Thursday, October 30, 2008

Potentially controversial

A fierce debate on an internet forum yesterday has left me feeling quite shaky about the way the world views young people like son 2.

It is a fact of life that older people with learning difficulties can display behaviours which might be considered cute or quirky in a younger child, but are perceived as threatening in a bigger person. It is something that every carer is painfully aware of and the reason why every trip outside is planned with military precision and a view to risk assessment, including potential risk to the public. Nothing in our life can be spontaneous.

But a lot of our young people can be friendly in a way which is not age appropriate. I'm not talking about sexual here, that is a different matter altogether and should never be tolerated. But son 2 might suddenly stretch out a hand to gently stroke someone's arm for example. It his way of showing friendship and is the reflex reaction of a small child. Son 2 might be 14 but he has the cognitive function of a four year old and the social awareness of less than a two year old. I try always to be aware of this possibility, but if I am on my own with him I can't be standing on both sides to prevent it. He is also over 9 stone and too strong for me to physically move him away, as I could when he was smaller and before I wrecked my back doing so. On the rare occasions it happens, we firmly tell him no, apologise profusely and explain he is autistic. I have never yet met a negative reaction from the public if I do this.

Now of course we all understand about personal space and indeed son 2's school have done a lot of work with him on that very subject. But to find some people on a special needs forum stating that they would consider such a gentle touch to be assault, has rocked me to my core. It has made me question whether I should take son 2 out at all on my own, yet often there is no choice and our rare trips out together are limited to very familiar places anyway. Of course I appreciate there are two sides to every story, I do understand that other people don't want to be touched. I certainly do not condone such behaviour and do my best to prevent it, but it would seem that for some people that is not good enough.

Yesterday, after reading the forum I collected him from playscheme. In order to do so I had to park in the neighbouring supermarket car park and walking him back through, I found myself struggling not only with the usual worry of keeping him away from cars, but now from people as well (and those two aims are not really compatible anyway.)

So where do we go from here? Do I never take him out? Or do I risk a member of the public accusing him of assault? He is 14 now and about to hit a delayed puberty, it is a problem that will only get worse as he gets older, even though he is a child who is considered by all his teachers and carers to be very gentle and actually vulnerable himself. That gentleness is something we have worked so hard over the years to achieve, but now the world seems to want to throw it back in our face.

Sometimes your best just seems not to be good enough.


Anne Brooke said...

It seems ridiculous to call it assault - it most obviously isn't. It's just Son 2 expressing himself in a way that seems right to him. I don't understand how people can say that. And I think going out with him is fantastic - he can't just stay at home all day after all, even though I know it's hard for you. I think you're doing totally the right thing!

Hugs and stuff


Casdok said...

You know your son best and you know he is gentle. I think you are doing everything possible to protect everyone. What more can anyone ask. You cant keep him in. But i do know how you can be made to feel like this.

From my experiences with C, i think the public are most frightened of what they 'think' he will do. So when they see he is not aggressive all is usually well.

Anonymous said...

There's no way you could keep him in. I suspect anyone calling that sort of behaviour from an autistic child assault has some issues themselves and the majority of people would understand, like they do when you explain.


Cathy said...

Thanks Anne x

Casdok, you are so right. What shook me was that it was a parent of a special needs child who started this debate and some others seemed to agree. That was a place on the internet where I used to feel safe, now I am not so sure. x

Cathy said...

Lacer, we cross posted. Something for you to be aware of as Boy Lacer grows. And yes, the person who started this off does have an issue and I think I know at least in part what it is, but it doesn't make things any easier. x

Jenny Beattie said...

Cathy, I'm so sorry you feel so stunned by the comments on the forum. Remember not everyone feels the way that person does (perhaps they have some experience of their own that they are unable or unwilling to express).

It is evident to me, having moved away from the UK, how absolutely bonkers everyone has got regarding their perceptions of things. This being a case in point: how could his touch be considered assault?

Try not to fret. It's not how everyone feels.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Madness. I cannot stand people who dump their own issues on other people, especially when those other people (you, my dear) are clearly doing their very best for their loved ones. I stand in awe of what you manage. Nobody has the right to complicate that.

Anonymous said...
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Cathy said...
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Mandymull said...

sending you lots of keep your chin up are doing a fab job with your one knows how tough it is unless they are in your shoes.....even worse if you dont sign your name to negative comments ....
sending love

Anonymous said...

cathy, no, you don't need to keep your son at home. should a member of public accuse your son of assault it would never stand up in court. you and I know that. unless it was particularly violent. touching a coat or brushing against someone would not meet criteria for assault.
but as our children get older is is an issue....
dont let one person's views based on particular (and upsetting for them) experiences upset you. what it did raise was debate over what (some)others see as acceptable in public. and how can that be managed or not?

and on other forums i have on occasion seen other parents of special needs children show little tolerance - eg on an autism board, a parent who gave thanks her son did not have an obvious disability because imagine how would she cope then with the shame and the embarassment if he had to use a wheelchair and drooled in public?
it works both ways.
wihtin SN communities, people are not going to all share same views. nor agree with eaach other on everything.

and i can honestly say that no the trustees are not "upset". heated debate happens in any community at times.


Anonymous said...
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Cathy said...
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Cathy said...

Mandy and Natasha, thanks for visiting :)


Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Oh Cathy, I'm so sorry you are going through this - AND being trolled by someone from a supposedly supportive forum as a result of a heartfelt post on your own personal blog. I volunteered one day a week for a year with autistic children when I was a student, which is hardly a wealth of experience but does give me some insight. So maybe it's different for me, but even if I hadn't done that, I can't see why this kind of social touching from someone with learning difficulties should ever be experienced as a problem, except perhaps by someone else with other difficulties of their own. I send you admiration for the dignified way you're dealing with the troll and big (((((hugs))))) for all the hurt and upset.

HelenMWalters said...

Lots of hugs Cathy x

Cathy said...

Thanks Helen... and Graeme, sorry I missed your message earlier.

Hugs Zinnia, trolls just make themselves look silly, don't they? Needless to say I haven't heard any more on the site but the charity trustees are aware.

Cathy said...

When I started this blog two years ago I wanted it to be open to anyone to comment, as I believe in free speech. In the time up to today I think I have only had to delete one spam commment.

It was therefore with sadness that I have decided to delete the posts by 'anonymous' and my replies to them. I have done so out of deep respect for another family whose details 'anonymous' posted here, in direct contravention of the forum rules, and which could have made the family identifiable. To misquote me is one thing, but I don't wish anyone else's privacy to be invaded here.

Whilst I do not believe 'anonymous' to be representative of the members, I have also decided to take an extended break from posting on the forum concerned, which I have been careful not to identify amongst the several I frequent.

The matter is now closed as far as I am concerned.