"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

12 Apr 2018

Angela Morgan Cutler

Angela worked for ten years as a psychiatric nurse in St Albans, London and Cardiff, before training as a fine-artist. After completing her BA in 1990, she combined her mental health experience and creative skills to run art groups in both the statutory and voluntary sectors. After completing an MA in The Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing at Cardiff University in 1999, Angela developed 'Finding a Voice', freelance creative writing classes and workshops across South Wales. This included the ten week beginners and follow-on women's writing programmes she ran at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff between 2000 and 2013, and from which some exciting new writers emerged and published. During this time, Angela enrolled for a Ph.D in Creative & Critical Writing at Cardiff University which she completed in 2005.

Angela's novel Auschwitz was first published by Two Ravens Press in May 2008, a second edition with Colico in January 2014, and a third edition in June 2016 with Galileo Press. Her second novel, The Letter, was published by Two Raven's Press in January 2011 (see descriptions of both books below). Since that time Angela has been working on her third novel Windows when able to take time out from a busy schedule campaigning at a national level for a greater awareness of autism (see excerpt from Windows). 

published works


DESCRIPTION FROM BACK COVER. 'Auschwitz: a place where millions were killed and which thousands now visit each year. A mass grave—and a tourist destination. The focus of this work of autobiographical fiction is on the sightseers, the curious that are drawn to visit. It is a book that questions our need to look: what is there to uncover, other than the difficulty of peering into such a place and into a subject that has been obsessively documented, yet can never really be understood? How to write about Auschwitz in the twenty-first century, in a time when the last generation of survivors is soon to be lost?
     This is also a book that searches for a personal story. It opens on a local bus that takes Angela, her husband En (whose mother survived the holocaust where most of her family did not) and their two sons to Auschwitz sixty years after the holocaust, and ends in a pine forest outside Minsk where En's grandparents were shot in May 1942. The backbone of Auschwitz is a series of emails between the author and acclaimed Franco-American writer Raymond Federman. At the age of 14, Federman (now approaching 80) was hastily thrust into the small upstairs closet of their Paris apartment by his mother just before she, his father and two sisters were taken to Auschwitz, where they were killed.
     Federman also has spent a lifetime trying to find a language appropriate for the enormity of the holocaust and his part in its legacy, ultimately espousing laughterature—laughter as a means of survival. This beautiful, powerful and innovative work experiments with new forms—correspondence, reflections, dreams, a travelogue—that mirror the fragmentary legacy of the holocaust itself and, at the same time, capture its contradictions—and sometimes its absurdity.'

Links to essays discussing Auschwitz:  

Making the Silence Speak: Angela Morgan Cutler's Auschwitz” from Oxford Journals, Forum for Modern Language Studies


'Cutler's Auschwitz creates a category of its own ... undoubtedly a new voice of the post-Holocaust generations ... Her sophisticated and highly individual poetic style "shows the tracks of her labour" ... in an imaginative way and by doing so turns Cutler's debut into a superb novel on writing.' (read full review here)
Scottish Review of Books

'Cutler does not preach or patronise, and her ability to deliver impressively poetic prose means that she never compromises the subject-matter. Her voice is refreshing, shocking and commanding, and represents an exciting departure for contemporary fiction.'

New Welsh Review

‘Auschwitz stands like a tombstone for our civilisation. Angela Morgan Cutler has brilliantly infiltrated the borders of this landscape of desolation. Somehow she has found a voice that reflects the enormity of the horrors perpetuated there without being stifled by them. Unsentimental and richly worked … the words are more than mere messengers of thoughts and feelings – they glow with a life of their own … the whole package quite inimitable: the rarest quality in literature.’
Henry Woolf

‘Cutler writes like a British Hélène Cixous. Her invitation to visit with her the tourist attraction that modern-day Auschwitz has become is daring, shocking, profoundly moving – even, on occasion, funny. I loved its stylistic hybridity.’
Susan Sellers

‘When the story of the unspeakable has been told a thousand times, when the images of the unimaginable have been shown a thousand times, when the mind is numb - where do you go from there? You have to start anew. That is what Angela Morgan Cutler has done.’

