that life of non-existence for our young autistic Trans individuals, struggling to survive, for example.  The only time people notice them is to hate them for needing to pee....?  Is this the best we can do?

Too many of our loved and wonderful autistic young people pay for all of this with their lives.


Every single life is precious.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

The joys and benefits of autistic people.

A coloured drawing of a group of people of different ages and genders
I was reading some research papers today.  One paper was pretty shocking.  It said that researchers are often told to report only negative things about autism.  If they find positive things, that's not relevant. Why?  We're not entirely sure, but there are some ideas.  For example, sometimes they are being paid by groups who get a lot of money from pills, potions and other 'cures' for things.  And sometimes they are being paid by groups making large sums from 'challenging behaviour therapists'.  If autism is known for its strengths, its positives, who would want it cured?  Who would spend a fortune on 'behaviour analysts'?

This week in the newspapers we've been told that a hostile foreign nation had been altering news about whether autism is 'caused' by injections, to put doubt into people's minds. Autism seen as a terrible tragedy, an awful thing.  Do we want our children to have it?  Oh my!  Let's all panic!  Let's not vaccinate, and instead risk our children dying of something awful, rather than have That Dreadful Autism Thing.

Wait...we're not dreadful.  We're actually mostly rather lovely.

For a start, autism is a natural part of human diversity, not a vaccine damage.  We've always been here. 

Let's look at some of the shocking things that could happen if you child is autistic.  Ready?  Are you braced for the horror of it?  Sure?  OK, here we go...  All generalisations of course because we're all individuals, like everyone else...


More honest than the average child.
Will play more fairly than the average child.
Is likely to be far more dedicated than the average child.
Is likely to be more able to focus on a specialist thing than the average child.
Is likely to be an excellent observer.

Is likely to be able to detect things that the average child cannot detect, using senses that can see and hear at a great range than others (for example).
Is likely to be more loyal and settled into a good steady life.
Is more likely to be more generous and give of their time to charities.


This is terrible, isn't it.  However will society cope with having too  many children with those features?

I know that there'll always be a few who say, "What about the children who are Really Autistic and living in care homes etc?". 

I'm really autistic.  I can't live independently.  No, really.  Yes, me.  Yes, I'm communicating with you.  That's what happens for most of us.   We grow, we learn, we communicate.  Different timeline. Technology. (Technology is great, isn't it.  We built that for you).

Yes, some children are autistic and have severe disabilities too.  For example, they might be autistic and have a very low IQ.  Or they might be autistic and Blind.  Or they might be autistic and have severe epilepsy.  Or they might be autistic and have ADHD and a defiant behavioural condition of some kind.

What society has been taught to do is call all of that 'severe autism'.  Which it isn't.  It's multiple things affecting one child, which of course is hugely difficult for the young person and for their families.

And yes, absolutely there needs to be support for the young person, and support for their family.  But getting rid of 'autism' won't get rid of the rest of the situations that mean they need care.  What on earth would getting rid of autism mean?  It's literally us, as much us as us being (e.g.) female, or age 55, or white, or heterosexual.  It's not a disease or an add-on that can be removed.

In this particular post I'm talking about the majority of autistic people.  The ones who start off as just-autistic.   If they're allowed to thrive, they'll end up just-autistic, too.  


Go back and re-read that list of positives.

I'm autistic.
My family is autistic.
My friends are autistic.
My colleagues are autistic.
Some of my fellow students (Post-Grad) are autistic.
Go into a craft fair and look at the autistic people doing the crafts.
Go listen to some music and spot how many autistic musicians are in that orchestra etc.
Walk into any large Professional Practice in the UK - accounts, law, surveying, etc - and look at how many autistic people are in there, diligently providing excellence.
Go into healthcare places and look at the autistic healthcare professionals.
Wander into the places of faith, and listen to autistic leaders.


1 in 30 of the population around you.
Providing love, care, generosity. Perhaps specialist skill.  Passionate interests.  Watching out for danger for you.

