Alex Lowery speaks about autism

Routes to autistic homelessness and routes away by Jules Akers

Written on 24th Mar 2016 by Alex Lowery

Today we have an article by Jules Akers on the subject of ‘routes to autistic homelessness and routes away’. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Jules telling his story of homelessness.

Jules telling his story of homelessness.

I met Jules Ackers at the ESRC seminar New Directions in Autism Research Cardiff. Jules was one of the speakers and he spoke about being on the spectrum and his experience of homelessness. I asked Jules to share his story. Undiagnosed autism and homelessness is a common problem. 

See also an article about homelessness among autistics in Wales here.

A true story of how someone found himself going through a period of homelessness but more to the point how the Jules then-undiagnosed autism was central to that process. 

It is also not the following: 

 

  • A ‘victim statement’ and I am not currying sympathy.

 

  • A description of homelessness- those who have been know and those who have not can guess it’s a bit rubbish.

 

 

I became invisible.

I became invisible.

So what is it then?

 

 

  • It is a reflection of the processes which got me there. No one wakes up saying “**** I’ve nowhere to live how did that happen?” Unless your house blew up or and you did not notice.

 

  • It’s a story of invisibility- in parenting, education, employment and personal relationships- everywhere that I encountered people who could have intervened.

 

So- where do we start? The beginning would be logical:

 

  • I was an ‘odd child’ but not delayed (or so it seemed). But strange- distracted, introverted, “in own world”, anxious, chaotic, listing, lining up, not socialising. I learned very quickly in things which interested me, like numbers or dinosaurs but stuff that did not intrigue me so much, such as getting washed or dressed or making friends, not so much. A classic “little professor”. A smelly, badly dressed little professor with no friends.

 

  • I had to go some kind of special school before mum killed me. (I am using hyperbole she did not actually try to kill me. I was just bloody hard work to look after.) My parents were teens, dad working around the clock in a physically demanding foundry job, mum stuck at home with this weird little boy. She probably thinks I have forgotten things she said and did all those years ago but I have not. We don’t forget stuff like, we wish we could.

Anyway……..

 

  • We are going back four and a half decades or so but I am not sure what kind of school this was-  but this is firmly in the time when school was not much more than a free child minding service. So the answer was School??

SCHOOL!! Yay!! SCHOOL!! *********.

 

  • It is always the answer isn’t it? Because that’s what we need. Lots of social interaction, dazzling lights and loud noise. And daily meltdowns. I OBVIOUSLY needed help. My autism was not obvious, it was barely recognized outside a narrow field of learning disabilities at the time- but a passing syphilitic chimpanzee could have spotted I needed help. The classic signs of depression anxiety and neglect were definitely there and they were all well known at the time.

The slogan of the entire system seemed to be: “We try nothing! Then we run out of ideas!”

 

  • The response to being where you are making you miserable- spend more time there! Failing exams? Here’s more exams to fail.

I hope things have changed since then but there appeared to be a Churchillian spirit “If you’re going through hell- keep going” WRONG!! That thinking is fine when you are vanquishing the Nazi hordes from France but I do not recall trying to do that.

A better slogan would be “If you’re going through hell, stop, turn around, leave hell at the next available exit and find somewhere nicer!!” Not as catchy I guess.

 

  • So I became invisible. How? One on hand you are born with additional needs but you lack the ability to express them (that is one of your additional needs) and on the other hand you have to retreat to the shadows to avoid the environmental, psychological and physical attacks. The absence of any support means you have to make yourself invisible in order to survive day to day. So it is a vicious circle leading to invisibility and you can even forget you exist.

 

  • So I left with no qualifications, no skills, no self confidence (the schools invented and handed me a new ‘Triad of Impairments’!) Therefore no work for three solid years, in fact no full time job until I was 27!
  • No employment support. Sign on, get your giro, that was it.

 

 

  • Invisible. I became so good at being invisible I did it without trying.

 

  • Eventually I became involved in a relationship- into which I brought all the key ingredients: Low self worth, no income or status, lack of social cue recognition.

 

 

This all  makes us prime victims for abusive partners and this is what pushed me into sporadic homelessness. Either the atmosphere was so hateful I had to leave or I was cast out on her whim (it was her house) she had all the power, I had none.

 

  • Did not know my housing rights. In fact I had no concept of any, after all that time of not having any it never occurred to me I might have some.

 

  • I was a ghost. The trouble with being a ghost is that you are rarely seen and most people don’t even believe you exist. I wasn’t too sure myself. Still have doubts in difficult times to this day.

 

Jules Ackers at the ESRC seminar New Directions in Autism Research Cardiff.

Jules Ackers at the ESRC seminar New Directions in Autism Research Cardiff.

THIS IS NOT A TRAGIC STORY AND I AM NOT A TRAGIC PERSON- the intervening 30 years have been harder than I can tell you but I have overcome, 25 years in continuous work and accommodation, now doing a doctorate, earn a liveable wage  and best of all have 4 grown children (2 on the spectrum, 2 off, all awesome), a granddaughter and a loving relationship.

 

But if it is not a tragic story it is still not one I would like to see repeated by another middle aged autistic person. So what do I suggest?

 

But if it is not a tragic story it is still not one I would like to see repeated by another middle aged autistic person. So what do I suggest?

Support for breadwinners- give young ‘stay-at-home’s a break and involve the ‘stay-at-works’. (Note to the service providers: Autistic children have dads too! The health and education providers don’t like us much but we are here and we might have a contribution to make. But that’s another story.)

 

Look out for the kids retreating to the shadows. Model interventions on their needs not the system’s. Education is dominated by wild-eyed extroverts!! School is like an endless pep rally!! Could we not just calm down a little?

 

Treat autism bullying and discrimination like homophobia or racism- address the bullies behaviour not the victims!!

 

Make autism a higher diagnostic option. Was not diagnosed until I was 50!!! Would not have been homeless if I had been diagnosed at school.

 

More research into autism and relationships and our particular vulnerability to exploitation.

 

Employment support both to find and stay in employment. It gives you skills, confidence and an income- A Triad of Empowerment!

 

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Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
  • St John's Ambulance
  • Welsh Government

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