Rex Bloomstein

'Beautifully written – and I LOVE the Joan Rivers dream!'
Joan Rivers

The Letter

DESCRIPTION FROM BACK COVER.Following on from the success of her first book, Auschwitz, Angela Morgan Cutler offers us another 'novel' that defies easy definition or assignment to a fixed genre. The Letter creates its own category. It takes the form of a reply to the anonymous author of a threat letter that was sent to the narrator's husband, En. Instead of the natural response, to freeze or lose language in reaction to such a threat, the book releases a voice that faces the anonymous other who wrote it; a continuous, digressive reply that winds its way through daily observations, reminiscences and reflections that succeed in creating a distance from the potential violence imposed on the family.
     The Letter is also an affirmation of home and of the restorative power of storytelling as the book flips between the UK - in the days and weeks that follow the arrival of the letter, with all the paranoia and imaginative leaps that fear evokes—and Spain, months later, when the threat begins to subside. Interspersed throughout the text are accounts of other people's stories—examples of written threats they too have received—and interviews with others caught up in the event: family, friends, a police officer, a postman, a counsellor; all sharing their own perspectives on the process of being threatened, bullied, or stalked. The Letter is a response to a threat that can never be sent: there is no return address. And yet, the narrator's reply to the unknown author of the threat remains as a powerful trace of the experience, and a testament to so many stories left untold.


‘Nerve-wracking, The Letter will have you on the edge of your seat. Scary and involving, it’s a brave and unexpected book that makes you think about the nature of the imagination itself.’
Jackie Kay

'The Letter is inimitable. No one I know writes like Cutler: so uncontrived, so unself-indulgent, so observant of character, of people, of the places we find ourselves in, the things that surround us. Such a flow of words, but not just any old words. The right words. They don’t swamp the reader, we float on them. Our awareness is nourished by their unaffected honesty, their straightforwardness.'

Henry Woolf

11 Jan 2018

Criminalising Autism

I have never discussed autism on this site before, either in connection with my writing on tramps and cynics or more generally. Ever since I retired as head of an adult social services department some 6 years ago, following a lifetime working in and managing mental health and learning disability services, I have devoted a big chunk of my time to campaigning about the way that some autistic people are misunderstood, neglected, even abused, by the very public bodies who are supposed to protect and safeguard them. Paradoxically, those most at risk are often the ones at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum. This is precisely because they may outwardly pass, and often want to pass, as non-autistic. These folk are more likely to have their behaviours perceived and misrepresented as anti-social rather than autistic, precisely because they spend a good part of their day out in the community, away from the family home or care system. The stories of Bradley Grimes and Marcus Potter below well illustrate the phenomena of the invisible ‘disability’.

The autistic person—figures of one in every hundred of the general population is likely significantly underestimated—is vulnerable and encounters problems with everyday living usually, as they tell me, when they come into contact with ‘neurotypical’ people. Left to themselves, and in the absence of those troublesome necessities of the modern world like managing bank accounts, a tenancy, or going through a job recruitment process (even though many can, and do), they can be entirely fulfilled and contented. But it is increasingly difficult to navigate the world outside of the all consuming powers and surveillance of state run and commercial bureaucracies.

To refer then to autism as a ‘disability’ should be turned on its head, in as much as it is the rest of the human herd that fails to understand or tolerate those who think and communicate differently from themselves. There are of course striking examples of where the potential of the autistic mind has been recognised and harnessed with significant benefits, both for those involved and wider society, most notably Silicon Valley in California where to be autistic is pretty much the norm. Then there is an entire unit of the Israeli army made up of autistic recruits engaged in high level intelligence work tracking computer generated satellite images (I make no further comment on the Israeli army’s wider contribution to an unkinder, less tolerant world). Many arts and sciences university campuses are also likely to be autism friendly environments. Yet such examples as these do nothing to enhance the lives of the majority of people on the autistic spectrum who continue to be disabled by the neurotypical world’s ignorance and discrimination of the autistic brain.

