Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I’m writing this week’s blog in an inexplicably good mood. Inexplicably because during the middle of the week my anxiety skyrocketed and my mood started plummeting into depression. I was struggling to deal with the noise around me, finding everything too loud and distracting. I know this is one of the aspects of my autism. Years ago, before diagnosis, such flare-ups would have left me angry, frustrated, and probably very aggressive; I would have been in a bad mood without understanding why. Now I know what’s going on, the effect has changed. Instead of getting angry and aggressive, and I get sad and anxious. Another peculiarity of the way my brain works is sudden mood swings, and so today, for no apparent reason, I have felt cheerful, and have been cracking one-liners and making people laugh.
Sometimes my mood seems to have no correlation with what’s going on around me. Despite feeling cheerful, I’m still aware of the ongoing horror of the pandemic. We’re seeing some encouraging downward trends in the data for infections and deaths here in the UK, and the vaccination program has been spectacular. Nevertheless, the fatalities and human grief and suffering is heartbreaking. And yet daily, I see people acting like covidiots. You know the kind of thing; people pulling their masks down to talk to someone. People wearing their masks with their noses hanging out. People not maintaining social distancing, people not washing their hands properly, and so on. How much horror does it take for people to wise up? Well, I guess this little vent has sorted out that good mood I was in.
On the subject of the pandemic, let me talk about an anxiety trigger. Many, many autistic people will be familiar with anxiety triggered by using public transport. I manage to keep my bus-anxiety in check most of the time by listening to an audiobook as I travel to and from the office. I’ve noticed something this week: There are less buses on the road in my city, Sheffield. The operators appear to have cut back services in response to the latest lockdown. It is a huge mistake. There are now significantly less buses in service than just a few weeks ago, but there are still the same numbers of people having to use public transport. Those people who have been working from home have been doing it for a long time now; the number of bus passengers has been stable for many months, due to people like me who have jobs that simply cannot be done from home (I work in a hospital); the latest lockdown has not changed the figures for people using public transport from what is was since the last one. Every day when I go to work now, myself and the other bus passengers find it increasingly difficult to maintain social distancing. One day this week, I had to take my earphones out during my bus journey, because there was a commotion going on. The bus driver was letting more passengers onto the bus, while those already on were screaming at him that there was no more room. You know what? Now I’m thinking about this, maybe I do know why I was feeling so anxious and depressed for a few days this week.
Anxiety is horrible. The way rationality gives way to blind terror… it chills me just to think of it. It has plagued me all my life. Something that happened this week put me in mind of how I struggled with anxiety as a child. Let me tell you about it.
At the age of eleven, I underwent the transition from middle school to secondary school. I left middle school with an absolutely glowing report, with plenty of As, and a write-up from my class teacher predicting big things for me. I’m not sure what it was he saw in me, because the writing was already on the wall. I had been finding school an ever more difficult place to be, and my instances of truancy were escalating. I could not articulate at the time, even to myself, what it was that made me so reluctant to go to school. Looking back, I see it was a deep-rooted unease that regularly exploded into outright panic. In other words, anxiety attacks. This was 1976, and I didn’t know I was autistic back then. I don’t think anyone in my sphere had even heard of autism in those days.
At Secondary school, my anxiety increased in severity. My mother and my teachers found it almost impossible to keep me in school. I would just go off on my own. It got to the stage where I could not bear the place. Eventually, social services were called in. We had regular visitors from social services; a man and two women, who seemed nice and supportive. But somehow, I got the idea that if I didn’t start going to school, I was going to be taken away and given to foster parents. This terrified me, but I still couldn’t force myself into the school grounds most days. On one particular day, I refused to even pretend I was going to go to school. I stayed at home, and refused to go – not in a petulant way, but in a distraught way. I remember I was in tears, and my mother was pleading with me to go so I didn’t get into trouble. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I begged my mother to get me some help. She asked me if I wanted her to call the social service people, and I said yes. Some time later, a car pulled up outside our house, and three of the social services people got out. I thought they would talk to me, see how upset I was, and maybe they’d sort out some home schooling for me. What actually happened was that I was physically grabbed, literally picked up from the ground by these people, and with no explanation I was bundled – crying, screaming, panicking, my guts churning – into their car, and taken to school. These people were big, and strong, and forceful. I could not physically resist them. Still in a state of absolute meltdown, I was carried into school. It was lunchtime. I was dragged kicking and screaming, absolutely emotionally broken, into a packed dining hall, and presented to the head teacher, who looked at me like I was something to be scraped off his shoe. The social service people left. Ten minutes later, I walked out of school, and spent hours wandering the streets, genuinely wishing I was dead. I was in pieces.
