Foster Care and Me – My Story

I’ve briefly mentioned my care background in past posts, but I never actually sat down and told my story. It’s got some Trigger Warnings, of emotional abuse, child abuse and childhood trauma. It also is a story of determination, grit and hope. It’s about time I told my story, so here goes…

When I was four years old, my mother couldn’t cope with my autism anymore. She was young, had just gone through a divorce, her parents passed away, and she had two daughters, one perfectly normal, healthy happy one, and one that wasn’t talking, and would throw constant temper tantrums and stick to her like superglue. She met a new man (who is now my stepfather), and he nearly left because of my outbursts. My mother was in despair, and decided that the best place for me to be was to be put into care, and adopted out.

Which was what happened.

I flitted from placement to placement for a year, after they realised that I simply wasn’t adoptable, due to the fact that I wasn’t a pretty child, and my autism outbursts grew more and more violent as my life became more unstable. So my care plan was changed, I would be in long term foster care until either my mother could take me back, or I turned eighteen.

After they managed to find me a placement, one that was able to handle my behaviour, things at first looked up. My early childhood in foster care felt alright, as far as I was aware, I’d always been in that family, calling the carers ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, and assuming the other children around me were my biological siblings. My older sister would occasionally come to stay over, and I saw her as this exotic, almost super-human being that I looked up to with awe. We’d also write letters, and I treasured each and every one. Until one day, when I was seven, the foster ‘mother’ sat me down, and dropped the bombshell on me.

“You have an actual mummy on the Isle of Wight, who lives with your sister. She put you into foster care because she couldn’t cope with you, because you’re autistic, which means that you’re not like the other children, and won’t have the same opportunities as them.”

My world came crashing right down, around my ears. I had no idea I was ‘disabled’ or ‘different’ to the other children until this point. And it scared me.

Time went by, and I turned thirteen.

This was when things started to get worse for me.

I was forbidden from taking part in family outings, because I ‘always ruined everything’. I’d be blamed for ruining the other children’s birthdays, because the children actively would pick on me until I lost my temper, and I’d get into trouble as a result. I became a servant in my ‘home’, having a massive list of chores I had to do, long before I was allowed to eat, or head off to school.

Then there was the searches. I’d have to carry up breakfast in bed to the foster ‘mother’ every morning, before I’d have my school bag emptied, and me being patted all over, her hand going up my top to make sure nothing was tucked in my bra, before her telling me what was expected of me for the day, before I was allowed to race down the road to catch the bus for school.

I’d often catch the bus just in time, and I’d get told off by the driver for being late. If only he knew…

So I took to comfort eating, because I’d be given just a sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch, so I’d be hungry, both physically and emotionally. I’d forgotten what it felt like to have a kind word said to me by an adult, or a cuddle/affection of any kind. Quite often, I’d shoplift sweets and chocolate on the way to school to satisfy my cravings. And when I was caught, which was often, I’d be severely punished and humiliated.

I wasn’t allowed any privacy, anything I wrote had to be read by the foster ‘mother’ first, my diaries, my stories, my poetry, letters to my sister. So I was terrified to pick up my pen to write, unless I on purposely left it in my drawer at school. Often diary entries would be read in front of the other children, with bits being read out loud, bits they knew would embarrass me. I was terrified of having secrets, and bottled everything up.

I was even accused of having sex with a guy I’d walk home from the school bus with when I was fourteen, as we were close friends, and would often hug before I got in the house. It was at a GP appointment, when the doctor asked ‘is she sexually active?’ to the foster mother, who always had to be present. She replied ‘I don’t know, there’s this boy she walks home with, and I do believe she’s slept with him, but she refuses to say anything about it…’ my cheeks burned, I was fourteen years old.

But that year saved me. I missed the school bus one day, because the foster ‘mother’ wouldn’t let me leave until she’d finished her sermon for the day, so instead of allowing my foster ‘father’ take me in the van, (I always thought he was a bit of a creep), I decided to walk all the way to school, a good three or four miles, by myself in the pouring rain. The school panicked, and called my social worker, who called the carers, demanding they go searching for me. They refused, saying it was my own fault, my problem. Also, I could accuse the foster father of molesting me if he went out in search for me alone (genuine words, according to my social worker). In the end, a taxi driver who picked up a girl across the busstop that I’d get on to go to school saw me, took pity and picked me up, and took me in for free. The school reported that I’d been found safe, but needed a dry change of clothes (I was soaked), and the carers refused.

