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News, Response

Media coverage of autism and support

Recently there has been media coverage of Jonty Bravery, the man with autism who threw a 6 year old from the balcony at the Tate Modern Gallery. We can only imagine how traumatic this devastating incident is for the boy, his family and everyone else involved.

Media attention has been directed towards the support he was receiving and the safety of community support. We wanted to share some thoughts and concerns on what is being said here.

Firstly, we are completely unable to comment on this case. We know very little other than what the media has said about Mr Bravery’s support needs, the support he was receiving, or what happened before, during or after this event. Our aim here is to express concern on themes emerging from the coverage of this news item.

Fears

We feel that there is a possible risk that coverage could lead the public to be fearful of people with autism or learning disabilities. We already often find that people are fearful of the people we support because they are “different”. The people we support may communicate differently, have a different understanding of social rules, and may act in ways that others find unusual. If people don’t know the people we support then they may find the actions of people we support intimidating. We believe the way to address this is through awareness and acceptance. It is important that we enable the people we support to be respected as part of local communities and have public presence.

People with autism or learning disabilities are no more of a risk to the public than people without. The people we support are often vulnerable to, and victims of, abuse and crimes from others and we find people we support need protecting from others rather than we need to protect the public from them. They are often very dependent upon skilled support being around them to enable them to meet their daily living needs.

This incident has been featured in the news for many reasons. Mainly because of how devastating the incident is. It was also at an iconic building in central London. Additionally, it is news because it is not a common occurrence.

As with any “group” of people, there may be some people with autism or learning disabilities that present a risk to others. However, we must object to a blanket application of this being made, as we feel some media coverage is presenting. This is no less discriminatory than stating people are more risky of violence because of the colour of their skin or their religion.

Community support

The media coverage has questioned whether “supported living” was right for Jonty Bravery, which in turn could lead to questions as to whether it is right for others.

As we have said, we do not know the details of the support this man received. We know that our support is delivered by a highly skilled team. We have managers and specialist clinicians that oversee what we do. All of our employees receive comprehensive training and support to fulfil their roles. Many of our team have family members with autism and learning disability so have personal lived experiences. Most supported living services have very similar level of skills.

We are highly regulated by the Care Quality Commission and our work is checked by local authorities through mechanisms such as safeguarding arrangements or contracts monitoring. The decision for someone to live in a tenancy with a supported living service is usually made by a wide group of people including the person themselves, their family, the local authority, the NHS services, and sometimes police services and others may be involved too. Safety of the public and safety of the people we support is always at the forefront of these decisions.

We believe it is important, and should be “normal” to expect people with autism or learning disabilities to be your neighbours, to live in the same street as you, to access the same shops and public transport as you. People with learning disabilities have historically been locked away in big institutional settings, and when they are kept behind closed doors society can be invisible to who they are. This invisibility encourages fear and avoids acceptance. Work to end the use of hospitals as long term “homes” for people with learning disabilities is still happening now in the 21st Century!

Putting people in “secure” care, such as hospitals, when they are not “ill”, they have not committed any crime, and there is no other justification for this is a breach of their human rights.

Being risk alert, but not risk avoidant

We are by no means being complacent in the shadow of this news story. We are aware that this could happen with a person that we support. We are reminding our teams to make sure they document any risk indicators that they see and work as a team, sharing information with their managers. We are reviewing if we can measure risks better and checking how we ensure risks are minimised.

But risks will always be present, and if risks are not taken then people do nothing. We are concerned that responses to this news story could lead to a risk avoidant approach to supporting people with autism or learning disabilities where people lead more restricted lives and are placed in more restrictive settings. We are also concerned that this could increase negativity towards people we support, and we need to take a stand against this.

If you have any concerns or fears about a person we support we welcome you speaking to us about this. Please feel free to speak to the person themselves or their support. You can also call the office and we can arrange for someone to call you back. We may not be able to share confidential, personal information about the person we support but we would be happy to look at how we can support you to feel less concerned and we can try and offer you reassurance about the support that is provided.

This story is tragic. Hopefully the Serious Case Review will identify what went wrong. However, we must ensure that blanket judgements are not jumped to from this story such as “all autistic people are dangerous” or “they are not safe living in the community” as these judgements are untrue, discriminatory and deny people their human rights.

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