What set me thinking about that horrible time, this week? It was something I read, about a thing called prone restraint. When I was dragged into school that day, I was not subjected to prone restraint, but I was physically immobilised, and all agency was taken away from me, despite be being clearly distraught. It was terrifying, humiliating, unhelpful, and unsuccessful in terms of keeping me in school. I can only imagine how it could have been even worse if I had been placed in prone restraint, because, you see, prone restraint kills people.
What is prone restraint? It involves physically restraining a person by placing them face-down on the floor, pinning their arms and legs, and applying pressure to keep them in position. Infamously and tragically, schoolboy Max Benson died in his California School while restrained this way in 2018, and a criminal case is still in progress. Max is not the only person to have suffered from this inhuman practice.
In November 2020, a BBC News report revealed that in 2019 prone restraint was used more than 38,000 times in England. The vast majority of people who are placed in prone restraint have mental health issues, many of them autistic. One report from the USA concluded that in 75% of cases, it was children with disabilities that were subjected to prone restraint. It is an international scandal, and a stark illustration of the way people with mental health problems or with neurological differences are dehumanized.
So where did I read about prone restraint, this week? Many of you reading this will already have worked it out. I don’t want to waste more words on musician and director Sia, and her loathsome movie Music, than I already have in previous blogs, so I will keep this short. She made an announcement this week that she will remove from her movie a scene showing the eponymous autistic character undergoing prone restraint.
Predictably though, she doubled down on her commitment to the movie, despite the continued outrage from autistic people who are justifiably furious at the way she has gone about this business, and her apparent disdain for autistic people, despite her repeated claims to the contrary.
If you are not already familiar with the scandal surrounding the movie, and Sia’s approach to autistic people, I suggest you google it. I have already blogged about it here. After announcing the removal of the prone restraint scene on Twitter, Sia then gave a curt “I’m sorry”…
…and then deleted her Twitter account.
I suppose the deletion of her Twitter account is because of the heat she has received online from outraged autistic people. She’s finished insulting us online now, and has just switched us off. Good luck with that, Sia…
In other related shock news this week, it emerges the movie, Music, has been nominated for golden globe awards, which is just another slap in the face of all autistic people from a movie industry that clearly just doesn’t get it. I would encourage anyone feeling the same disgust as me to tweet @goldenglobes, demanding they #DropMusic from their list of nominations.
I’ve mentioned how the use of physical restraint is dehumanizing. I can’t end today’s blog without talking about another form of dehumanization of autistic people, and the plight of Osime Brown. Osime is 22 years old, but has a mental age of around 6. He has physical problems, and is autistic. He pinched his friend’s mobile phone, and as a result has been jailed for five years, and faces deportation to Jamaica at the end of his sentence. It’s difficult to put into words the anger and sadness I feel seeing yet another autistic person being misunderstood and ground into pieces by an uncaring and unfit legal system. If you want to help, you can sign the online petition here.
I posted a poll on Reddit’s autism sub about restraint. A number of people shared comments about restraint from concerned family members, for which they were grateful. These restraints, if I understand the comments correctly, are effectively strong hugs used to prevent a distressed person from coming to harm. Clearly, this is an act of love and concern, and when done properly is to be supported. I would not point a finger of blame at anyone in these situations. I hope I’ve made it clear in the blog post that I am discussing the kind of prone restraint that resulted in the death of Max Benson and others, and other forms of violent restraint that can cause injury and death.
Why do I write this blog?
When I was first diagnosed as autistic, at the age of 54, I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resource for newly-diagnosed adults. It’s my aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn. I will never hide what I do behind a paywall. If you like what you read and want to chip in, feel free to “buy me a coffee” by clicking the icon below.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.
That’s all for this time. Until next week, stay safe.