My Best Friends Have Four Legs

Many people rely on their friends for emotional support and to be a listening ear. They seek comfort from those close to them and turn to them in time of need. This is not always easy for me. I have never really connected that well with people and always feel a bit of a burden if I share my challenges with others. Add to this several chronic health conditions and my ability to socialise is limited. 

For this reason, my animals have always been my world. Throughout my life they have been my best friends and my comfort, there have been times when they have kept me going when I felt completely alone in the world and they keep me on track by having to take care of them.

My happiest times are when I am curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket with a dog at my feet and a cat purring on my lap. The closeness of an animal lowers my anxieties and makes me feel less alone. That is when I feel safe and when I feel calm.

I didn’t understand until I received my autism diagnosis just why my animals had been so important to me, now it makes complete sense. I realised I could connect with them in a way that I could not connect with people, my animals loved me unconditionally and did not place excessive social demands on me. They knew when I was sad and needed to be loved, and we didn’t need verbal communication, we did not need words. On top of that an animal does not judge me if I haven’t brushed my hair or changed out of my pyjamas, an animal does not expect me to be anything other than I am.

Following my diagnosis in 2014 I launched the Autistic Women’s Empowerment Project. I had initially planned that it would only be an online project as I was socially isolated, dealing with a serious eye condition, struggling to leave my home and to take care of myself but I still felt the need to do something even if it were just to raise awareness. In June 2014 I was invited to attend The Autism Show in London alongside a company that was training service dogs to work with autistic children. The founder invited me along to promote The AWE project on her stand and instead of being excited I was filled with fear. I had no idea how I would interact with that many people and in such a loud and busy environment, but I was passionate about the recognition of autism in females and I really wanted to do it, so for three weeks I prepared myself. I wrote myself scripts for every possible scenario you could think of and worked out my own social story of what to expect. I watched virtual films of the venue and used google maps to explore the surrounding area to try and prepare myself. I had never visited London or a large exhibition centre before, so my anxieties were huge. Right until the last minute my brain was telling me to run away and presenting me 1000 reasons why I could not and should not even attempt it.

However, despite the overwhelming anxiety, I did manage to push myself beyond my limits which was an amazing achievement for me as I find social interaction difficult and crowded environments extremely overloading. The service dog that attended with us was amazing support. The support of a dog lessened my anxieties. I spent two days with her before the show so that she could learn my ways and her handler worked with me on strategies to lessen my anxiety and to help lessen the sensory overload that would be inescapable.

I didn’t think I would make it, but I did it I overcame my fear. We went over and over the plan and so we were prepared for what to expect. With the dog’s support I made it through the whole show and even managed to have a browse around the stalls. Whenever I had to go outside or walk-through busy environments she was there; she instinctively knew that I had a blind side and steered me away from people and objects. With the help of dark glasses and ear defenders and the interaction of my new canine friend I got through the weekend.

The first day I mostly spent on the floor with the dog interacting with the children especially those who were non-verbal as I have a good knowledge of Makaton. It was heart-warming and inspiring to see the children interact with her; she spent hours playing ball with what seemed like 100s of children. We were by far the busiest stand in the show and we got many repeated visits. 

By the second day I felt comfortable enough to begin interacting with the parents as well as the children and I listened to their stories which is one of the biggest reasons I became a campaigner and advocate. I know I could not have done it without the support of that wonderful pup. 

I have had dogs and cats all my life. Animals have always played a big part in our family; more than just pets they are members of the tribe. Both my son and my daughter are autistic, and their pets have been their best friends whilst they have been growing up. We have had many cats and dogs throughout the years. Many of whom have been rescue animals that no one else wanted.

When I was younger, I volunteered for the Cats Protection League and rehomed many old or unwell cats who were often overlooked when people were looking to home a rescue cat. My home often looked like a retirement home for cats. Many of the dogs my children had when youngsters were also older dogs who just needed a family. It was not just about the love the animal gave to us, it was the love our family gave to the animal and the skills having a pet taught my children. Now that my children have grown up and have their own lives and homes, my pets have become not just companions but also my emotional support.