Recent news items about the criminalisation of autistic young people in Britain has spurred me to comment on just the kind of societal pressures that probably forced many into a life of exile in the past and is today a damning indictment on the bankrupt state of Western civilisation. I will return to the cynic and tramping themes of my blog later, but I strongly suspect that many of my vagabond heroes, those who exiled themselves from the hostile world of mainstream society, may also have been on the autistic spectrum. 

The UK press has been full of headlines in recent years such as, “Seven police officers 'pinned down and handcuffed severely autistic teenage boy who jumped in swimming pool on school trip’ ” (2011); handcuffs and a spit-hood were also used on the 11 year old autistic girl who, “referred to as Child H, was detained for over 60 hours without an appropriate adult by Sussex police in 2012. She was arrested three times and was twice held overnight in police cells, without a parent, guardian or social worker present to support her”, then there was the incident of an autistic man was accused of sexual assault after hugging a girl on a college trip in 2015. “The man was handcuffed while being transported to the station and detained in a cell for six hours, despite telling officers he had Asperger’s Syndrome and showing them his autism alert card. The charges were eventually dropped and he received an out-of-court five-figure settlement.” There was also the case last year where, “Police handcuff autistic boy, 12, leaving him ‘distressed and sobbing’ after fight with brother at school.”

Here I focus in a bit more detail on three stories involving other young people criminalised simply for being autistic:

Adam’s Story 

23-year-old Adam Nasralla was diagnosed with autism aged nine. Up until the age of 15 he managed, and was happy, in mainstream schools with additional support. Adam’s behaviour became more challenging with the onset of adolescence and by the age of 18 he was detained under the Mental Health Act. There then followed a series of disastrous admissions to specialist hospitals where staff do not seem to have had any training or understanding of autism. Adam was frequently physically restrained by as many as nine hospital staff for up to 11 hours at a time. He was also so heavily medicated that he was unable to speak. 

In 2014, during his ‘treatment’ at the private Wast Hills Hospital in Birmingham, a doctor decided to ‘remove’ Adam’s diagnosis of autism in order that hospital staff could criminalise his behaviour (claiming that he now had capacity and was therefore was criminally responsible for his behaviours). Staff then called the police to restrain Adam and when they arrived, Adam was handcuffed, placed in a spit hood, restrained with a belt, and taken into police custody where he continued to be restrained without the presence of a solicitor or appropriate adult. 

Adam’s legal team, Hodge, Jones and Allen, report on their website that ‘when Adam’s parents finally got to visit their son after his arrest, he was clearly extremely disturbed and could not stop crying. He continues to suffer trauma as a result of his arrest and police detention.’ Adam was subsequently treated in a caring environment where his diagnosis was reinstated and his medication significantly reduced. A civil law claim for negligence, assault, breach of human rights and wrongful arrest was settled out of court by both Wast Hills Hospital and West Mercia Police.

Bradley’s Story 

23 year old Bradley Grimes had been in the care system since the age of seven. When he left care with no support, aged 17, he became homeless and ended up surviving by begging and sleeping rough. Between that time and the most recent incident, Bradley has been locked up in cells countless times for breaching Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), that is, he was banned from bedding down for the night in shop doorways in Middlesborough. "I can't even sit on a public bench without being locked up. I have to keep moving. … I was in [prison] pretty much all weekend, near enough every weekend.” 

As well as being autistic, it is claimed that Bradley has an inoperable brain tumour “brought on by years of neglect”. He also suffers with epilepsy and a heart murmur. When he appeared in court last October for breaching a a four-month suspended jail sentence, he pleaded with the judge to invoke his sentence and send him to prison so that at least he could be warm and fed on his birthday. Bradley felt that jail was a better option than staying outside and continually being arrested. On the outside, “it’s impossible for me to cope on my own, because I'm bad with things like budget and money.” Something the judge clearly agreed with when he commented, "If I were to let you go today the chances are that you would be sitting on a seat or sleeping in a shop doorway and you will be locked up again.”

