You may have caught the controversial coverage of comments made a few weeks ago by a mother of 4 children with ADHD, the youngest of whom is violent to her on a daily basis. (Here and here) Jenny Young, herself diagnosed with ADHD, stated that if her husband had been violent in the same way she would have left him, and if her son were a dog she would have had him put down. But for parents like her there is no choice: “There isn’t a refuge for battered Mums”. Cue national outrage.
Jenny appeared on This Morning on ITV to talk about her comments and presenter, Philip Schofield, then asked the viewer to consider whether they have changed their opinion after hearing the piece. Jenny described her love of her son, the stresses of living with a child who may turn violent on a whim, and her battle to secure understanding and support for them both, now and for the future.
Back in November last year, when I spoke at the Hillingdon safeguarding conference, I was asked how much a part ADHD and Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) play in child to parent violence. Other than some statistics from Eddie Gallagher, suggesting diagnosis rates of around 40%, and some anecdotal evidence, I didn’t offer a particularly helpful answer at the time. But, in the way that these things happen, a series of events in the last weeks have brought me to write this piece, and what comes through most strongly is the need for understanding.
Yesterday I was at the Who’s in Charge? conference in Ipswich, organised by Ipswich Borough Council. Many of the delegates had experience of work with families where a child had a diagnosis of ASD or ADHD. Eddie Gallagher gave the key note speech introducing us to Child to Parent Violence, and he was followed later in the day by Annie Clements, CEO of Autism and ADHD and of We Have a Voice. Annie sought to answer the question, Violence and Disability: is it ever acceptable?
Incredibly, there are no official statistics for families experiencing CPV where the child has a disability, but Annie spoke from her own experience of being called in to “sort things out” by parents, schools or other agencies, and finding that in 95% of cases there was violence in the home from the child towards the parent. It may not be immediately obvious, as parents sometimes took time to open up, but a key finding was the normalisation of violence. Parents sought to justify their experience saying “He just can’t help it” or “I’d rather she hit me than someone in school”, “How can I punish him when he doesn’t know any better?”. For Annie and her organisation, the key has been to start with understanding, and she reiterates this time and time again, whether it’s about helping the child to understand themselves, the parent to see things differently, or professionals to take the time to listen and build relationships before offering advice. Untangling the different factors – not necessarily any different to other families where there is CPV but made more complex by the inclusion of ASD, and understanding what the behaviours are saying, un-peeling the layers, is certainly something which is crucial to this work. Once the young people can start to understand themselves, they can eventually learn to take responsibility for their choices and actions. Annie stresses that change is achievable with this intensive support for both the young person and for the parent. Where I was, sitting in the auditorium, there were both nods and tears as individuals recognised their own experience or suddenly made sense of a piece of work.
The Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 this week has been The Reason I Jump, a fascinating insight into the mind of a young man with autism. We are invited to see the world in a new way and to start to understand the wonder, the fear and anxiety – and the obvious – involved in seeing the world from a different perspective. The readings were introduced by David Mitchell and you can read more about it here. I would suggest that this is as good a place as any to start for those interested in taking their understanding further.
In everything, how we interpret and judge events depends so much on personal experience and understanding. The last few weeks have been valuable ones for me in creating new understandings around family violence where there is also ASD and ADHD. That information is so important when we hear stories such as Jenny’s.
Since attending the Respect National Practitioners Seminar in London on July 2nd, I’ve been encouraged to add some more to this post. One of the workshops was delivered by Fiona Barakat of YUVA, and was titled “Making sense of ADHD diagnosis in young people who are violent in close relationships”. It was striking how many similar issues came up on the two occasions. Like Annie, Fiona raised the fact that many of the issues around child to parent violence were the same as in other families but that the diagnosis of ADHD presented another layer of complexity. The issue then becomes not one of different content to the intervention, but of different techniques, making use of our understanding about the preferred methods of learning and visualisation for these young people. Fiona presented a number of techniques which she uses in the work she does with YUVA. More detail of her talk will soon be available to access on line. I will add links to this as soon as possible.