I had always thought of myself of more of a cat person. I currently have four cats all with very different personalities and they too are wonderful company and emotional support. They help me have a routine no matter how much difficulty I am having with executive functioning they will remind me they need feeding, which then reminds me I need to eat. They keep me company when I’m working, me the computer a line of them sit intently watching; I usually having to push one of them off the laptop. The one limitation of a cat is they don’t like being on a lead and are not very keen on sightseeing. So, after my experiences at the Autism Show I knew I had to get me a dog.

I needed to find a way to overcome my anxieties and to calm my sensory system and for me the answer was my dog. I have always had dogs that complimented the personality and needs of my children. This time I chose my dog specifically for me. Boo the Welsh sheepdog came home when he was eight weeks old. He came from working stock from a Denbighshire farm, Mom and Dad were both working sheepdogs, but he was the runt of the litter and had been bullied a bit which led to him been of quite an anxious nature and we hit it off immediately. He picked me which made up my mind. He understood my anxiety and I understood his and our bond just grows stronger every year. He has loved having me at home all the time during lockdown, though he has missed the new toys that came when I returned from business trips.

Boo is far more than just a family pet. He has been with me six years now. He is very loyal and intuitive, and he has grown into an amazing companion. He learnt quickly that his barking was painful for me and will now only bark if there is something dangerous, such as a smell of smoke or if someone attempted to get into the house. He has learnt to recognise when I am anxious or sad and when I am in sensory overload and he interacts dependent on my mood. I need proprioceptive pressure when I am stressed to regulate my system, just the weight of the dog on my legs relieves the stress and the pain, and he knows intuitively when I need that. 

He is not registered as a service dog, so there is a limit to the places I can take him but despite this he has encouraged me to explore many places that I wouldn’t have gone alone. Each day he learns another skill that helps me and him interact with the world. He encourages me to go out and get fresh air and his presence lowers my anxiety. I really feel a dog gives me a sense of safety and security but also a true sense of companionship that I don’t get from other people. I often find that having a dog encourages communication with others, even if it is just talking about our dogs and how lovely they are. I struggle with communication but it’s easier to make conversation over a shared interest and I never have a problem talking to my dog. He doesn’t care if I stammer or stumble over words. He is often my audience if I need to practice a talk or presentation and as he is getting older he is getting quiet vocal himself.

The best thing about my work with Autistic UK being done at home is not having to leave Boo. He really deserves the label of wonder dog. He is amazing emotional support. He rarely leaves my side. I know he sees himself as an assistance dog. I just never thought it would be an admin assistant. He has become really interested in my work and loves nothing more than joining in a Skype call or even Autistic UK team meetings and he is very good at giving me a hint at 1am that it really is time to go to bed. In fact, he is looking at me and trying to rush me along now.

Both Me and Boo have been a bit lazy since lockdown last March and haven’t been out much. We have spent lots of time in the garden, but I haven’t had much time for walks. Despite barely stepping outside my house since March of last year I have actually been busier than ever and Boo’s walks have been a bit neglected. Luckily Boo is also a bit of a television addict and a couch potato and he is more than happy to curl up on his chair with a doggy film on while I am working away, and we have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Disney channel together. But all this sitting around has had an impact on both our waistlines, and we do need to get some exercise and fresh air. So, we are going to use #Walk your Dog Month to get outside a bit more. 

Here’s a few photos of my boy. We would love to hear your stories about your animal buddies.

Focus Group – Education – Autistics and Allies

A discussion about being Autistic and education including what inclusive means to you, and changes needed in the system.

  • What does inclusive education mean to you?
  • What has been your best experience with education?
  • What has been your worst experience with education?
  • What would you like to see change about the system?
  • What would you keep the same?

Focus Group – Education – Autistics Only

A discussion about being Autistic and education including what inclusive means to you, and changes needed in the system.

  • What does inclusive education mean to you?
  • What has been your best experience with education?
  • What has been your worst experience with education?
  • What would you like to see change about the system?
  • What would you keep the same?

Announcement regarding the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training in Learning Disability and Autism for Health and Social Care Workers Strategic Oversight Group

Following on from the announcement of the delivery partners in July of this year of the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training in Learning Disability and Autism for Health and Social Care Workers, there has been a process by which Autistic representatives were able to apply from the NHS England Learning Disability and Autism Advisory Group to join the Strategic Oversight Group led by Skills for Care, Health Education England, and the National Development Team for Inclusion. 

