Dear neighbour (AKA the meltdown, the neighbour and the police)

Dear neighbour

I’m so upset that you felt the need to call the police because our autistic son was having a meltdown.  I’m even sadder that you never gave me a chance to explain what was going on.  Instead you banged on our door at midnight threatening us with the police if we didn’t quieten our son.  I tried to explain that our son has a disability and that he can’t help behaving the way he does but you didn’t listen.  You turned away and hurried back to your house with no thought to how we were.  Do you have any idea how that made us feel?  We were already stressed trying to console our son but then to be faced with threats from our neighbour made us feel even more distressed and isolated.

I am sorry my son was so noisy and that it disturbed your evening but as I said he can’t help it. He has an autistic spectrum disorder, a lifelong condition that he was born with.  It means he has difficulties understanding other people and interacting with them.  It means he can’t cope with change and prefers to keep to familiar routines and familiar places.  He also has sensory difficulties (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell).  He is affected by these in different ways and at different times. Sometimes he can’t stand being touched, sometimes he can’t stand other people looking at him and sometimes he can’t tolerate noise or the texture and taste of certain foods.  He also struggles to move his body in the right way and sometimes he will bump  into people or stand too close to them.  He doesn’t mean to do this; it’s part of his autism.  Sometimes he will flap his arms or spin in circles.  As odd as this may appear, my son loves doing these things; it makes him feel good.

But sometimes, my son can become so overwhelmed that he has a meltdown.  A meltdown is not a tantrum that is experienced by children who are frustrated or angry about something and neither is it due to poor parenting.  A meltdown is much more serious.  It is where my son’s brain is not functioning well, where he is unable to communicate and reason properly, when he becomes destructive and a danger to himself.   Watching my son’s distress is terrible.  I can’t look at him, talk to him, hug him or even hold his hand; he is inconsolable.  The only way we can manage a meltdown is for us to keep everything as calm as possible and to give him space and wait for him to recover enough so that we can divert him to something else.  Sometimes he calms down quickly, other times it takes longer but however long it takes ‘telling him off’ doesn’t work.

On this occasion it took a few hours for my son to recover, by which time the policemen were at my door.  They said they wanted to check we were safe but they still took my son’s details making him sound like some sort of teenage thug.  I explained that my son had autism and had experienced a meltdown but I don’t think they understood what I was saying; they just stood there staring at me.  I continued to explain that I was more upset about you calling the police but they didn’t say anything to that either.  Yet again, no-one asked me what autism was, what a meltdown was and I was too tired to volunteer that information.  I was trying hard not to burst into tears.  I was also hoping that the police would have some understanding of autism but now I’m not so sure and I’m left wondering what they will be doing next.

Do you realise what you have put us through?  My son cannot remember his meltdown (he rarely can) but he does recall the policemen on the doorstep.  He was left so confused that long after the police had left we had to spend the early hours reassuring him until he went to bed.   By now it was dawn; I couldn’t sleep.  I was too upset that you had reported us to the police.  I couldn’t understand why you had behaved in this way.  I thought you knew our son had autism; it wasn’t the first time my son has had a meltdown since you became our neighbour so why did you report us to the police this time round?  Why?

Contrary to what you may think, my son isn’t a teenage thug and nor are we negligent  parents.  My son has a disability which causes him to behave in particular ways.  He is a vulnerable member of society and needs support and understanding, not blame and finger pointing.  You need to know that he has done nothing wrong; you also need to know that we haven’t done anything wrong either.  We are devoted parents who have transformed our lives to care for him and his sisters.

So with that in mind, I have sent you a letter; not this letter, this letter has a dfferent purpose.  The letter I sent you is polite and non emotional; it tells you about my son’s autism and it refers you to an organisation that can provide further information on autism, should you wish to learn more about this condition.  I hope when you read my letter that you will realise the hurt that you have caused my family and that you will find it in you to apologise for what you have put us through.

But whatever you do there is one thing you should know, your ignorance has strengthened my resolve to continue to talk and write about autism and aspergers and to join the growing army of people who are fighting for greater understanding and acceptance of  autism in our society.  It’s the very least I can do for my son.

Yours sincerely

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27 Responses to Dear neighbour (AKA the meltdown, the neighbour and the police)

  1. Pingback: Neighbours, Everybody needs Good Neighbours. | violetsdiary

  2. Lou McGill says:

    what a nightmare – I live in fear of this happening to us – highly likely in a terraced house

    such a well written post – I really hope you letter to the neighbour has some impact.

    It is not acceptable that the police are so lacking in knowledge – as they could have made the situation even worse.

