Survey reveals half of autistic adults ‘abused by someone they regarded as a friend’

National Autistic Society calls for support to prevent abuse and neglect to made explicit in Care Act regulations

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Pic: Gary Brigden

Almost half of adults with autism have been abused by someone they regarded as a friend, a survey from the National Autistic Society (NAS) has found.

The poll of over 1,300 people with autism or their carers showed high levels of abuse, neglect and loneliness suffered by autistic adults.

It said over a quarter had money or possessions stolen by someone they thought of as a friend and 37% had been forced or manipulated to do something they did not want to do.

Some people with autism find it difficult to interpret other people’s motivations which can leave them vulnerable to abuse, the charity explained.

The survey found 70% of respondents who needed prompting in order to eat had missed meals because they did not get this support and 86% said they had not washed for the same reason.

Nearly two thirds of those surveyed needed prompting to help them wash, dress or feed themselves.

The survey also found 44% of respondents stayed at home because they feared abuse or harassment.

The level of loneliness among the people with autism polled was nearly four times higher than in the population as a whole: 41% of those surveyed said they often feel lonely compared with 11% of the general population. Two thirds felt depressed because of loneliness and over a third do not leave the house most days.

The society published the survey results as a it began a campaign to address what it says are flaws in the proposed Care Act regulations that could result in people with autism being neglected or exploited because of a lack of support.

The charity wants the government to make it explicit in the eligibility section of the regulations that assistance can include support to prevent abuse or neglect, such as prompting or supervision to carry out tasks or checking whether an autistic person has been in a situation that could make them vulnerable to exploitation. It also says a safeguarding inquiry should trigger a needs assessment.

It also wants the regulations to specify the level of training in autism an assessor should have before assessing a person with the condition.

Under the existing eligibility criteria, people with autism should be able to get prompting or supervision and support to prevent exploitation, but the survey shows that a significant number do not receive it. Dan Leighton, policy and parliamentary officer at the society, reasons for this include a lack of recognition of the needs of autistic adults due to inadequate training of some local authority staff and rationing of services prompted by financial constraints.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the charity, said: “These alarming figures paint a depressing picture of the horrendous abuse and neglect experienced by many adults with autism. We have heard deeply distressing stories of men and women living in utterly intolerable conditions, exploited physically and financially by supposed friends or unable to care for themselves without support.

“One professional told us of a man who had been found at home suffering from severe malnutrition and with mould growing on his skin as he was unable to feed or clean himself without prompting. This is utterly unacceptable in 21st century Britain.

“We know that many people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives, but many others need support to stay safe and healthy. The government’s changes to the care system offer a chance to support these at-risk individuals. However, we are incredibly concerned that the current proposals as they stand do not recognise the basic needs of these more vulnerable people with autism.

“It’s not too late. The eligibility criteria must be revised so that they explicitly recognise the support needs of those at risk of abuse and neglect and protect some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

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