Marcus’ Story

Marcus Potter was diagnosed with autism aged three. Now aged 20, Marcus has an obsession with filming the police, something that has led to numerous appearances in court on charges of harassment and bail conditions being applied for repeated ‘offences’. On November 16 last year, on his way to a Job Centre appointment, on passing the Bethel Street police station in Norwich, Adam reportedly stuck two fingers up at the police. He was arrested at his home the next day for allegedly breaching bail conditions and remains in prison awaiting trial. Once again, the police are unable to distinguish between anti-social behaviour and autistic behaviour, claiming that Marcus’ behaviour represented a threat to the public and himself. 

It is hard to see what threat Marcus poses to the public. At least Marcus is up-front about his filming; the state is furtively filming us on CCTV in every public space we enter. But the threat to Marcus is real: police criminalised him for being autistic and locked him up. If the following spokesperson for the National Police Autism Association can't get it right when they commented, “Having autism is not an excuse for criminal or anti-social behaviour”, then there is little hope given that the majority of police officers don't even know what autism is, or care much less if they do. In most cases autistic behaviour is NOT criminal behaviour, it is only perceived and treated as such because of ignorance. That is the stupidity in the police’s logic; repetitive and compulsive autistic behaviours, of which the individual is often unaware is offending other people, should be contextualised and understood, not criminalised. People understand Tourettes and other neurological behaviours that may be perceived as ‘odd’, why do they refuse to understand autism; and why should odd behaviour be perceived as criminal?

The actor Richard Mylanwhose BBC documentary Richard and Jaco: Life With Autism was broadcast last year—is also part of the campaign to free Marcus and was right to express concern about his 11 year old son's own preoccupation with filming in this recent BBC news item.

Watch this video also that Marcus took of himself being arrested as an illustration that, although the police clearly find Marcus' behaviour provocative, they only have themselves to blame given their over-the-top, embarrassingly heavy handed response to a close encounter of the autistic kind. One thing that seems to characterise all the police officers in Marcus' many videos of them, is a distinct lack of a sense of humour, never mind a lack of humanity. If they simply gave Marcus a friendly nod or wave and went on their way, he would soon get bored with filming them and turn his attentions elsewhere. Better still, help him find work where he could put his skills and boundless energy to good use. Note that the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) requires all other available responses to be considered before resorting to arrest!*

* PACE Code G concerns the Police's power to arrest:
  1. 1.1 "The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for police officers to discriminate against, harass or victimise any person on the grounds of the ‘protected characteristics’ of age, disability, [etc.] autism is a 'protected characteristic' under PACE

    1.2 The exercise of the power of arrest represents an obvious and significant interference with the Right to Liberty and Security under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights set out in Part I of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998.

  2. 1.3  The use of the power must be fully justified and officers exercising the power should consider if the necessary objectives can be met by other, less intrusive means. Absence of justification for exercising the power of arrest may lead to challenges should the case proceed to court. It could also lead to civil claims against police for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment. When the power of arrest is exercised it is essential that it is exercised in a non-discriminatory and proportionate manner which is compatible with the Right to Liberty under Article 5. 
Marcus continues to be held in Norwich Prison until a hearing set for 19th January 2018. He is only allowed three visits per month and last saw his family on Christmas Eve. A petition launched, titled "Free Marcus Potter—Autism is not a criminal offence", has received 7,000 signatures to date. 

see latest campaign update here

Max's (not his real name) Story

This case, reported by the BBC on 31st January 2018 under the title, "Police Tasered Bristol man with mental age of seven", involved an incident in which police were called out by staff at a supported accommodation unit because one of the residents was presenting with behaviours they clearly could not cope with, and that had "cracked" a window, later acknowledged to be an accident. In the first place, one has to ask why police were asked to respond at all when Max was clearly in need of, and entitled to, the skilled intervention from autism trained professionalsI discuss below the claim by police that they are being used as a frontline mental health service, but also question why they accept such a role instead of insisting on the attendance of the appropriate emergency services from health or social care. 

This video of the incident clearly demonstrates that the police are not trained or equipped to clam down situations involving vulnerable adults who are likely frightened and out of control. Instead of approaching Max calmly and trying to defuse the situation, one officer is in-his-face and confrontational, while the other is reaching for his taser gunthe only response many police officers have in their tool kit. If the police are so easily panicked, no wonder that they cause further panic in those already agitated because no one is in control of the situation. If Max's mother had not managed to obtain the video and independent witnesses, false claims by the police that they had been assaulted by Max could have led to him being charged with a criminal offence, even imprisonment.


