14th February 2020 • Emma Cooper

Happy Valentine’s Day to all you lovers, mothers, fathers and caregivers alike.

When your world consists of being responsible for someone spectacular who relies on you for the kind of understanding and care only you can provide almost every hour of your day (and night), the meaning of Valentine’s Day may change dramatically.

If you’re a part of a couple or married, Valentine’s Day may look like attempting to have a meal together at home once your young person is asleep. If you’re a single parent, it may be a case of celebrating Valentine’s Day not in a romantic fashion but in a family oriented way; making cards and buying gifts for your children and the special meal still being the routine chicken nuggets and chips but this time you’ve made a heart shape with the ketchup. This pretty much sums up the Valentine’s Days I have experienced for the past decade. I say past as my daughters are now older, all either in their 20s, late teens or vastly approaching the teens. Autistic or not, as a parent your mind races back to when you were their age you recall your memories of such a time and either smile with nostalgia or hold your stomach with the realisation of just how young you were when you first dated, had sex and, in my case, gave birth!

The esteemed advocate Sarah Hendrix says, ‘your intelligence will not keep you safe’ and I repeat her quote to almost every young woman I work with in my advocacy office in Arborfield, Berkshire.

Even the most sparkling bright autistic minds will struggle to predict or understand someone’s agenda and are wildly vulnerable to being used.

When dating and sexual relationships start it’s oh so easy to assume that this young woman before me in the office who has a vocabulary that dictionaries would envy and an accent straight out of a Harry Potter film is equipped with the knowledge to embark on the more serious side of dating.

Months later, of course, we are back in the office with a heart-breaking tale of how she was being used, or how she is pregnant but didn’t know until it was ‘too late to seek an abortion.’ Perhaps a tale about how he robbed her family, or used her as a scapegoat for a crime his pals committed, how they set her family’s house on fire or how they forced themselves upon her and made her feel it was ok as she was their ‘girlfriend?’

These may sound farfetched, but these are all cases I have worked with in just the last year.

All from the most incredibly talented, capable and independent autistic young women I’ve had the honour to meet.

So why the gap?

We need the educational system to fill the gap in relationship and health education whereby females on the autistic spectrum are all too often left behind. The reasons for this are wide and varied, however research shows that sadly 91%* of autistic adults had experienced some form of abuse before their autism diagnosis, support and self-awareness.

Research also showed that after diagnosis, support and self-awareness, up to 73%* of autistic adults questioned had been safer, either as they had not experienced abuse or had the self-awareness to spot abuse, prevent it or report it in a timely fashion.

Why do autistic young people face challenges in reporting abuse?

Social imagination is NOT the same as traditional imagination. Traditional imagination is a great ability that anyone can be lucky enough to be blessed with. Traditional imagination is at the root of all artists, poets, engineers, architects, planners, actors, script writers, authors, film makers… the list is endless.

Social imagination is NOT the same as traditional imagination. Traditional imagination is a great ability that anyone can be lucky enough to be blessed with. Traditional imagination is at the root of all artists, poets, engineers, architects, planners, actors, script writers, authors, film makers… the list is endless.

I know MANY autistic people with the above talents and careers!

What social imagination is, in brief, is the ability to predict, or see consequence of our own or other’s actions, or events or the ending of a story or plan. We struggle with that a great deal.

So how can we really have the same ability to safeguard ourselves in new events, experiences, places with perhaps new people with different experiences and places?

If we can’t easily see a good/advantageous result/consequence to our or other’s plans, can we really enjoy those plans?

If we can’t easily see a bad/disadvantageous result/consequence to our or other’s plans, can we really be cautious enough with those plans?

Have you ever played the paper game consequences?

It’ s a really good game for young people and a parent/trusted adult to play.

It involves using a pen and paper to write a story, each person in the game taking turns to write a line of the story, then folding paper without the other person seeing it. This normally make a funny story that actually makes no sense and, whilst it is light-hearted fun, it’s a great tool to show how two different people have two very different ideas about what is going to happen next!  

You will need to decide who is player 1 and who is Player 2.

The words in bold are where you create whatever name/place/event you wish…

  • Player 1 writes a boy’s name, then folds the paper, passing it to player 2.
  • Player 2 writes met girl’s name then folds the paper, passing it back to player 1.
  • Player 1 then writes in/at/on orwherever player 1 decides where they met.
  • Player 2 then writes he said whatever player 2 wants him to say
  • Player 1 then writes she said whatever player 1 wants her to say
  • Player 2 then writes he did whatever player 2 wants him to do
  • Player 1 then writes she did whatever he wants her to do then folds paper and passes back to player 2.
  • Player 2 writes the consequence was .. and player 2 writes the consequence which becomes the end result of the meeting.

Then the fun part – the story can be read out loud!

Did it surprise you how differently we can think about an event to other people?

Did it help to show how unpredictable our plans can be?

Is it important to ask questions before agreeing to take part in an event?

Were there also nice/happy surprises in the game that you also did not expect or predict?

Perhaps this Valentine’s Day, after the chicken nuggets and ketchup heart have been devoured and the chocolates are being shared, a family game of consequences could be the biggest gift you could give those you love most?

Carly x