Josh’s story underlines the crisis of care services in the UK where autistic people in need of health and social care end up criminalised because the only services who do respond to them are the police.
Josh’s mother Nicola first suspected that her son was autistic when he was four years old, but in spite of being assessed, he was not given a diagnosis. “Trying to control him was a nightmare. I couldn’t take him anywhere because he would hit children and throw toy cars and bricks. He couldn’t sit and play with something. He hurt quite a few children. I don’t think he meant to, it’s just how he played. I’d apologise to the other mums and keep my head down.” Later in school Josh became aggressive in class because, as Nicola says, he could not process what was happening. He received counselling in school but was never given a diagnosis.
Nicola then witnessed a slow deterioration of her son’s mental health over the succeeding years that included anxiety, loneliness and violence. Josh started drinking and taking drugs at the age of 15 and Nicola became familiar with his violent outbursts. Even though she understood her son’s behaviour had underlying causes that were not being addressed by clinicians, at the same time she was frightened by Josh’s outbursts.
There were occasions that she became so frightened that she locked herself in the house for fear of what might happen when Josh came home. When Josh was 19 and now a six foot man, he returned home drunk and aggressive one night and Nicola became so fearful for her own safety that she reluctantly called the police. Josh ended up in court, and was put on probation for breaching an earlier anti-social behaviour order.
Over the next few years Josh was in and out of prison six times but it was only at the age of 26 that he was finally diagnosed with autism. When Josh did receive the letter confirming he had Asperger’s Syndrome, he says, “I phoned my mum and cried because I was so relieved.” Following his diagnosis, Josh received support from a psychologist and speech language therapist and was prescribed anxiolytics to help cope with his anxieties.
In 2017, in an incident that has complete parallels with Max's Story, the police were called out to the supported accomodation where Josh was staying after an altercation in which another resident had pulled a knife on Josh. Josh was highly distressed by the incident but instead of calming the situation, the police arrested Josh, took him outside the hostel, and then tasered him, allegedly to 'calm him down'. He was then taken to a cell where police pepper sprayed him in the face.