James Boswell wrote in his Life of Samuel Johnson that, "A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.” Many others have revived versions of this truism, including American President Jimmy Carter when he stated that, “The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens [not that I wish to characterise autistic people thus]” If we accept such maxims at face value, then both Britain and the USA—both currently obsessed with closing their borders to those they regard as ‘foreign’, as well as scapegoating those within their borders who are the victims rather than the beneficiaries of the capitalist dream—are fast descending into a very uncivilised period of their history indeed.

But this post is not meant as a treatise on capitalism, neither is it an exposition on autism, there are dozens of scholarly texts already published for those who want to read up on all aspects of this misunderstood but fascinating human condition. Most notable among these are Olga Bogdashina’s books on proprioception, ‘theory of mind’ and other sensory perceptual issues that characterise the autistic brain. But in my view, the most important books on autism are written by those who, like Temple Grandin, are themselves are autistic. Most recent of these is Hamja Ahsan’s Shy Radicals (2017). Shy Radicals is a tragi-comic parody of a political manifesto for an imaginary state named Aspergistan. A natural sanctuary for the shy, the introverted and the autistic, away from the tyranny of the noisy extraverts who dominate and create misery for autistic folk across the globe (not that autistic people do not sometimes present as extrovert). The book opens with a draft constitution, examples of which are presented below in true Cynic style (I use the term cynic here in its positive definition as a personal strategy for surviving in a hostile world):

ARTICLE 8: Mainstream life has no place in Aspergistan. All politics will remain underground.

ARTICLE 11: Any declarations, resolutions and motions made on a stage or raised platform will be seen not to represent the people.

ARTICLE 18: No one shall be required to attend or perform at social gatherings.

ARTICLE 21: The Shy Radical state declares the following a charade and part of Extrovert Supremacist ideology from which Aspergistanis seek emancipation: Patriotic public ceremonies; Military parades; … Shallow mythologising of historical conflicts and tragedies; Street parties and flashing fireworks displays.

ARTICLE 22: The flag of Aspergistan consist of a black flag punctuated [with ellipsis] … The flag will never be publicly hoisted. The flag may be used only by citizens wishing to silently indicate their request for quiet, solitude and personal space. …

ARTICLE 23: For sporting or cultural fixtures abroad, opposing or host countries will be required to listen to our national anthem using seashells. Aspergistan shall ensure the provision of a fit supply supply of seashells to the opposing team …

ARTICLE 27: Aspergistan will boycott any sporting or cultural event that does not ensure Autism-friendly facilities, or show respect to the rights of Autistic Spectrum people.

ARTICLE 30: Abolition of private viewings, opening ceremonies, launch parties and all other suffocating crowd gathering forms of the celebration of new cultural products, film seasons and exhibitions. …

ARTICLE 39: Abolition of strobe lighting, flashing lights, neon lighting and advertisement billboards from all public space ensuring the clearest possible view of the constellations. 

ARTICLE 41: Animals are not entertainment. Extrovert-Supremacist abuse of animals for the purpose of showmanship and narcissism is absolutely prohibited whether in the form of circus acts, magic tricks or cats on Facebook.

ARTICLE 60: Entry is guaranteed for all those seeking escape from the assault of mass distraction, triviality and frivolity.

Hamja is another reluctant activist. He only took to campaigning about autism after his brother, the award winning poet Talha Ahsan, was arrested in 2006 following a request from the US Government to have him extradited. Talha was detained in Britain without charges or trial for over 6 years before eventually being extradited to the United States—one of the longest such detentions without trial in British history. Unlike the similar case of Garry McKinnon (both involved internet activity, and McKinnon's of a more serious nature), whose extradition to the US was blocked by the UK Government on the basis of his autism and potential risk of suicide if sent to the US, Talha (same diagnosis, same risks) was extradited to the US and held in solitary confinement for nearly two years awaiting trial. Both cases are widely reported and readers can come to their own conclusions why McKinnon received different treatment from Ahsan.

