One of the issues we have frequently come across on our autism journey is risk aversion. Where some care providers are reluctant to support certain young people in the community because of their behaviour. I suppose, like ‘behaviour that challenges’, it’s one of those things that depends on an individual’s or group’s attitude; what one person or group will consider ‘challenging’ will be accepted by someone/somewhere else and likewise an element of risk will be accepted by some and not others.
First, though, consider ‘risk’ itself. We all take risks, everyday. Take driving for instance. Obviously, some risks are foolish and dangerous, like overtaking on a blind summit, whilst others are not of our making, like driving uphill to suddenly be faced with a speeding vehicle coming towards you on the wrong side of the road. The question is do we stay at home and never take to the roads, or do we take steps to control our risk, such as checking our brakes work and keeping our own speed down?
Back to autism, in much the same way as the general population people with autism can get frustrated and distressed and occassionally that can spill over into ‘challenging behaviour’. This isn’t only an autism/SLD thing, think of road rage or the need for security guards at A&E departments; humans can get pretty het up when stressed, whilst the worst cases might end up in arrest, most people don’t get labelled as challenging and kept away from the public forever just because they had one moment when their feelings got the better of them.
It is so disheartening as a parent-carer to see your young person denied opportunities to go out into the community because of the risk aversion of a care provider and the fact that they ‘might’ on occassion behave in a ‘challenging’ way. It’s so limiting to their learning, the building of confidence and acceptance in the young person, the support staff working with them and the general public, not to mention the negative effect on physical and emotional well-being through being inactive and cooped up indoors. It’s so easy for providers, citing reasons of safety, to just stay at base, not just when the occasion justifies but all the time.
I frequently joke that we often walk with our ‘auties’ “where there are only sheep to scare”, (it’s our equivalent of looking at the weather and deciding that maybe we shouldn’t drive on the motorway today) the freedom that open space with limited dangers affords both young people is a joy to share with them. Whilst our youngest struggles with her anxieties and sensory needs, and being anywhere where people are is fuel for a potential meltdown, our eldest is more than happy to pop into our local Weatherspoons for a sausage sandwich and/or a pint. It’s all a matter of assessing ‘risk’ and adapting accordingly. Hiding indoors forever is not an acceptable strategy in my view.
When I took my eldest out for a walk today, I wondered, yet again, why some people are so scared of taking him out. So, I video-ed a section of our walk, what was I doing on my own that is so difficult for others to manage with 2-1 support? I don’t know the answer to that. I did what I usually do, I’m aware of my surroundings, the traffic and people and potential dangers, I guide my son, mainly verbally, sometimes physically, (holding his hand, to lead him across the road when a car let us cross) I guide him to the inside of the pavement, and keep him within arms reach at points when an impulsive sprint would be dangerous. Otherwise, yes, he was hyper today, but although his behaviour would mark him out as disabled there was nothing that would have been risky or dangerous. We both got exercise and enjoyed our visit to a cafe and returned home more relaxed that when we left.
I really struggle to understand why services are so risk aversive!