Autism and Abuse: Embracing Neurodiversity Helped Me Heal

For World Autism Awareness Week we are amplifying the voices of autistic survivors on our blog.

This post has been submitted by Skye.

Content notice: Abuse

I grew up being an undiagnosed ADHD autistic. Many people use this fact to conclude that I must be “not severely autistic”, which to me is a really strange conclusion. As a child, I was often overwhelmed and helpless. I forgot most basic things, I was disorganized, I was lost in social situations, and sensory overload as well as all kinds of emotional distress put me into meltdowns quickly. I was unable to handle my meltdowns in any way.

However, my parent did not see this as a reason to help me, or to reach out for external help or a diagnosis. (Considering how abusive the psychiatric system is, I don’t think this would have improved my life much, but still.) Instead, they used it as a welcome excuse to abuse me.

Throughout my life, many people insisted that I was “normal”, or “extremely smart” or “talented”, refusing to see how disabled I was. At the same time, the exact same people used my disabilities either as an excuse to abuse me, or as a way to manipulate and exploit me in various ways.

They would put me into meltdowns on purpose, but if I had a meltdown, this was interpreted as a malicious act.

They would give me tasks that I could not carry out and then punish me for failing.

They would shame me for being disorganized and demand me to change, which is not in the realm of possibilities.

I was always easy to lie to, easy to convince and easy to manipulate. I’m a gullible person. I’ve had an abusive relationships in which my partner used those traits to make me stay with him for years.

But, I’ve always been a pigheaded fighter too. It took me a while to learn enough about the world before I could escape the abuse, but eventually I did.

Since then, I have recognized that I am neurodivergent and have learned to embrace my neurotype. For me, this was the most important step towards healing and living a really fulfilling life.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

Autism and Consent: It’s Time for a Rethink

For World Autism Awareness Week we are amplifying the voices of autistic survivors on our blog.

Georgia Harper is a Youth Patron for Ambitious about Autism, and has previously written for the Ambitious about Autism myVoice website. Georgia is currently studying for an LLM in human rights law at Queen Mary, University of London. In this guest blog she writes about autism and consent.

Content note: discussion of sexual assault and abuse.

It’s World Autism Awareness Week, so I’m going to start by making you aware that some autistic people have relationships, and some autistic people have sex, and some autistic people are taken advantage of in those contexts amongst a variety of others. Given that autistic people are people, this really shouldn’t be so surprising, but these simple facts are often overlooked in the way we talk about autism and consent – or rather, in the way we DON’T talk about it. In fact, some people still use outdated stereotypes around autism to attempt to excuse abuse and harassment, along the lines of “he works in computing, so he might be on the spectrum, so he can’t really know what he’s doing”.

Of course, autistic people can be perpetrators just like everybody else (and the assumption that none of us understand whether there is or isn’t a “yes” is frankly offensive…), but these attempts to pit survivors and autistic people against each other ignores the significant number of people in both categories.

There are various reasons why autistic people are particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse; for example, many cannot pick up the subtle signs of a person’s true motives, instead taking what they say at face value. Having said that, I think it’s really important to think about how much of this vulnerability is taught.

Our sensory experiences are often framed as “objectively” wrong and something for us to learn to hide or “get over” – so if you happen to be hypersensitive to touch, you might assume that any discomfort around touch is 1.) because of your autism and 2.) your own problem to deal with. I’ll let you do the maths.

Growing up autistic also tends to be a crash course in The Social Rules, often launched at us with no explanation beyond “because the adult says so” or “because otherwise people won’t like you”. This can be dangerous not only because those with more malicious intent may use very similar reasoning, but also because this rush to drill in social skills invariably (and conveniently) leaves out one of the most important social skills of all: learning to say “no”. And as for relationships – well, if it’s apparently so rare, we might be left feeling like we should be grateful if we have one at all, however unhealthy it really is.

These issues are further compounded by wider stereotypes around abuse. For example, in the UK, sexual assault is legally defined as any sexual touching without consent or reasonable belief in consent, but as a society we often have very narrow ideas about what sexual assault can look like – these ideas often involve a random attacker in an alleyway, even though most attackers are known and often trusted by the people they target.

Myths like these harm all survivors, but may present a particular barrier to autistic people coming forward as they are more likely to take the “assault is always a stranger in an alleyway” suggestions literally.

Those who do come forward then face the usual barrage of people trying to discredit them. For instance, “you don’t SEEM upset” might be said to someone who doesn’t express emotions in neurotypical ways – also ignoring the very wide range of responses that even neurotypical people show in the face of trauma. “You didn’t say no” is another common one – forgetting that your body is your own by default, and interference with that needs your express permission. This is particularly harmful to those autistic people who freeze or become non-verbal under stress – it shouldn’t have to be said, but shutdown is not consent.