UPDATE: since I posted this article a month ago, another high profile extradition case has been ruled on in the UK High Court. The ruling not to extradite 33 year old autistic man Lauri Love to the US (under David Blunkett's perverse, legislative knee jerk reaction to terrorism) was based on the same concerns as those posed by Garry McKinnon's defence: the risk of suicide associated with these young men's diagnosis of autism were they to be imprisoned in the US. Of course UK citizens deserve the right for allegations against them to be investigated and tried in their own country. But if these arguments applied to Garry McKinnon and Lauri Love, then again, why was Talha Ahsan detained without trial for 6 years in the UK and then extradited to the US for an allegation supported by even less evidence than the cases of Love or McKinnon? Following Love's hearing on 5th February 2018, in this article, one journalist at least had the alertness to pose the question, as to whether in Mr Ahsan's case, ignorance of autism was compounded by racism.

I now want to have a personal beef that most of the publicity and campaigning around autism is targeted, not around vulnerable adults with autism, but around cute though troubled children like Joe in the recent BBC series The A Word. Many autism charities focus on children, campaigning for greater awareness in schools and colleges, forgetting that autism is for life and that without support and understanding—not to mention major changes in society—cute but troubled autistic kids may grow up to be less cute and very troubled autistic adults. This post is about what can, and does, happen to some of these autistic adults when they grow up and move beyond the controls and protection of parents and schools.

The police frequently complain in the press that pressures on NHS budgets means that, by default, they have become a frontline mental health service. But that is no excuse for behaving in the barbaric way they sometimes do (see Max's Story above). They have clear statutory and other guidelines to follow, such as the Bradley Report’s recommendations on diversion away from arrest and custody to clinical services when the person has either declared or its obvious that they are suffering some kind of mental health problem. Yet it is obvious from the stories above that even where someone produces an autism alert card or is displaying signs of distress or sensory overload, the full force of the law—restraint, arrest, detention—automatically kicks in with all of the human misery and waste of public money that results. Why do police still not bother to request an ‘Appropriate Adult’ when presented with someone who clearly has a prescribed ‘protected characteristic’? PACE requires them to do this by law but as is clear from the stories above, the police often fail in this most basic of rights. The internet is awash with safeguarding policies and guidelines, including those published by the police themselves, as well as those endorsed by the police such as the National Autistic Society’s, Autism: a guide for criminal justice professionals and Autism: a guide for police officers and staff. That 'safeguarding' as a word has now entered even the police's lexicon but the average police officer still does not have a clue what safeguarding means, never mind how to practice it, is typical of the bankrupt currency of modern rhetoricif we repeat it often enough people will believe we understand and practice it. 

Even the lawmakers themselves seem to be confused about these issues. In a recent debate in the UK Parliament titled 'Treatment of adults with autism by the criminal justice system', in response to a question about safeguarding autistic adults within the criminal justice system, and clearly mixing up 'liaison and diversion' with the use of section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, the Policing Minister responding to the debate commented that, "Use of such powers [sec. 136] might be appropriate in the case of a person with autism." There are in fact no circumstances that a section 136 should be used to take an autistic person to a place of safety—unless they had a co-occurring mental illness, and only then, if they were posing a risk to themselves or others. It seems that even the Minister was not aware that autism is not a mental illness. Autism is not any kind of illness, and certainly not something that would respond to ‘treatment’.

Criminal justice system and statutory health & social services continue to operate in two entirely separate universes of discourse. More often than not its the first refusing to have a dialogue with the second because they are too pumped up to stop and realise that the ‘criminal’ they think they’ve been called out to restrain may actually be a victim in need of safeguarding and support—the unacceptable numbers of deaths in custody of people with a diagnosis of mental illness in the UK already testifies to this. A recent report debated in Parliament shows that suicide rates among autistic people is nine times that of the general population and puts the risks and vulnerability of being autistic in today’s world into further focus.