    All I can say is I totally understand – wishing you and your family strength.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Hi Lou and thanks for commenting. I feel lucky that the police didn’t come into the house and ask to speak to my son. He would have probably been even more confused and reacted badly. Deb

  3. Am shocked that anyone would call the police, rather than just knock on your door and check to see if everything was OK. Does nobody care any more these days, apart from about themselves? I really hope you get the apology you deserve x

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Hi Steph, my neighbours are on holiday at the moment but when they get back they will find my letter waiting for them. It will be interesting to see how they respond though I would be very surprised if they apologise to us. Deb

  4. Ann Beck says:

    So sorry for your distress and your neighbours total ignorance and lack of understanding but glad that their actions have given you more strength to fight for your son and all the other children just like him. Chin up, shoulders back and armour on :) xx

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Hi Ann, I was so exhausted and upset after all of this, it took me a few days to bounce back if I’m honest. But by writing a letter I found it gave me some control of the situation which made me feel a lot better. Its now up to them whether they want to learn about autism and to apologise to us but as I said to Steph I would be surprised if they do. But even if they learn not to react and go crying to the police every time my son has a meltdown, then that will be progress. Deb

  5. dafna maor says:

    I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I only hope there is an equal, or greater, number of people who are kind and understanding. Be strong

  6. amanda says:

    saying I understands does not help, its your neighbours and my ex- neighbours who need to understand. wonderfully unemotional post. i would still be too angry to type.
    hope today has been better and without incident.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thankyou Amanda. I really hope that people untouched by autism and aspergers can learn about this condition and show some support to us. It can be challenging raising an autistic child but when you have neighbours like mine it can be even more stressful at times. Deb

  7. Deb Johnson says:

    Well done for you to write this. Information is good. It may help him understand or it may not. But you’ve done the right thing, in my opinion to help educate. I’m terribly sorry that you had to go through it. I hope that your son will cope better.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thankyou Deb. Even if they can’t find the courage to apologise to us, I hope they can learn something from the letter I’ve sent to them. Deb

  8. Elinor Perry-Smith says:

    I’m so sorry! I hope today is better.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thankyou Elinor. After my son’s meltdown, he was exhausted but slowly over the week he recovered and we’re now back to our ‘normal’. Deb

  9. Blue Sky says:

    I think everyone should read this, especially ALL neighbours ((hugs))

  10. That must have been soul-destroying. So difficult – I wish you luck trying to re-establish some harmony

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thankyou Actually Mummy. Yes, I was totally gutted by their behaviour. I think its going to be challenging to restablish harmony with them. If they learn a bit about autism and realise the harm they’ve done and apologise to us, then I think there is a chance of us reestablishing a better relationship. But unless they make some sort of effort with us, I doubt I will properly talk to them again. Deb

  11. Hellie says:

    Absolutely shocked and horrified by your neighbour! As a person I feel ashamed of them and really hope they learn compassion and understanding soon. People like that are are the ones you just don’t need in your life.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      I was shocked too Hellie. I wouldn’t have minded if they had asked about our welfare and given me a chance to explain but they didn’t. Just shows us how ignorance and making quick judgements can be so damaging. Deb x

  12. Well done for writing this so soon. The Netmums blog of the week last week was a story with some similarities to yours and written by the neighbour who realised the danger of her assumptions. I have drafted a little post that explains my feelings about all of this. Would you be OK for me to put your link in my post?
    It is so distressing to have to deal with all the extra anxiety. I wonder if there is some work that orgs such as the NAS could do with the police community saftey (or whatever they call them now) units to give them more understanding of autism.
    Anyway. fab post, & well done for sharing so soon. Hugs. xx

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thanks Violet. I have heard of calls for the police to learn about autism but whether there is training for them, I’m not sure. I didn’t get the feeling that the policemen on our doorstep really understood; they didn’t seem to know how to respond when I told them my son has autism and had experienced a meltdown. They just stared at me; it was odd. It didn’t help that at 2 am in the morning, I was too exhausted to explain my son’s condititon.

      I do think there needs to be more training not just on autism and aspergers but on other conditions which can cause unpredictable behaviour. I’ve heard of reports that there are many people in prison with ASD’s and I have to wonder whether they should be there. It frightens me that my son’s meltdown could be misinterpreted and dealt with wrongly which could land him in a police cell but it is a real fear of mine.

      I look forward to reading your post and yes its fine to link back to me. Deb

  13. Harriet says:

    My heart goes out to you. You are going through a lot and are to be commended for your care and patience under very trying conditions. I hope you have time and energy to look after yourselves as well.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thankyou Harriet, we’re doing our best to rest and recover from this incident. That is something I have learnt from caring for my children that I need to be kind to myself and rest whenever I can so I can find the strength to continue. Its a constant battle being a special needs mum. Deb

  14. kelli says:

    oh gosh, I feel sick reading this. My heart goes out to you and your family. It also goes out to your neighbour for their obvious lack of compassion and understand. I hope they get some soon. It is hard enough parenting a child with special needs without this sort of added stress.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thanks for commenting Keli. Yes I hope that our neighbours can learn some compassion too; it would certainly help us have a better life. Deb

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