This evening, I took it upon myself to watch Channel 4’s documentary on the abuse of Autistic people in psychiatric institutions. As I sit here reflecting on the way the Autistic participants were treated by those meant to care for them, I will confess that I have shed some tears of my own.
I am one of the Autistic people unlucky enough to spend time in carcerative care.
I have witnessed restraint used as punishment. I have been sedated so heavily that it caused me to develop an irregular heartbeat. To this day, I do not publicly name the psych ward where this happened for fear of retribution. Such is the nature of the power imbalance between Autistic people and the mental health system.
The idea that an institution that is legally considered to be “a place of safety” can be so traumatic seems almost absurd. Yet, there are innumerable Autistic people locked away in these places, experiencing things that no human should. Things do not improve upon release; section 117 aftercare so often goes by the wayside.
Autistic people are treated, at best, as a nuisance in the staffs workplace. Staff so rarely seem to consider that they work in a place we are forced to live. The privilege is theirs, not ours. To assume that we should be grateful for being detained indeterminately is to fundamentally dehumanised us. Autistic people deserve softness and caring, not a lesson in how much the mind can handle before your inevitable demise.
This is an issue that the NHS fails to address year on year. I believe it’s because Autistic people are framed as burdensome and irritating in a system that our government has ensured is on its knees.
Now is the time to speak out. I would ask that if you care to share your own experiences, you do so by using the hashtag #AutisticsIncarcerated.
I choose those words because that is the nature of inpatient treatment. It is not a hospital environment. Each and every one of us deserves to know that we have a place to turn at our darkest moments. We shouldn’t have to fear seeking help.