Making Headlines

For World Autism Awareness Week, we are amplifying the voices of autistic survivors on our blog. This post has been submitted by Alanna Rose Whitney.

Content note: abuse (including, but not limited to, gaslighting) and disordered eating

It’s hard for me to talk about the abusive situations I faced as a child, both because I know so many other people who have been subjected to so much worse than I have that I feel guilty for taking attention away from their stories, and also because it re-opens old wounds that will never fully heal due to persistent gaslighting and denial of my perception of those events by perpetrators and witnesses alike.

I did just that though, almost two years ago now. I talked about an incident that still makes me gasp and recoil in the retelling nearly two decades after it happened. And doesn’t it figure that I was met with more erasure and compounded abuse as a result?

In the summer of 2015 I spoke with a journalist from the Washington Post who had been flown out to interview me for an upcoming piece on Autistic acceptance. I was followed around and photographed and throughout the day answered questions about neurodiversity and aspects of the activism I was involved with. And I thought I was being listened to. I thought that this article could help to highlight the difference between fearmongering “awareness” and the counter-movement to promote acceptance and love. But I was wrong.

Besides the complete exclusion of at least one other more prominent activist with far more experience and insight than myself, the final product was all incoherent fluff intercut with giving a platform to parents who hope to erase autistics from existence. It was not well-recieved by the Autistic community.

However that wasn’t the part that hurt the most. Neither was the way they portrayed me as “quirky” or the stream of online comments about how I wasn’t really autistic enough or completely off-topic, how I could be pretty if I lost some weight. What really hurt was the opening line, which made light of a seriously traumatic experience that I had never opened up about before, which failed to even address the commonality of the issue – let alone confront the gravity of it’s impact.

The third line of the article reads: “Anchovies on pizza could send her cowering under a table.” That reference is never elaborated upon and I’m actually crying re-typing it. The whole first paragraph reeks of condescension, but the dismissive and derisive tone of that one sentence really stings.

Here’s why…The story is all-too-familar to most autistic people; we frequently experience physical violence (usually accompanied by verbal/emotional abuse) due to what is often referred to as “picky eating.”

When I was seven, my father took me to visit some family friends who had rented a trailer up in cottage country somewhere in rural Ontario, Canada. In fact, their daughter, who was my age and non-autistic, just recently passed away from a drug over-dose, found in a bus station all alone – but that’s another sad story entirely… This story begins with a group of happy “campers” gathered around a picnic table, laughing and drinking and deciding it would be easier to order pizza and direct the delivery slightly off the beaten path than it would be to fire up the barbecue and cook something. The toppings were picked and when asked, I reminded my dad that I could not eat anchovies, that I had never been able to handle the taste, texture or smell of any fish or seafood (nevermind my aversion to all meat and eggs, which I usually choked down anyway for fear of repercussions). I was told, in an angry tone, that I could just pick them off the pizza when it came. I responded to explain that I would still taste and smell the oily residue and that I would not be able to make myself swallow even that. I was scoffed at, laughed at and called a brat – so I meekly excused myself and said it would be okay to go to bed without dinner, that I would just retreat to the trailer to read.

But I had barely opened the first page of my book when my father burst in, fuming with rage and growling about how I had made him look bad. In the midst of this he had grabbed a large metal spoon from the kitchen and the moment I tried to speak he whacked me sharply in the kneecap with it. Of course then I started crying from the pain, which only made him angrier, but he set the spoon down and said he was sorry. He tried to convince me to come back out and eat the pizza, tried to explain that he had overreacted because he was hungry and tired and buzzed from a few beers. But I was scared and hurt so I started edging away, scooting backwards until I was pressed into the far corner under the table. And when I refused to come out from under there, seeing through his feigned gentle coaxing, he got mad again. He reached forward and pulled me out by the shoulders and then grasped me by the throat and lifted me about two feet off the ground. He didn’t quite shake me, but squeezed my neck for more than a minute before he set me back down and after realizing the line he had crossed I was left on my own to cry myself to sleep without being forced to go back outside to eat. It didn’t end there though, because upon arriving home I told my mother and begged her not to make me visit him again – but she refused to believe me because my dad had “beat me to the punch” by telling her I had exaggerated “like always.”

It was not the first or the last time that I got attacked for being unable to conform to expectations of my eating habits and it was not the first or the last time that I had sought refuge by hiding under a table.

Even that sentence of the aforementioned article was not the first or the last time that I have had my words ignored, or twisted. Being familiar with the term “gaslighting” hasn’t stopped me from being subjected to it. Being articulate and labelled “high-functioning” hasn’t stopped me from having my voice stolen or spoken over. Being aware of how wrong it was for adults in my life to have violated my bodily autonomy and sense of self in a great variety of ways hasn’t lessened my struggle with disordered eating (orthorexia, bulimia, etc) or made it easier to trust or to be touched.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending, but the closest thing to it is the #ActuallyAutistic community full of other highly sensitive people who have been treated the same way and who are all working together to change the conversation about us – about autism – to include us and to prevent the same kind of destructive, abusive behaviour from damaging the next generation of autistic kids.

Every April, we go #REDinstead to promote #lovenotfear and if you’re reading this, I hope you will consider joining us <3

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 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.

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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