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.