These are just some of the reasons why autistic people may be both more vulnerable to abuse and less likely to receive the support they need in the event of abuse. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away – but perhaps changing attitudes towards autism and towards abuse will.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

Autism and Hate Crime: When ‘Mates’ Only Hate

For World Autism Awareness Week we are amplifying the voices of autistic survivors on our blog.

This is a guest blog by Jack Welch, autism advocate and active campaigner on anti-bullying, besides many other causes. Jack is a Youth Patron for Ambitious about Autism and a supporter of numerous charities. Here he writes about his experiences of ‘mate crime’.

Over more recent years, there is an obligatory question I have to ask myself about people: is there an ulterior motive behind it? Even for the most good natured and well-intentioned individuals, I can’t help but wonder what might be the thoughts behind the words of someone’s comment. This is the lasting legacy of ‘mate crime’, as it’s described, and perhaps much worse for those who have experienced these acts.

While mate crime can take shape in many guises, whether it be pushed into a situation a person may not feel comfortable in or potential forms of sexual exploitation, let’s be clear about one thing: mate crime is another extension of hate crime. For people on the autistic spectrum and/or who have a learning disability, which would include me, we are typically at greater risk of encountering this kind of abuse.

In my case, I would be approached by other pupils in my first year of secondary school to give small amounts of change, with the assurance that it would be returned to me. Generally those who I regarded as ‘friends’ would benefit from this goodwill that I would like to believe would be reciprocated in turn, or ‘give and take’ as many of us would define it. In seeing that money back again, I was for the most part mistaken. Stationery equipment, namely pens, would also have a similar fate. There were many other aspects which made me detest that school (a boys-only environment) before I would move to a mixed comprehensive in a new town a year after, but that example was a formative experience in changing my attitudes about people around me more completely.

Some might ask me why I was so gullible or trusting to believe that I would be so misguided to give without any certainty of a redress. For neurotypicals, it may be harder to believe, but I wanted to convince myself that they could be good friends and this was how friendship was supposed to be. As years have gone by, I have accepted that people are much more complicated (especially when there were any conversations about boyfriend/girlfriend issues among my friendship group) and that there would be those who are prepared to exploit any sign of kindness they see.

Would giving small change or pens be realistically taken to court? Probably not, but the personal impact is not one to underestimate. Understanding the fine nuances of what might be seen as a favour down to criminal exploitation is easier for some to determine than others, especially if a person is isolated and unfamiliar with social conventions. A report by the formerly named Wirral Autistic Society (now Autism Together) found that 54% of 12-16 year olds from their survey had money or other possessions stolen. We should be worried as a society that this will be the connotations of what ‘friendship’ might mean to many autistic people from a young age.

For me, it is evident that qualities like trust and honesty are not rewarded so lightly and there are many who simply do not deserve that privilege if they feel entitled. While having good friends around me is vital and being able to share my thoughts/feelings, trying to shed any doubt or scepticism is something that may not foreseeably happen again. Even among those I would describe as friends, asking a simple favour can be a difficult ordeal out of fear of what might be asked in return later. If there’s anything to learn about mate crime, or other kinds of hate, it is that emotional scars can last much longer than anything on the body.

For information on how to spot and stop ‘mate crime’, please click here. And to learn how to report it, please click here.

Supportline offers confidential emotional support to all people, including those who are experiencing bullying, ‘mate crime’, and hate crime. You can contact them by telephone, email, or post.

Autism and Abuse: I Can Forgive, but I Cannot Forget

For World Autism Awareness Week, we are amplifying the voices of autistic survivors on our blog.

The following is an anonymous submission. If you’re interested in submitting, please click here to learn more.

Content Note: This submission references abuse and violence.

I can forgive, but I cannot forget. I cannot forget the stinging blows. I cannot forget your raised voice. I cannot forget the way you screamed, Holding your face against mine. I cannot forget the little things, The ways you tried to change me for who I was. I cannot forget any of it, Though I can forgive, And I have. But most of all, I cannot forget you, You who come into my dreams every night, Only to not be there When I wake up. I miss you, I love you, I forgive you, But I cannot forget you.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

It’s Not Okay to Overlook Violence, Abuse, and Exploitation of Disabled Children and Adults

We’re very pleased to share a guest blog by Parmi Dheensa, CEO of Include me Too. She has kindly written this in response to DSU participating in this years Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

Include us too as ‘it’s not okay’ is the key message of Disabled Survivors Unite activist organization who highlighted key issues of sexual abuse and violence experienced by disabled girls and women during Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

The campaign amplified the voices of disabled survivors for more awareness, support, intervention and prevention. It echoed the sentiments of ‘UK Says No More’ campaign and in addition the urgency of confronting the impact of consistent failures of stopping the increasing scale of violence and abuse of disabled victims.