After an application and interview process, Autistic UK is proud to announce that one of our Directors, Julian Morgan, as a member of the NHS England Learning Disability and Autism Advisory Group and the NHS Citizen’s Advisory Group, was appointed as one of two independent Autistic members of the Strategic Oversight Group.

Visit the website here

Julian will be attending his first meeting of the Strategic Oversight Group at the end of October, and is looking forward to being able to put our wider Autistic community’s views and concerns forward to those responsible for its implementation and evaluation. 

To this end, Autistic UK will be continuing its focus groups and surveys so that Julian is fully informed and up to date with the wider Autistic community’s wishes and concerns. Through this we hope to ensure that your voices are heard directly by those who need to hear them. Our next survey will be shared across our platforms in the next few days, with the questions being based on the answers received in our initial survey. The report generated from our initial survey has been passed on to the Implementation and Evaluation Partners via NHS England.

As one of Autistic UK’s founding principles is that we do not seek to speak for Autistic people but provide a platform for their voices to be heard, we encourage all of you who read this to grasp this opportunity to have your views put before those decision makers responsible for the creation, implementation and evaluation of the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training in Learning Disability and Autism for Health and Social Care Workers. In turn, we will also use the discussion points from the Strategic Oversight Group meetings to inform our future survey questions. In particular we are seeking answers from those whose voices are normally not heard, especially those of you who also have a learning disability and those with high support needs.

We will also be putting out surveys which focus on intersectionality, for example, LGBTQIA+ and Black and other Ethnic Minority communities. This is to ensure that health and social care inequalities faced by those further marginalised groups are specifically highlighted, and that feedback isn’t based on one subsection of the Autistic community.

This will also include input from the official partners regarding the areas which they would like to consult with you on, which should give our community an idea of their understanding and focus. These will always be put out separately and be clearly identified as questions being asked by those organisations. Please be assured that all of your answers to these questions will be passed on anonymously, but word for word.

As ever, the results of all of these surveys will be published on our platforms as soon as they are available.

Online Focus Group: Impact of the COVID Crisis – The Positives and Negatives (Autistics and Allies)

Our first Autistic and Ally focus group is about the Impact of the COVID Crisis – The Positives and Negatives:
 
We want to know:
  • What was your best experience during the crisis?
  • What was your worst experience during the crisis?
  • What do you want to see happen post COVID?
  • What don’t you want to see post COVID?

If you’re interested in this and future focus groups, please follow the website link and complete the registration form.

Online Focus Group: Impact of the COVID Crisis – The Positives and Negatives (Autistics Only)

Our first Autistic only focus group is about the Impact of the COVID Crisis – The Positives and Negatives:
 
We want to know:
  • What was your best experience during the crisis?
  • What was your worst experience during the crisis?
  • What do you want to see happen post COVID?
  • What don’t you want to see post COVID?

If you’re interested in this and future focus groups, please follow the website link and complete the registration form.

Statement regarding the ‘Oliver McGowan Mandatory Learning Disability and Autism training’

This article was written collaboratively by Julian Morgan and Kat Williams

To start, Autistic UK would like to add a grateful acknowledgement of ALL those of us who have been pushing, campaigning and demanding formal learning disability and autism training to be nationally available. The announcement made today that all health and social care staff in England will receive mandatory autism training is the outcome we were all rooting and campaigning for, and is – on the surface – a huge step in the right direction.

But as ever, the execution from the NHS and Government never fails to disappoint.

Though medics may not be required to take the Hippocratic Oath, the statement “first do no harm” should still apply. The Oath was replaced by the General Medical Council’s (GMC) “duties as a doctor,” which many universities use as part of their medical graduation ceremonies as a ‘pledge’ to uphold, and all doctors must adhere to.

Now the Autistic community in England (not the UK as headlines suggest) finds out the ONLY autism related organisation that will be implementing ‘Oliver McGowan Mandatory Learning Disability and Autism training for all health and social care staff’, as announced, is one which has a history of exploiting those Autistics who contributed to its past online training packages. It’s also rather short of paid Autistic employees too; unpaid ‘volunteers’ and ambassadors it has in multitude. Other contributors include learning disability charities – all of which are parent focused or led – and this news has sparked a high level of concern within the Autistic community.

