‘The way Beth’s brain developed means she is Autistic. She doesn’t “have autism”, she doesn’t “Suffer from autism” (she suffers from idiots!).’
Beth’s dad (read his own story here)
Beth, who is 17 at the time of writing, is autistic and experiences high levels of anxiety frequently followed by meltowns. She has been locked in a seclusion room in St Andrews private Hospital in Northampton since she was 15 years old. Beth had spent years in other ‘care’ facilities as her father explains:
‘Her journey is one of early involvement with a nursery school’s SEN provision, exclusion, the involvement of Walsall Social Services, CAMHS [child and adolescent mental health services] and then a catalogue of broken residential schools, units and community placements, and finally police stations and the criminal justice system [Beth was arrested several times] as people failed to control her rising aggressive behaviours.’
The term ‘aggressive behaviour’ needs some qualification here. Behaviours described in this context are invariably a direct result of poor management of the autistic person experiencing severe anxiety, or even even causing that person’s anxiety in the first place. ‘Aggressive behaviour’ is then often something used as a negative judgement of the person and a justification to ramp-up the stress by criticism, punishment or restraint—thereby increasing the cycle of stress and panic that professional carers should rather be seeking to manage and reduce.
In 2016, Beth was sectioned and compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA). But instead of the section being used appropriately to assess Beth’s needs and recommend treatment options, she has spent 21 months in solitary confinement, inactivity and increasing clinical obesity.
Given what happened to Stephanie Bincliffe—13 stone when she was sectioned and shut away, also for ‘aggressive behaviour’, and that seven years later her weight had doubled and Stephanie died from heart failure and sleep apnoea caused by obesity, while in ‘care’—Beth’s family have every reason to be alarmed and outraged at what is happening to her.
Yet when Beth’s dad tried to go public and expose the scandal, Walsall Council served him with an injunction banning him from sharing details of her case under the absurd pretext of wanting to protect Beth’s identity (see discussion on ‘parent blame’ at bottom of Home Page). The Council were forced to withdraw the injunction in the High Court and ordered to pay Beth’s father’s legal costs. But what father would shrink from defending his daughter’s life and well-being under such appalling conditions. In answer to others commending him for the battle he had fought, Beth’s dad’s response was:
‘what would my pain be compared to that suffered by a 17-year-old autistic child, who when distressed resorts to ripping her clothes into strips that she then ties around her neck, only to then suffer the humiliation and degradation of men holding you down, stripping you naked before finally giving you a heavy nylon suit to put on?’
The Times, October 15th 2018, reported Beth’s story under the headline: ‘Bethany’s case revives our worst fears about asylums’:
‘A girl lives in a bleak room measuring 12ft by 10ft, with a plastic chair and mattress: meals are passed through a hatch in a steel door. When her father visits, he kneels down to speak through the grille. If he telephones, the handset is held out towards the inmate by a staff member. When she self-harms, shoving part of a pen into her arm, it may be a while before it is removed because of the danger to staff.
Is this some murderous psychopath lifer, a Hannibal Lecter? No: Bethany, a girl of 17 with autism. It’s a psychiatric unit, privately run, at a hospital in Northampton. And it is four months since a professional assessment accepted, not for the first time, that her needs are not met in this setting—the tiny space poetically called “seclusion”.’
As already acknowledged, autistic people often suffer from sensory overload to noise, crowded and confined spaces, bright lights, sudden and rapid movements, etc., which can then be followed by a panic attack or meltdown. Instead of working with Beth in a way that soothes, calms and reassures her, it seems that staff at St Andrews and similar placements have done everything to make Beth’s situation even more oppressive, and then blame Beth for becoming aggressive when its they who provoke the aggression in the first place. If Beth’s dad understands how to calm his daughter, why does £13,000 worth of care a week fail to deliver what Beth needs:
‘Her father, Jeremy, understands her needs: although her erratic, sometimes violent behaviour became sufficient for her to be entrusted to professional care, he has memories of taking her to the circus, of her delight at clowns and how gentle company and contact with animals soothe and settle her. Now, though, “She cannot even see the sky. I look at the sky each day for both of us. I look at the stars every night and ask them to twinkle at Beth.” ’ Times article
This is the tragedy and injustice of characterising autistic young people like Beth as violent or aggressive. When not being mismanaged by carers, Beth is no different to any other 17 year old. She can be calm, chatty, humorous, loves singing and dancing, enjoys arts and crafts, playing tricks, riding horses and walking her dogs.