A week later, I was removed from their care. I was placed in emergency respite with the foster mother who would become my permanent  placement until I left foster care. It was wonderful! She bought me new clothes to replace the shabby, threadbare things I used to wear, took me to get my hair cut in a nice style, fed me up, taught me it was ok to argue back sometimes, and instilled in me a love of life again. With her, I had a brief childhood, went on holidays and days out, became a member of a family. I owe her everything, and am still in regular contact with her now. She helped save me from my relationship with my ex, and was very active in helping me get to university. Even now I still call her for advice and guidance, and pop over for a cup of tea and a natter when I need to.

I left care aged 18. I never really wanted to leave, but I knew I had no choice. No one not in care leaves home to stake out alone aged 18, more like 24/5 these days. Luckily they are changing the age to 21 now, but that still isn’t as great.

But what do I know, eh?

 

Autism and Education

There has been a big debate about education for autistic children in the UK recently. Lots of parents feel like the education system is unable to look at their children’s needs and allow the parents to decide whether their child needs to be in special needs education or mainstream education. As an autistic person still in the education system of Great Britain I feel that it is important from me to add my two penny piece to the discussion.

Primary school was okay, as my needs were a lot greater than they are now. I had a lot more difficulties with socialising with my peers than I do now and I really did struggle in the academic environment of a mainstream school. I remember being transferred to a mainstream primary school at the age of seven, and I only lasted two terms because the teachers were not trained in how to deal with my anger issues or how to engage me in the classroom. This is where the special needs education system really shone to me in my life, as it made me feel more confident to pursue my dreams and ideas, and I remember leaving primary school feeling excited about the next stage of education and learning.

However, the special needs secondary school I that was then transfer to was awful. I was put in with students who were very much less able than me and was expected to be at that same intelligence level. When I completed the very basic work that we were set, and I asked the something a little bit harder something that would actually test me, they were unable to give me the work that I asked for. I actually started feeling very stupid because I was talked to as if I was stupid. I was treated like somebody who wasn’t intelligent, someone who wasn’t passionate about learning and education and wanting to better myself, like someone who didn’t have dreams and someone who couldn’t achieve. I started hating going to school, the bullying was rife, because I try to read harder books than the other kids, because I tried to beg students from the local comprehensive school next door to give me copies of their homework as they walked past the gates. I longed for history lessons that didn’t involve colouring pages, English lessons that didn’t involves cross words or word searches and maths classes with real textbooks, just like the ones I saw the children in the mainstream school carrying into school.

Not only this, I went to school in fear. We had a kid in our class who had severe ADHD, severe anger problems, which caused him to become violent at the drop of a hat. Every lesson involved being evacuated from our classroom, as if it were a war zone because he got an angry and started throwing things, chairs, tables, books. There was one time when he could beat me up, because the teacher had left us alone in a classroom, and I’d accidentally said something angered him, to the point where he was about to slam a table into my back, and potentially kill me. If a friend hadn’t gone to get the teacher (who had gone into the staffroom to get a cup of tea), I wouldn’t be here now talking to you. I was lucky, that my foster mum managed to get me out, got me into that school where I would never have to beg the kids for homework. I got high grades in my GCSEs and was lucky that I got into a good college are now into the good University, where I get a lot of support from my autism and other conditions which have since been diagnosed with.

The special needs system is excellent in this country for those with severe learning difficulties, and severe autism. For the brighter kids, the kids that dream, the ones that you yearn to have just as good an education as their mainstream counterparts, however a lot needs to be done. It is hard to come to a middle ground, simply because every autistic person is completely different, there is no such thing as too autistic people who are completely alike. Even if the more able students were put together and actually taught to the curriculum, and the less able students being kept together and being taught the things that they need to learn, that would probably make secondary special needs education a lot better. All you need is common sense, and a gut feeling to make sure that your autistic child gets the education they deserve, because they do, deserve the best education they can get regardless of their ability.

(Please note that this was my personal experience of the special needs education system. There are some wonderful schools out there that cater excellently to the needs of autistic students, my friends and I were just highly unfortunate with the provision in my area.)