There have been several research projects carried out internationally and here in the UK with similar findings regarding disabled women’s experiences.

15% of any population worldwide are people with disabilities of which half are women and girls. Disabled women have experienced violence two to three times more often than women in the average population. But disabled women also experience severe barriers in accessing support, information and services after violence.

Violence and abuse against disabled girls and women is present in many forms and the lack of specialist support, resources and prevention is disconcerting. Many of the issues I will be highlighting here are known to those already advocating in this area however it is imperative we share this information widely to end a culture of denial within our society and gain support and realisation that ‘Its Not Okay’.

A recent EU funded project in four countries including the UK highlighted:

  • Many disabled women were attacked in institutions, by carers, or at home by partners or male relatives.
  • Perpetrators isolated them, threated them, took away equipment or over-medicated them, to stop them from speaking out, or escaping.
  • Forms of violence and abuse experienced included psychological violence, impairment-specific violence, physical violence, forced sterilisation, forced marriages, sexual violence, abuse in institutional settings including disregard and violation of privacy and neglect.

All disabled or deaf women who took part in the survey interviews wanted a society in which ‘being disabled and being a woman’ did not mean having inaccessible services and being less valued, but where their safety mattered and their future life chances are supported in a violence-free life for all women in the future. 

In the UK the following statistics also amplify why not addressing these issues and stopping violence and abuse ‘Is Not Okay’:

  • Disabled children and young people compared to their non-disabled peers are three to four times more likely to be abused and neglected, according to the NSPCC.
  • Gangs of boys who don’t have a disability are grooming girls who do according to Respond.
  • Disabled women are twice more likely to be assaulted or raped as non-disabled women. The perpetrator is more likely to be someone they know or trust, a family member, carer or partner, according to research by Women’s Aid regarding domestic abuse.
  • Men (5.2%) with a long-term illness or disability were victims of partner abuse in 2013/14 compared to women (11.1%) in the same situation, according to Mankind Initiative.

Another survey looking into domestic abuse highlighted the dependency, lack of control and barriers to break the circle or seek help experienced by disabled women, sadly echoed the many stories of women and families I have listened to and supported even those nearly 20 years ago when managing mental health and women support services.

In this survey the majority of abusers were partners and ex partners 53% of the women who took part in the survey stated their dependency on abusers as carers, sympathy for partners, a panic of lack of support if they left, lack of alternative accessible housing and fear of losing their children all contributed to their inability to leave the situation resulting in women enduring abuse over long periods of time.

Physical neglect was a common theme with women commenting that personal care i.e. bathing, assistance to the toilet, eating etc were regularly withdrawn.

Women stated: “We are sometimes dependant on abusers as carers. How are you supposed to get anyone to believe you if everybody thinks he is a “Saint” because of how he helps you” “I sat dirty for days…he said I was demanding, disgusting and ungrateful. I said sorry loads of times but he ignored me…”

This ‘Is Not Okay’.

A way forward…

Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy 2016 – 2020 acknowledges government’s duties and responsibilities within the Equality Act 2010 and victims’ legislation, this strategy also needs to refer to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

A commitment to strengthen the involvement in the implementation of the strategy and voices of disabled women and girls including autistic women and girls is required. The strategy refers to peer support network, national helplines, awareness raising in schools and amongst the public and accommodation based services for example. However there is no real emphasise of the specialist provision required to ensure accessible, inclusive, appropriate responsive services and support for disabled women and girls. Allocation of resources to support a disabled women and girls peer support network, specialist helpline, specialist/inclusive accommodation based services these areas could be a good start to thread through the strategy and strengthen the implementation for effective change in ending violence against disabled women and girls.

Disabled Survivors Unite are uniting with Include Me TOO to campaign and raise awareness of ending violence and abuse against disabled persons including harmful practices. Include Me TOO look forward to supporting Disabled Survivors Unite through strengthening diversity, equality, and safeguarding within a cultural framework approach addressing harmful practices which include forced marriages, grooming, exploitation, witchcraft accusations, FGM awareness and intervention to end violence and abuse against disabled persons.

We all have a responsibility to build a safe and inclusive society for all that can be okay.

A Letter to Survivors #ITSNOTOK

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we are amplifying disabled survivors voices on our blog. This letter was sent to us anonymously.

“Dear Survivor,

Please know that what happened to you is not your fault.