But to return to the case of Bradley Grimes, there was a time in the world when tramping, homelessness and begging were recognised and honourable professions, not least in the birthplace of Western civilisation, Athens. Diogenes the Cynic used to beg alms of a statue to practice the art of being refused and his prowess as a beggar philosopher even impressed Alexander the Great. Jesus of Nazareth (man or myth is not the issue here), the icon of Western civilisation and to whom, paradoxically, cathedral palaces have been and are still being erected around the globe, was a tramp and beggar par excellence. In my post The Right to Tramp, I refer to Jack Kerouac’s warnings as long ago as the 1950’s of the increasing intolerance towards people begging and sleeping rough. In an essay he wrote in the 1950s, The Vanishing American Hobo, he noted that the aggressive implementation of vagrancy laws, backed up by intensive police surveillance, including the use of helicopters, meant that ‘you cant even be alone anymore in the primitive wilderness’:

In America camping is considered a healthy sport for Boy Scouts but a crime for mature men who have made it their vocation. — Poverty is considered a virtue among the monks of civilized nations—in America you spend a night in the calaboose if youre caught short without your vagrancy change. […] They pick on lovers on the beach even. They just dont know what to do with themselves in those five thousand dollar police cars with the two-way Dick Tracy radios except pick on anything that moves in the night and in the daytime on anything that seems to be moving independently of gasoline …

Of course, unlike Diogenes and Jesus, for most people on the autistic spectrum, begging and homelessness are not lifestyle choices, they are the harsh realities those like Bradley Grimes encounter of being autistic in a non-autistic world. But if this rant about society’s neglect and abuse of autistic people sounds overly pessimistic, I’m more than happy to propose a solution: 

The Discrimination of Autism

50 years ago, homosexual behaviour in Britain was finally de-criminalised and de-pathologised, even though the open discrimination of LGBT people and medical intervention to change people’s sexual orientation continued. And while that discrimination may still exist today, there are strict penalties against those who publicly express it. So it is with racial discrimination. That in living memory, the attempt to murder an entire ethnic population could be authorised by the state of one of the most ‘civilised’ Western nations now seems like science fiction. My own maternal grandparents were among those murdered in this way, the reason I have zero tolerance towards those who behave like Nazi’s today. But let’s not kid ourselves that such behaviour is a phenomenon of history; America recently elected a president on the same ticket of scapegoating entire ethnic groups for the ills of his country, not to mention misogyny and homophobia, as did the German Chancellor when elected in 1933. That is the fundamental flaw of the human condition—scientific advancement progresses at an alarming rate, human nature hasn't progressed in the last 2,000 years.

But to return to autism, in spite of the Autism Act 2009 (the Welsh Government continues to resist implementing such an Act) the criminalising and pathologising of autistic behaviour remains one of the last areas of discrimination in the UK not to be vigorously outlawed. Statutory services such as local authorities, the NHS and the police, are still able to discriminate against autistic people without challenge.
For years, mental health services were described as the ‘cinderella service’ of the NHS, receiving proportionally the least resources—and to some extent still do. But compared to dedicated autism services (only now slowly emerging on a piecemeal and tokenistic basis), mental health services are a well protected, statutory mainstream provision. The same goes for national policy and strategy documents. Autism is often only referred to briefly as an afterthought or add-on to mainstream documents written for other disability groups such as the mentally ill or people with learning disabilities—whose clinical practitioners are often woefully ignorant of autism or the risks associated with it. But autism is neither a mental illness or a learning disability, and unless co-occurring with one of those other disabilities, people with autism are excluded altogether from those more protected services. Only a revised, universal Autism Act that gives people real rights rather than merely good intentions, together with the implementation of Lord Bradley’s proposals on 'liaison and diversion' into law (with specific reference to autism), will ensure that autistic people can no longer be denied support, discriminated against and criminalised in the manner they currently are today.


PLEASE NOTE: Use the "Contact Form" at the very bottom of this web page if you have a similar story that has already been reported in the press and want to share it. I'd be happy to add it or help in any way I can.

My MP has tabled an adjournment debate on criminalising autism and is also working together with the Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society to raise the profile of these injustices in Parliament via the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism. Again, please use the Contact Form to get further details and press your own MP to be involved.

