Helps Parents Fight Accusations of Child Abuse
Books: Novel has shed light on Asperger's Syndrome but
families still find themselves under investigation.
by Matthew Chapman, The Observer, September 26, 2004
For more articles like this
poignant story of Christopher Boone, a teenager suffering from
Asperger's Syndrome, in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the
Night-Time sold close to a million copies and won the Whitbread
Book of the Year.
But its success has led to charities and experts on Asperger's
saying that increasing numbers of parents are contacting them to
report harrowing cases where childcare proceedings are being
brought by social services. The government is now to investigate
It is estimated that 48,000 children in Britain suffer from
Asperger's, a form of autism, yet despite it being a medically
accepted condition local authorities are accused of disregarding
scientific opinion in favour of diagnoses of abuse.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University has accused
the local authorities of 'turning the clock back 50 years'.
The situation has arisen because, like Christopher, the child
detective, Asperger's sufferers often possess very high IQs yet
can be almost totally lacking in social skills. This can lead to
apparently odd behaviour being misinterpreted.
'The fact that the book came out means we have increased
recognition of Asperger's,' said Baron-Cohen. 'But this has
revealed that schools and social services have been
misrecognising it and putting it down to bad parenting.'
Parents have been contacting charities such as the National
Autism Society, which is helping a mother accused of
Munchausen's By Proxy, a controversial diagnosis where mothers
are accused of deliberately harming their own children. 'This is
despite the fact that the child had been diagnosed with
Asperger's and the very existence of Munchausen's is being
questioned,' said a lawyer involved with the case.
Education Minister Lord Filkin told BBC Radio 5 Live that his
department would urgently investigate the allegations.
At her home in Essex, former insurance clerk Debbie Storey is
still trying to make sense of the traumatic events of the past
few months when she and her husband, Michael, came desperately
close to having both their children taken into care.
As is common with Asperger's children, they removed their sons,
Ben, 15, and Sam, 10, from school after they fell prey to severe
bullying. 'Ben once came home with a huge bruise after someone
hit him and he had his tuck-box rammed into his face,' says
Debbie. 'It got so bad he self-harmed and took a big chunk out
of his own flesh.' She now teaches both boys at home, which she
says caused increasing tension, first with the Essex education
authority and then social services.
Debbie says that her constant battles to get provisions to which
they were legally entitled led events to take a more sinister
turn. Last year a confidential report prepared for the council
accused Debbie and her husband of psychologically abusing their
children. The report concluded that: 'Mr and Mrs Storey are
consciously or unconsciously using their children to meet their
own needs. They appear to lack an appropriate awareness and
consideration of the children's needs and this in our view has
and continues to negatively affect both Ben and Sam.' Debbie
believes this was a veiled hint that they suffered from
This summer Ben had to give evidence before a child protection
panel, where he says he counted 22 people sitting around a table
waiting to question him. His speech is clear and logical,
peppered with the formal phraseology reminiscent of 1930s news
broadcasts, which is typical of children with Asperger's.
'I only had five minutes to say why I didn't think I should be
taken into care, which I don't think is very fair,' he said.
Minutes later the chairman of the panel came out to see him with
some shocking news. 'He said, "Right you're on the at risk
register because your parents are abusing you emotionally and
physically". At first I was numbed by that information, just the
way that it was said, quick, sharp.
'The next words out of his mouth were, "It concerns me you are
not into sport and fashion like normal children of your age".
Then, after that gem, he said: "Oh, it's the decision of the
panel that you've got to lose some weight". No offence to the
panel, but half of them were overweight.'
The family's legal team challenged the decision and last week
Debbie and Michael received a letter from Essex County Council
to say their children were no longer being considered for care
proceedings. A council spokesman said the authority never
commented on individual cases.
Such incidents are becoming increasingly common, said
Baron-Cohen. 'It risks turning the clock back 50 years to when
parents of children with the related condition of autism were
blamed for having caused their child's condition,' he said.
Social workers say they face a particularly sensitive task when
trying to assess children who may have special needs. 'Just
because a child has Asperger's doesn't necessarily mean there
isn't a problem with parenting,' said John Coughlan of the
Association of Directors of Social Services. 'Some studies have
shown the children who suffer from disabilities are at
potentially greater risk of abuse, so we always have to look
carefully at every case.'
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