The “duties as a doctor” states that medics should “Never abuse your patients’ trust in you or the public’s trust in the profession.” Handing a training contract over to a parent-focused charity with such an atrocious history of death and neglect in their own care homes has deftly broken that trust in one fell swoop.

Medics must “Listen to, and respond to, their concerns and preferences,” yet they refuse to listen to the Autistic community who, for years, have been telling them that training should be directed and delivered by Actually Autistic people who have lived experience. The NHS employs lived experience advisers in many areas, yet autism seems to be a category in which “mother knows best.”

One of our Directors – who also sits on the NHSE Advisory group on Learning Disability and Autism – was promised that the NHS-wide training on autism and Autistic people would be co-produced and developed by lived experience advocates. Were they actually listening, or just saying things they thought we would like to mollify us?

They promised that what we referred to as ‘The Usual Suspects’ would not be their go-to choice for autism as they were heavily biased in their experience towards learning disabilities, and had no real experience of Autistic people other than ‘as learning disabled’ and were wedded to the medical model of care.

‘NO!’ they said, ‘Local implementation! Lived experience all through. Not all learning disability charities doing it…’

Despite promises to stop the standard practice of treating Autistic people as learning disabled, we now have a selection of learning disability service organisations telling medics and care staff what Autistic people need, without any meaningful Autistic consultation or input. We asked for separate, independent, Autistic advocates and organisations to be included in designing the bid and training, yet the infantilising of Autistic people (especially those with learning disabilities) means that it is presumed we are unable to know what we need and desire, let alone deliver this training ourselves. Of course, our betters know better than we do about what Autistics want.

The NHS has broken its pledge that ‘lived experience advisors will be used in all decision making and implementation processes in all areas.

What happened to Nothing About Us Without Us?

The chances of Autistic people who do not “toe the line” with the service provider in question contributing to this massively important work, has basically slipped to zero. Thanks NHS and Government. Notice how Autistics do not even make the headline on this official announcement from a national provider to the Care Industry?

The GMC’s duties of a doctor also states that they must “Work with colleagues in the ways that best serve patients’ interests.” We’re going to go a little off the path with this one, but realistically colleagues does not solely include other doctors. This includes the trainers, the administrators, the managers etc. Working with trainers who have demonstrated that they do not serve Autistic patients’ interests, yet again, goes against this ethical guidance.

Medics must also “Protect and promote the health of patients and the public.” They cannot protect the health of Autistic patients while simultaneously working with an organisation which has actively harmed Autistics, particularly as they then attempted to cover up said harm. Do they think we have forgotten Mendip House? Forgotten the cover up? This is especially pertinent as the NHS and Government’s working relationship involves them teaching medics and care staff how to better care for a portion of society they harm.

How do you feel about an organisation that still sends schoolchildren to secure units and ATUs telling care staff how to look after autistic children and adults?

An organisation that uses and promotes ABA and PBS for all? (If you don’t know why that’s a bad thing, please read this article written by Kat Williams on her site)

Have you forgotten the whistle-blower(s) and the denials of responsibility?

Do they think we have forgotten the abuse?

Does their track-record demonstrate that they’re up of this job? That further deaths will be prevented?

This is the organisation that will now train others to care for YOUR loved ones. A fine example of vanity and hubris above and beyond the call.

This organisation veils itself using the Social Model of Disability in its public image, yet follows the Medical Model of Disability behind closed doors. The thought of an organisation that treats the Autistic community as an income stream is not representative of that community. Its unwillingness to advance the Autistic cause through meaningful coproduction (rather than public-facing tokenism) is chilling. This is an organisation that practices ABA (as are the others which are involved). This organisation incarcerates children and abuses its charges. The NHS has already had ABA/PBS snuck through the back door through the Transforming Care Programme, and this new contract will see systems that Autistics have been campaigning to reform move back into behaviour-led thinking led by organisations whose training will be coloured by their own negative opinions.