Next time you're told there may be a future with us still in it, the words you're looking for are 'Hurrah!' and "Yes please!'  Because the world needs all kinds of minds, and all kinds of people.  It's better because we're here.  And it's better because you're here too.

Thank you for listening.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Autism, School, Exclusion. What's fair?

Classroom seen as a mass of confusing colours and shapes

The picture shows a school classroom as I see it, as an autistic person.  A kaleidoscope of shape and blinding lighting, with vague outlines which are probably other students.  Deafening noise.  The stench of different smells.  The confusion of many voices, including some heard through walls from neighbouring halls and classes.  School uniform that feels like barbed wire on my skin.

In the chaos, a different voice which I have to try to listen to.  It's so hard.  My brain doesn't want to tune the rest of the noise out.  Apparently I've been asked something, but I miss it.  The voice gets more strident, the class turns to look at me.  The intense stares overwhelm me.  The person next to me jostles me and it feels like an electric shock on my skin.  Only six more hours of hell to go.... only six....

Some of our autistic pupils simply cannot do this alone, without 'time out' to recover from the pain and exhaustion during the school day.  Not for hour after hour of puzzling painful chaos.  


Some will respond by 'shutting down', e.g. going quiet and still, as if they are ignoring the teacher and the instructions.  It's a desperate emergency strategy by their overloaded brain, allowing it to stay at least partly functional.  

Others will go eventually into meltdown, if not allowed escape or respite from the hell.  An involuntary state, in the same way that an epileptic seizure or  a diabetic incident is not a 'choice'.  It's not a display of anger to get their own way.  They may be so anxious, so utterly overwhelmed, that they will push others, flail their arms, sound angry, when in fact they are terrified,exhausted, overwhelmed.

How would you be responding, if that was your experience, day after school day, endlessly repeating?  We've turned classrooms into a hell for autism.  Fluorescent lighting. Endless noise.  Everywhere, bright patterns and overloading information. Groupwork and social time. Crowded hallways and relentless academic pressure.  Autistic children mostly could cope in the quieter schools of decades ago.  Not a hope now.  Generalising of course.  Some can cope, just about.

There's been a Court case in the UK.  A Judge has noticed that a lot of autistic pupils are excluded from school, for having meltdowns.  The Judge also noticed that some schools were doing almost nothing to help those young people to cope.  It was unfair, the ruling said.  We cannot simply exclude autistic pupils for entering meltdowns. Meltdowns are part of autism for a good number of autistic young people.

I'm personally glad of the Ruling from the Court.  Whilst mindful that of course everyone needs to be safe, the way to achieve safety is to stop hurting the autistic children.  Punishing them for responding to pain is not something any of us need to do.

What  schools need to do is to understand autism.  In understanding it, we can help to stop putting the children in pain and exhaustion.  It's actually quite easy.  And quite cheap.


Make sure your school is getting really good autism training, from autistic experts and our allies.


Make sure the school are getting really good consultancy advice about children, way before any crisis, from autistic consultants and allies.


 Notice I said 'autistic experts' and 'autistic consultants'.  People who can detect what's happening in that environment, using similar sensory systems to the pupil.  People who can explain autistic language and culture.  Yes, there is a different autistic language, a different autistic culture.  In the same way as it's important to respect the culture of children from different ethnicities, it's important to know about, and respect, autistic culture and communication style also.

I advise avoiding the use of some 'behaviour control' programs such as forms of ABA that force the child to behave as if they are not autistic.  That's not a solution.  We know from new research that it can lead to disastrous harm and suicide. The work just published by the University of Coventry refers.

Most of us, let's all work together.  Because autistic children are generally honest, generally great fun, generally fabulous young people with much to offer.  But, left in constant pain and/or fear, you'll never see that side of them.  And, excluded, their future may be as bleak as their time in school may have been.  They need you on their side.  Let's hope that Court Judgement means that schools will be given the training and the resources they need at long last.

Thank you for listening.