An Afterword on Homelessness:

This comment is not specifically related to autistic people but recent reports in the press describe the leader of Windsor Council making a formal request to the police to remove homeless people from the streets of the town prior to the royal wedding. The Council leader was seeking action against “aggressive begging and intimidation” and the “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets. He suggested to the police that they use their powers under the 1824 Vagrancy Act, to criminalise rough sleeping and begging, and the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to issue ASBOs. 

In a more recent case, a 66 year old homeless man was found exposed and dead in a car park in freezing conditions just days after he told a friend that officers from Bournemouth Council had taken away his sleeping bag and possessions. A worker from a local charity, who hand sleeping bags out to the homeless, confirmed complaints from other homeless people that they had also had their sleeping bags confiscated to 'clean the streets'. 

I’m not sure if it ever crossed the Windsor Council Leader’s mind, but I well remember news images of the young Prince Harry, whose wedding he is so anxious to sanitise, being taken by his mother to various homelessness charities of which she was a patron. Harry's brother, Prince William, remains a patron of Centrepoint today. Now of course, I suspect that, like the citizens of Hamja Ahsan’s fictitious Aspergistan, many autistic folk, homeless or not, are not that bothered about public displays of fawning at royal events. But one response to Windsor Council’s request, is that homeless people from across the Country that are so inclined and able, make their way down to Windsor en-mass for the wedding, and turn out on the streets for a couple of nights along with all the other well-wishers to celebrate the event in a style that Princess Diana would surely have approved of.

I voluntarily run a weekly writing group for the autism charity Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru that provides a drop-in, a range of support and social groups, and help and advice with employment, housing, education, etc, for over 600 adults. One of the exercises we did recently was to write a fifteen minute response to the Leader of Windsor Council. I am indebted to the following two members of the group for allowing me to publish their pieces of writing on this post. Its a pity that the subjects of Marcus Potter's videos are unable to display the same problem solving skills, irony and humour as is evident from the contributions below:

Dear Mr Dudley,

Can I suggest that in light of your stated objective of removing homeless people from the streets of your city prior the upcoming royal wedding, you also ban tourists, who have no fixed abode in the area.  How would you stop the removed homeless from returning?  Perhaps you could surround Windsor with a wall to prevent any outsiders from straying into the city.  If this proves too costly, why not just hold the celebrations inside Windsor Castle?  Perhaps you are confusing homelessness a terrible thingwith militant fundamentalisma terrorist thing.  Perhaps you could be part of the solution.  I wonder how many empty rooms there are in the Council offices, or for that matter in your own home?

[Damian Sawyer]

Dear Sir,

RE: Your request that homeless people be removed from the streets of Windsor whilst the Royal Wedding takes place.

I couldn't agree more and would like to make some suggestions as to how this might be achieved:

House all the homeless people in the large building in the centre of Windsor. It has many rooms, most of which are unused by the elderly occupants, Elizabeth and Philip.

House all the homeless people in a marquee in Elizabeth and Philip's garden. It is massive and extends to Virginia Water, some miles away. In fact, Virginia Water itself is technically part of the garden.

Dress all the homeless people as Beefeaters and pay them to act as Good Will Ambassadors—guiding tourists to the best place to eat, urinate, sleep in a doorway, etc.

As above, but dress all the homeless people as famous figures from British history. One gentleman near McDonald's has a beard and is virtually Henry VIII already.

Ask the homeless people to act as guard of honour to the happy couple—they could link their sleeping bags and cast them on the cobblestones to form a sort of multi-coloured red carpet.

Ask local people to stop washing and shaving and to sleep rough themselves during the wedding—that way any homeless people will stand out far less.

Spray the homeless with red, white and blue food dye. They will still be homeless but they will have an instant air of patriotism.

Hold the wedding itself in Slough and have the reception in Windsor—that way, Windsor will seem amazing in comparison, even with a 'homeless problem.'

Equip each homeless person with clothes covered in tiny mirrors—that way, they can better reflect the rest of society.

I'm sure any of the above strategies will do the trick.

Yours faithfully,

A fellow concerned citizen

[Jethro Bradley]

Jethro was winner of the BBC Radio New Comedy Awards 2016. 
Watch his video here