The GMC code also states that medics must “Take prompt action if [they] think that patient safety, dignity or comfort is being compromised.”

Therefore, to the NHS and Government, we invite you to take prompt action now. Your Autistic patients’ safety, dignity and comfort are all being compromised with this union.

“You are personally accountable for your professional practice and must always be prepared to justify your decisions and actions…” Can you justify this?

Feel free to express your opinion to the National Autistic Society, Mark Radford at Health Education England, NHS England, and Minister for Care Helen Whately.

Are Autistics empowered during pregnancy and labour in line with the ICPD?

Today (11th July 2020) is World Population Day which “this year calls for global attention to the unfinished business of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development” (ICPD).[1]

The ICPD met in Cairo in 1994 and 179 governments adopted a Programme of Action relating to reproductive health and the empowerment of women. ICPD is “often used as a shorthand to refer to the global consensus that reproductive health and rights are human rights.”[2]

[Before I continue, I’d like to thank Hayley Morgan for her guidance and direction to some of the only academic articles out there regarding this matter.]

Despite this consensus, many Autistic women (and those non-binary and otherwise gendered people who have given birth), report that the support (or lack of) they received during pregnancy and birth from their medical teams was not reflective of their needs. A study of women with intellectual and developmental disabilities conducted in 2015 by Potvin, Brown and Cobigo found that a “high level of available support was not always perceived as beneficial” and that “social support is perceived as most effective when three conditions are met: (1) support is accessible, (2) support is provided by individuals expressing positive attitudes towards the pregnancy, and (3) autonomy is valued.”[3] The study concludes that there’s a lack of accessible information for developmentally disabled women, and that maternity care providers should “be aware of stigmatizing attitudes and respect the autonomy of pregnant women with IDD as they prepare for motherhood.”

For pregnant Autistics, not only is there a lack of accessible information for those who need it, there’s a lack of information full stop. If you Google ‘pregnant and Autistic’ or ‘Autistic pregnancy’ the results include a plethora of articles speculating about whether or not you can ‘prevent autism’, articles listing the ‘risk factors for having an Autistic child’, a small handful of academic research papers which are often behind paywalls, and (from the first 10 pages of the Google search results) a couple of articles containing the experiences of actually Autistic people who have experienced pregnancy and birth.

Pregnant people often spend at least some time researching what to expect during pregnancy and birth – there’s an abundance of books, articles, websites and forums highlighting this fact – yet pregnant Autistics and Autistic parents have been accused of Fabricated or Induced Illness due to the volume of research they have conducted and their use of medical – rather than colloquial – terminology in appointments. This is discussed in a 2017 article by The Guardian in which Autistic women report their experiences of motherhood including fears of putting “professionals’ backs up and [being] accused of causing or fabricating their children’s condition” and being “terrified their children will be removed from them if social workers misinterpret their autistic traits as indicating potential harm to the child.”[4]

It’s also reported that the experiences of pregnancy and birth for Autistics are quite different from their non-Autistic counterparts, and that sensory differences (for example) were dismissed as ‘not possible’ by their midwifery team. An article on Tommy’s (the miscarriage and baby loss charity) website features Rachel, an Autistic mum who has experienced multiple miscarriages. Rachel talks about how she (along with “many Autistic mothers”) are “very aware of their internal body state and knew things about their pregnancy before the textbooks said they should” which meant that she was more acutely aware of pregnancies she had lost in the early stages of conception. Rachel also discusses the difficulties Autistics have with processing pregnancy loss, and that “some may not process what has happened immediately or even within the weeks and months that follow the loss.” This processing delay coupled with reduced social networks reported by Autistics (corroborated by Potvin, Brown and Cobigo’s aforementioned study) contribute to the “isolation and detriment [pregnancy and baby loss] causes to mental health.”[5]

A study published in Women and Birth in 2017 explores the sensory differences reported by pregnant Autistics alongside other reported challenges they face. The review of current literature and its supplementary anecdotal evidence from blogs found that Autistic women “reported that they needed to feel more empowered about the circumstances of their giving birth and that they relied on three factors during their experience—clear communication, sensory adjustments and change management.” It highlights issues faced by Autistic people more generally – hospitals being noisy environments and touch which “may bewelcomed by many patients can be the cause of pain or distress for the [Autistic person].”[6]

Therefore, Autistic UK recommend that the needs of Autistic women, non-binary, and otherwise gendered people who give birth are reviewed and recognised in accordance with ICPD. Midwifery teams need to receive clear guidance and training from Autistics with lived experience in order to ensure the needs of all pregnant Autistics are recognised and met. There are a number of Autistic professionals with experience in this area, including Hayley Morgan MSc, who are able to provide talks and training regarding the Autistic experience of pregnancy and birth in order to achieve positive outcomes for both the Autistic person and their baby.

