Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
BLAME 'feel or declare that (someone or something) is responsible for a fault or wrong'.
‘’What do you think your GP thought when you approached her for help for your son?’’ I was asked when I finished my presentation as one of a number of experts-by-experience to explain to professionals our experience of negotiating services. I was uncomfortable with the question. ’’I cannot speak for our GP. I can only tell you what she did and its impact’’. I was pressed ‘’Can you make a guess?’" Everyone waited for my response. ‘’Well, she appeared annoyed and I think she thought we were pushy parents and were potentially damaging our child". There was’ent any more to say.
I had also explained how, in a crisis, a junior doctor in A&E had asked our son aged sixteen why he was having difficulties in his life and he had told her that ‘’Everything would be OK if I did’ent have to live with my parents’’. The doctor responded ‘‘From what you tell me, your parents do not sound like very nice people and when you become independent you are likely to be much happier with life’". She had, if she had only known it, with that simple sentence, given him permission to punish us for not being nice people and to focus (as only an autistic person can focus) on leaving his parents. Someone from the hospital called him the next day to explain that he needed to return to talk to a more specialist doctor but he refused. The answer he’d been given as to why he was experiencing difficulties was one that he was happy with.
A few months after the conversation with the hospital doctor, my husband and I found ourselves seated across from a psychiatrist and a family therapist being forensically questioned about how we had parented our son and our own values. Our son had been asked if he wanted to be present but had not engaged. Undoubtedly how we behaved and interacted in response to questions was being carefully scrutinised. It was only when asked to describe the last good day he and I spent together and I gave a step-by-step account of a school uniform shopping expedition, that they both seemed to let down their guard. The psychiatrist left the room shortly afterwards and the family therapist talked us through the day I had described from an autistic person’s perspective. It was a revelation and clear from this focussed exercise that was little doubt in anyone’s mind that our son was on the autistic spectrum. Young autistic people with ‘late diagnosis’ are very challenging for services. They miss out on early help understanding their difference and issues of poor mental health can often come into play with little service provision around this. Late diagnosis also brings into sharp focus that the system for identifying autistic children and supporting them where needed, as early as possible, is not working as it should.
Diagnosis did not bring stability for our family. Social workers did’ent level blame the day our son entered Care, they just seemed stunned and a bit unsure as to what their role should be. When I understood that there would be no clinical oversight provided, I impressed on all the need for clinical input about how best to engage him. Eventually his social worker told me that Social Care had taken advice from a clinician but the clinician’s report would not be shared with us. Something she said to indicate the subject was now closed, alerted me and I said ‘’I’ll be very upset if I find there is something on file stating we have caused our son’s difficulties because we pushed too hard or did the wrong thing, given that there was no professional who would tell us what we should be doing”. She looked uncomfortable confirming that I was indeed likely to find something to this effect in the clinician’s report and in our son's case file.
I realised then if I had’ent before, that I needed ‘to own the space I was in’. I should not allow myself to feel shame no matter who took it into their head to blame me for whatever reason. This is very hard if you are the parent of a young person in care. It is the equivalent of a rebellion but it is necessary if you are not to be broken. You are not a lot of help to anyone including yourself if you are broken.
I had also asked Social Care for specialist classes to help us re-connect. No-one seemed to have any idea of what that might entail and we were offered places on the Troubled Families Programme by default. I sat through almost forty hours of neuro-typical parenting classes as a result, jumping through hoops around ‘building blocks’ that helped me identify where our son’s development had veered off in another direction, somewhere around the age of eighteen months. It was hugely supportive to be with non-judgemental traumatised parents (my peers) but very hard to turn up week after week where I was taught the correct way to parent a neuro-typical child because my autistic son was in care.
This brings me back to our GP. Am I allowed to blame her, that she never considered that we could be parents of an autistic child, who knew nothing about autism and would’ent dream of turning to the internet for clinical expertise but expected clinicians to be there when needed? Am I allowed to blame the junior doctor who casually colluded with him in such a damaging way and discharged him without specialist input? Who else should I blame? Where would I stop and how would it help?
I’m still working at letting go of blame. I work at this because I don’t think blaming people is a helpful response to failure. It engenders defensiveness and impedes learning. What I have noticed though is that blame is sometimes used as a way to deflect attention from failure by the organisation or person levelling accusations. It can be the equivalent of a lie told by those who consider themselves unchallengable. I have little sympathy for people who lie, even less if they misuse power to deflect attention from their own failures. Blame and its partners, shame and humiliation may work as tactics for a bit, but ultimately they engender anger.
Angry people are a lot less amenable and a lot harder to engage than needy people. I’m not convinced that those responsible for failing health and social care policy for children understand how many desperate and angry parents are ‘out there’. Playing the 'blame card' just won't work any more.