Autism and Abuse

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Leading on from previous post about bullying and autism, this week I’d like to explore the issue of autism and abuse.

Current research suggests that children with autism may be up to three times as likely to be the target of physical, emotional or sexual abuse than their neurotypical peers. Autistic women are particularly vulnerable as a recent French study estimates that as many as 9 out of 10 autistic women have experienced sexual violence and a further 60% physical violence.

But why are autists more likely to be victims of abuse?

Sadly, the nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered down. Experts have suggested that stigma is one of the main reasons that autists are such prime targets as we are often stigmatised by negative perceptions of autism due to a lack of education about the condition. As such, autists may be abused for falling short of societal expectations in many aspects of their lives.

In addition, abuse can often go undetected as autists don’t always know how to communicate what’s going on and don’t always understand what constitutes “normal” social behaviours. When you don’t always know what’s “normal”, abusive behaviours can easily become accepted and normalised. Moreover, many of the classic childhood behavioural signs of trauma and PTSD resemble common symptoms of autism, making it even harder to pinpoint if something is wrong.

On the other hand, some studies have also controversially suggested that autists may also be more likely to be offenders as well as the victims of abuse. Unfiltered speech, lashing out verbally or physically during meltdowns, acting on impulse, lack of understanding about romantic behaviours could all lead to inadvertently abusive behaviour.

In my own experience, I once found myself accidentally branded a bully one day in school. A younger student tearfully came into our classroom and fingered me for shoving her into the side of the shed at lunchtime during a game- something that I had absolutely no recollection of (which is saying something as I have a very good memory). I must have accidentally hit into her during the game we were playing, as my spatial awareness is terrible, and never thought anything else of it. Since my diagnosis, I’ve often looked back on my life and wondered would others have considered my behaviours bullying at times? To me, the thought of ever putting anyone through the kind of bullying I endured is sickening, but that’s not to say that some of my unfiltered moments did not cause offence.

So how can we support autists in abusive situations?

This is where things get tricky. Recent reports from the UK claim that there is a serious lack of appropriate services to help autists who may be victims of abuse. Most professionals from psychologists to police do not receive adequate training in how to deal with an autists unique perception of the world. Autists have different sensory needs, different ways of communicating, or may even require you to speak in a different way, so experts need to be flexible.

Based on this, it seems clear that proper education is paramount at all levels. Experts need to be properly educated on how to specifically help autists through their experiences of abuse, taking our neurodiversity into account. Moreover, as prevention is better than cure, we need to properly educate autists about abuse and the different ways it can manifest. This is particularly important when it comes to sexual abuse. There is oftentimes an assumption of asexuality when it comes to autists, but the vast majority of us have normal romantic and sexual desires. As such, there may be a lack of education surrounding this topic which can lead to abuse. Experts say that autistic girls tend to learn about relationships from books and rom coms, whereas autistic boys tend to learn from porn- neither “source” giving true insight into how relationships work in the real world. Proper education surrounding romantic and sexual behaviours is warranted to both guard against vulnerability to abuse and the likelihood of committing an offence.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

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