References

[1] United Nations (2020), ‘World Population Day July 11’ (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.un.org/en/events/populationday/

[2] United Nations Population Fund (2019), ‘Explainer: What is the ICPD and why does it matter?’ (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.un.org/en/events/populationday/

[3] Potvin, LA, Brown, HK & Cobigo, V (2016), ‘Social Support Received by Women With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities During Pregnancy and Childbirth: An Exploratory Qualitative Study’ Midwifery, Vol. 37, pp 57-64 (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27217238/

[4] Hill, A (2017) ‘Mothers with autism: ‘I mothered my children in a very different way’’ The Guardian (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/apr/15/women-autistic-mothers-undiagnosed-children

[5] Rachel (ND) ‘Recurrent miscarriage and being autistic’ Tommy’s (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.tommys.org/our-organisation/help-and-support/baby-loss-stories/recurrent-miscarriage-and-being-autistic

[6] Rogers, C, Lepherd, L, Ganguly, R, & Jacob-Rogers, S (2017), ‘Perinatal issues for women with high functioning autism spectrum disorder’ Women and Birth Vol. 30 Iss. 2, pp e89-e95 (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871519216301287

Gopul, a young man with black hair wearing a dark jacket and trousers, is standing on a path in a park with trees and grass in the background.

Living on Borrowed Time

Gopul, a young man with black hair wearing a dark jacket and trousers, is standing on a path in a park with trees and grass in the background.
Gopul in the park, aged sixteen

Gopul
Anand was sixteen years old when he and his family moved to the UK. His father,
a highly respected expert in economics, sustainability and social development,
was asked to join Oxfam in their Oxford office to be their Global Resilient
Livelihood Advisor. Gopul settled in quickly and loved his new life.

A Turn for the Worse

Unfortunately, when Shekhar, Gopul’s father, tried to renew their visa after five years, the Home Office rejected their application, despite Oxfam still needing him to do his vital work. The family were told they would have to leave the life they had built for themselves. Because of this, Gopul’s world spun out of control and his health took a dramatic turn for the worse. Shekhar filed an appeal, then the family heard nothing from the Home Office for two and a half years.

The extreme stress of this uncertainty caused Gopul to deteriorate quickly and he spent ten months in an Assessment and Treatment Unit; languishing until his parents won a tribunal for his release. He still has nightmares of the abuses he suffered there. Gopul stopped being able to go to his social groups and his impulsive behaviours increased. He stopped being able to take public transport, even with two support workers helping him and his world shrunk to his family home, spending time on his computer and drawing.

Rejection

A young man with black hair and a serious look on his face is standing in an Underground station.
Gopul in the Underground station, aged sixteen

The Home Office eventually wrote to the
Anand family, telling them that their appeal had been rejected and that they
had to leave. Shekhar asked for an exemption based on medical grounds, that
Gopul was by this time in no fit state to travel. While they await the answer
to their appeal for an exemption, the Anand family cannot travel as their
passports are still being held by the Home Office. They were not even able to
visit Shekhar’s mother when she underwent heart surgery.

Evidence

Along with the application for
the exemption, Shekhar submitted evidence from Gopul’s psychiatrist and social
worker that clearly stated that a plane journey would cause Gopul to be a
danger to himself and possibly others. They also pointed out that the support
and treatment that Gopul was receiving was not readily available in India and
his physical and mental health would suffer tremendously.

Running Out of Time

Two young brothers in formal Indian garb. One boy in vibrant red and a smaller boy, Gopul, in blue.
Gopul, aged seven, and his brother

The
Anand family find out if their exemption will be granted at the end of January.
If the answer is no, they have no further options, they will have to leave
despite the risk to Gopul’s health and the possible risk to other passengers on
the flight.