I know myself how easy it can be to blame yourself or to blame your disability, but you have done nothing wrong and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

You matter. Your story is important. And you are not alone.”

Would you like to contribute to our blog as part of this campaign? Please click here to find out how.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

Disabled Survivors Unite Says #ITSNOTOK

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we are amplifying disabled survivors voices on our blog. This story was sent to us anonymously.

Content note: this post mentions rape.

“I was recovering from brain injury, I had become paralysed on my right hand side and couldn’t walk very well. A person who had been my boyfriend a few years before came to visit me. We were now friends, buddies. We were looking at records and magazines in my bedroom.

He gave me a hug, then kissed me, then raped me in my bedroom. It was not consensual sex, I was stuck in my bedroom, deeply terrified and ashamed.

I never told anyone, not even my mum. I just remember being fixed in one position feeling very cold, scared and confused.”

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

If you would like to share your story with us, you can anonymously submit by clicking here.

Disabled Women’s Dark Reality

Guest post by Dr Kirsty Liddiard, Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield and Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole, Professor of Critical Disability Studies & Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University

Content note: this post includes descriptions of abuse and sexual violence experienced by disabled women.

According to the World Health Organisation, disabled people are 1.5 times more likely to experience violence and 4 times more likely if the person has a mental health condition. Markedly, disabled women experience sexual violence in greater numbers than both disabled men and non-disabled women.

Violence and its causes have social, cultural and economic underpinnings. By this, we mean that our likelihood as individuals of experiencing violence is rooted in society’s unequal power relations. Violence doesn’t take place in a vacuum, but is steeped in inequity.

When it comes to intimate partner violence – also known as domestic violence – disabled women (we include women with mental illness in this category) suffer in myriad ways. For many disabled women, intimate partner violence goes unnoticed because they are assumed to not be in intimate, sexual and loving relationships at all.

Additionally, the types of harm to which disabled women are subjected can be unrecognisable when we think of ‘domestic violence’ in its traditional sense: a denial of care; withholding medication and food; encouraging self-harm; and exploiting and exacerbating incidences of psychosis, mania and depression are forms of violence unique to mental and physical impairment and illness.

Even when seeking justice, disabled women face barriers. Women who experience mental distress are seldom supported in ways they need to report violence and give evidence in court. Quite often, women’s testimonies are doubted or disbelieved because of their mental health diagnosis. This is even more likely if women are institutionalised, detained (for example, under a mental health section) or are deemed to lack capacity.

While we – as authors whose lives intersect with disability in various ways – don’t want to emphasise disabled women as inherently vulnerable or as victims, it is important to recognise that disabled people experience less privacy in their lives, have increased reliance on others, services and institutions for care, and experience increased access to their bodies by non-disabled people – all of which increase chances of experiencing abuse, violence and exploitation. We think it is important that we highlight this in our communities – particularly during these very difficult times of austerity where cuts to services and a rolling back of the welfare state mean many disabled people are living in more vulnerable circumstances.

Importantly, disabled women also experience an overwhelming lack of access and support in leaving situations of violence – often because the majority of women’s services and refuges don’t cater to their needs. This is despite the fact that disabled women, in comparison to non-disabled women, are more likely to experience sexual and physical violence in their lifetime by people close to them (parents, intimate partners and carers).

Commonly, mainstream domestic abuse organisations seldom consider disabled women within their remit, and services and refuges themselves can be inaccessible in a range of ways. The pragmatics of disability and care are pertinent here: the ability to leave a situation of violence, or move out of the family home (often quickly, quietly and without raising unwanted attention), can be far more difficult if the support of another person is needed, or if your home has been specifically adapted to meet your needs.

The stories of disabled survivors of domestic violence have highlighted a reluctance to leave care packages that have been fought long and hard for, and that care provision is currently not flexible enough to move with women in ways that would protect them. Again, these worries run deeper at a time of significant governmental and local authority cuts to existing care provision.

It is important that disabled women’s stories are heard and that they are given a voice. While talking about violence and hearing such stories is difficult, listening to women – all women – is one critical step we can all take towards keeping women (and others) safe.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

If you would like to share your story with us, you can anonymously submit by clicking here.

Please note that a longer version of this article was originally published by Disability Now.

To That Boy

Content note: this post discusses sexual abuse, institutional abuse, and self harm. It may be upsetting for those who were abused in an educational setting.

This is an audio post, submitted by a survivor. The transcript can be found after the audio.


To That Boy

*To that boy.

The boy who has moved on, to whom I am a distant memory.

Lucky, because you can. But how I was I supposed to? With the things you did and the stuff you etched in to my brain. You think it’s no big deal as you got away with it, as they would just make excuses for the behaviour.

