Autism and Abuse: How Autistic Acceptance Helped Me Move Forward

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

This post was submitted by Jessica Benton.

Content note: abuse (including, but not limited to, bullying and sexual harassment), assault, brief mention of suicidal thoughts, gender binary

**I grew up not really understanding why I was the way I was, and I was treated pretty terribly throughout school. It left me wondering what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t be like everyone else.  In infant school I had a lot of trouble connecting to other children and interacting with them, and in junior school I tried to make friends but I didn’t have the same social skills that other kids did – I would talk a lot about special interests and if I was happy or excited I’d rock back and forth and flap my hands. I would get strange looks and the other kids would avoid me. **

** Secondary school was when it all came to a head. There was a group of girls who would verbally bully me and spread rumours about me, and boys who would sexually harass me by doing things like grabbing my chest. When I was 14 depression and anxiety took hold and the bullying was at its peak. 

**One day I completely broke down and I was sent home from school. That day had involved more of the same bullying but it just pushed me over the edge – the girls were talking about how they had taken a mug shot of me and posted it to Facebook, something which I never found out was true or not. The boys were pulling my hair and trying to push me over or touch my chest.

My parents contacted  the school straight away. A school assembly was held for the boys in the year and although I wasn’t mentioned by name they were told about how serious sexual harassment was, and the girls were dealt with separately. I lived in fear of what would happen after school. I didn’t see myself having any friends or relationships, I couldn’t trust anyone to not treat me the same way. I had grim thoughts and didn’t think I would live past 18, but the combined efforts of my true friends and family helped me to turn things around.

When I was 15 I came across an online autistic community of activists – they were ordinary people on the spectrum who championed autism acceptance. They spoke about neurodiversity, which accepted autism as a natural difference in human brains, with autistic people needing to be accepted and accommodated by society instead of being looked down on or viewed as an abstract mystery to be solved by the next medical breakthrough. 

**The ideas of acceptance, autistic pride and diversity, without exaggeration, saved my life and made me a happier person. Autism activists speaking out and campaigning helped raise my self-esteem, and now I want to do the same for other people. I am now 19 and therefore lived past the age I once thought I wouldn’t. I have realised that the bullying and harassment I experienced was not my fault and that I didn’t deserve it. Society had lead me to believe that I, as the ‘freaky and ugly’ one deserve to be treated in an inhumane way, because sections of society maintain the mistaken notion that autistic people are less than human and are inferior. **

**Disabled women are more likley than others to be sexually harassed, assaulted or bullied whether the perpetrators know explicitly that we are disabled or not. We are told by society and media that we should be thankful we are receiving any attention or notion of our being desirable to others, so we should tolerate such treatment. Because there is still an underlying notion that our lives are lesser.  For anyone reading this, I tell you now that you don’t deserve to be treated like that. Disabled women have the same rights to control over our own bodies, emotions and lives as our non-disabled counterparts. Disabled women (and men!)  have rights to be heard and taken seriously, to be included in feminism and human rights activism. We have the right to love freely and be loved. This message goes double for disabled people who are LGBT+! **

I made a film with Fixers, the charity which gives young people a voice, telling my story and explaining how neurodiversity and autism acceptance have helped me to move forward. You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myUM7YNEg-s 

Thank you for you time!

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.

Anti-Bullying Week 2016: Power for Good

POWER FOR GOOD logo. The W in power is shaped like an arrow. #ANTIBULLYINGWEEK at bottom of image.

We’ve been celebrating Anti-Bullying week across the UK. Here at Disabled Survivors Unite we are committed to ensuring the voices of disabled survivors are heard.

I experienced bullying myself during a number of points in my life and know the affect it can have on a person. The thing I most want people to understand is that there is no shame in having experienced bullying. It is not your fault, no matter how people may make you feel that it is.

Bullying can be a form of institutional abuse, and I want to hear more people talking about this, and what we can do to stop it. Whether you are at school and a teacher does not take your concerns seriously, or you feel that your carers and personal assistants try to silence you please know that DSU are here, and we will always listen.

This years Anti-Bullying Week theme is “power for good”. I pledge as an individual, and as a co-founder of DSU to use my voice, and any positions of power I hold for good. A huge part of that is amplifying disabled voices to ensure that we are never silenced.

If you have experienced bullying, there are a number of organisations you can contact. DSU will support you as a disabled survivor, but you can also contact the following organisations:

  • Bullying UK supports those who have been bullied in a number of environments, including at school, at work and online.
  • The National Bullying Helpline is a voluntary run helpline that assists people who have experienced bullying of all descriptions. They are open between 9 AM and 5 PM Monday to Saturday and will take urgent calls out of hours. You can contact them by calling 0845 22 55 787 or 07734 701221
  • Childline has lots of advice on their website about what to do if you are bullied, and how to build your confidence after you have experienced bullying. Childline is a free service helping anyone in the UK under the age of 19. You can either phone, email or get support online.

If you would like to contact Disabled Survivors Unite please email us