Please Help

We are asking everyone to sign
the petition linked below asking the Home Office to grant Gopul the medical exemption
that would allow him and his family to stay in the UK and continue to receive
the support and treatment he needs to stay safe. Please share this article to
help us spread awareness.

If you are able to do so and
wish to do more, please contact your MP, any journalist you know, anyone you
think might be able to help, and tell them what is happening. The more people
know about Gopul and the more they protest at his inhumane treatment, the
better chance we have of the Home Office deciding they need to accept the
appeal and grant his exemption.

https://www.change.org/p/home-office-please-don-t-force-my-severely-disabled-son-to-leave-uk?recruiter=410764766&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

An Appeal to Stop the Inhumane Deportation of Gopul Anand

by Errol Kerr and Kat Humble

Gopul Anand, 23, is fascinated by computers. He loves to explore science, music and art and has an immense interest in learning as much as he possibly can about the world. His brother, currently studying computer science at university, shares information on what he is studying with him as well as playing the odd video game or two.

Gopul is an autistic and multiply disabled young man currently living in Oxford with his father and mother and his younger brother visits him during term-breaks and weekends. He receives round-the-clock care from his family after his health deteriorated drastically in 2013. He was sent to an ATU (Assessment and Treatment Unit) in 2015. After 10 months, his family were forced to go through a mental health tribunal to have him released and Gopul still struggles with nightmares and flashbacks about his experience there.

Due to his many conditions (autism, learning disability, epilepsy and schizophrenia), Gopul needs a significant amount of care. His medication often leaves him sedated to such an extent that he is unable to carry out a regular daily routine without support. He is assisted by two support workers when he needs to use public transport or go shopping. Feelings of anxiety manifest in outbursts and meltdowns, but Gopul often finds ways to stim in order to stem these.

Visa Troubles and Stress

Gopul’s family moved to the UK as his father, Shekhar, started working at Oxfam on a five-year intra-company transfer visa. This had previously been extended and was to extend further, as Oxfam were hoping to keep Shekhar working with them due to his immense experience and talents. However, as the rules around visa extensions changed as part of the policy on immigration, Shekar and his family were planning to return to India. Unfortunately, after Gopul’s health deteriorated in 2013, it is now impossible for him to travel safely.

Medical professionals, including his doctor and social worker, have stated that Gopul is unfit to travel, and that both his safety and the safety of the other passengers would be at risk should he have to leave his current environment. Should Gopul be forced to leave the UK, his family and medical professionals report that not only would his condition will suffer irreparable damage and extreme anxiety, but it could also make him dangerous to other passengers during travel, also affecting his mental health and well-being in the long run.

His current care plan has been thrown into uncertainty because of the protracted situation with the Home Office. Gopul and his social workers have spent many months building trust and a strong relationship with one another and, after his experiences in the ATU, family support is key. Gopul’s friends, family, medical team and possessions are all here, in the UK. Here, he is in a safe environment with appropriate support and medical treatment. This support would be unavailable should Gopul and his family be forced to leave.

Human Rights Violation

Because his health conditions are not obviously physical – i.e. either because they are invisible disabilities or mental health conditions, the Home Office has elected to ignore all medical evidence provided. The family’s solicitor, Sugina Mehra, affirmed that the level of medical evidence supplied by Gopul’s psychiatrist and social worker was ample. This, of course, is a grave breach of Gopul’s human right to not be discriminated against because of his disabilities. Disabilities should not have to be visible to be counted as real.

This situation has deeply affected his mental health. He has stopped attending regular social groups due to the intense stress he feels about his family’s situation and he is now less able to control his impulsive behaviour as his stress increases. Gopul considers the UK his home. It has been his home for the past seven years.

Please Help

We are hoping that, by publicising his case, it will encourage the general public to contact the Home Office and their MPs to register their disgust at the decision and to state their support for Gopul and his family. We are also hoping that you will sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/home-office-please-don-t-force-my-severely-disabled-son-to-leave-uk?recruiter=410764766&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition to join the thousands who have already signed it to show their support. Thank you.