The school that failed to care was partly responsible. And, in some ways, you are for the rest of it. But there is a third party: the school failed to prepare me.

This was the school that decided that making me sit beside a netball court to tick the ‘disabled students do P.E.’ box was more important than my PSHE lessons when I had to miss something to do physio. Meaning that I missed out on information that could have protected me from you.

I know some people will say it was my fault for not speaking out. But how could I tell people when they wouldn’t believe me? When the school that failed to care just told me that I was being oversensitive, when you were just trying to be friendly. They were so excited that I seemed to have a friend that they totally missed that you were just using a vulnerable person as your victim.

And that’s how you got away with the rape threats, the unwanted kisses and everything else inappropriate you did. That and the fact no one expected you to be capable of what happened, when it happened when we were both 14 when it started.

In some ways, I’ve come to forgive you. But before you think you got away with it all, I will never forgive you for the amount of time I felt guilty for making a decision about my own education that resulted in you moving onto my best friend and I couldn’t protect her.

Also, remember the guy? Freedom? You used to blackmail me about? Well, you were eventually right about him, but that doesn’t legitimise anything, in case you were wondering. I will never ever forgive you for the fact that all the insecurities you drilled in to me made it impossible for him to think of me in the way I do of him.

In some ways, I don’t blame him. It must be pretty difficult to love someone who you end up hurting every time, just because some psycho has convinced her that relationships don’t involve her pleasure. Or what she wants to do.

The saddest thing about it, though? Was then you took away, with that, the person – the ONLY person – who was prepared to walk beside me and help me through this darkness.

The girl that Freedom moved onto, isn’t comfortable with me needing him. But again, she doesn’t know about you. Or because of the situation, he is only person I feel comfortable and safe to have any sort of physical interaction with. Or that he’s the only one who can take away anything you left behind.

The fact is that no one is comfortable with this, though. But they can all walk away from it, a tiny bit, in a way I will never be able to, as it will always hang over me like a little grey cloud. Even if it does fade, over time.

But ignoring it or running away is easy for someone else to do, as they aren’t the ones having to explain why it’s your fault they end up with crimson running down their wrists when they get rejected. Or that that wasn’t the first injurious thing that happened because of you, as the outside world couldn’t see all my contemplations about a one-way ticket to Switzerland.

It’s not quite as easy, though, to just move on when you’re me. Trying not to blame a disability that I can’t change for meaning that I was the victim to something that has made me feel worthy of a supermarket reduced sticker as I feel like damaged goods.

Don’t think just because I’m coming clean about what it feels like to have been your victim means you won. At the end of the day, you always be the guy with a past to hide from everyone, although it will never have the direct on your life, as it will on mine. And I will always be the girl trying to piece things together, piece by piece, whilst tackling the harder fight of forgetting what you left behind.

I’m not doing this because I want your apology, or even an acknowledgement of what you did. I don’t any other person’s sympathy either. Frankly, nothing’s gonna fix it for me that you can do now. It’s my responsibility to deal with putting this back together and putting my life back together and fixing this mess, in whatever way I can with whatever help I can get. But as I look at it, if I talk about what happened, I may just be able to try and sort the system, so it doesn’t fail other people like it failed me.

Sincerely, The girl


If you need support after reading this story, the following services can help you:

  • The Samaritans offer confidential and emotional support for anyone in crisis. Call: 116 123 Text: 084579 09192
  • Victim Support provide emotional support and practical advice for anyone affected by crime living in England or Wales. Open weekdays: 8pm – 8am Open weekends: 24 hours Call: 0845 30 30 900

You can find a complete list of support services on our website. Please remember you can email us at any time.

The First (Re)Storyteller

Content note: this post discusses childhood sexual abuse by a family member, failings by parents and police, and lack of justice.


I was routinely sexually abused by my grandfather from the age of eleven. My school called the police when I disclosed at 15 and I underwent an interview, after which my parents were told that I had simply misunderstood his actions due to my Autism and the case was dropped. He went on to abuse a number of other people in the next five years, but the abuse I was subjected to was never brought up again even though he was prosecuted for the other (less serious as far as the law goes) incidents, and he died without ever facing consequences for his abuse of me.


If you have been affected by the content of this post, the following services are here to support you:

  • Victim Support can give you free, confidential support if you have experienced child abuse at any point in your life. You do not need to have reported the abuse to be supported by them.
  • The NSPCC has lots of information on their website, including how to spot the signs of abuse and what you can do if you suspect a child is in danger.

We have a comprehensive list of support services that work with survivors of all kinds of abuse and violence. Click here to view the complete list.

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