Aspergers and Fear of Authority

After a little break to get some more ideas, I am now back blogging but will be doing so on a fortnightly basis.

Recently, in the UK, there was a tragic case involving a teenage boy on the autistic spectrum who inadvertently opened a link on his computer which turned out to be a scam which locked his computer and demanded £100 before it could be unlocked or the police would take action as illegal pornographic sites had been accessed. The email appeared to have been sent by Cheshire Police and Joseph became so anxious and distressed over this email believing that he would be arrested that he committed suicide. The full news article is here

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/autistic-schoolboy-hanged-himself-after-5025351

This is the sort of case that people who aren’t familiar with how people with autism think fail to understand. They don’t understand how anyone could fall for such a scam or how anyone could believe that detectives would email them or demand money. As someone with Aspergers, I can understand exactly what went through Joseph’s mind that tragic day. Most people on the spectrum have a fear of authority. To Joseph,it’s highly likely that the idea of having to speak to the police would have felt like the scariest nightmare he could think of. I can guess that because I know how I would feel if I were to ever believe I was in trouble with the police. Most of us are also very honest and don’t understand why people would scam others and how people can be so dishonest so it would have been perfectly feasible for Joseph to believe that the email was genuine. People might say he should have looked at it logically but people on the spectrum don’t think logically when they are anxious. Furthermore, in one article I read, it had claimed that Joseph, like the majority of teenage boys out there, had accessed soft pornography websites in the past so, in the spiralling anxious thought processes occurring in his mind that day, he could have easily thought that the police were referring to these websites. Like most autistic people, Joseph had a tendency to take language literally so it wouldn’t have occurred to him that the email was fake. Another article I read spoke about how his family were in financial difficulties which he was taking a job to help with so, in this context, a demand for £100 is even more anxiety provoking.

Several years ago, I experienced intense anxiety around the idea that I would be arrested for benefit fraud. I was in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance at the time but had a 2 month travelling trip organised which would have obviously taken me out of the UK. Unlike Joseph, I had not received any emails or been told anything of this kind by anyone-I just wildly assumed that, as my holiday was booked, they would imprison me for claiming benefits at a time I wasn’t entitled to. This sounds foolish looking back at it now but, at the time, despite several people telling me that nothing of the sort would happen and that the claim would simply be cancelled if I didn’t turn up twice in a row, I was utterly convinced that I would end up in prison to the point where I attended my local gym once and couldn’t stop thinking about whether there would be any gym facilities in whatever prison I was going to end up in! I was anxious enough without any encouragement-if I had received a letter or email telling me the police would be investigating my circumstances, I don’t know what I would have done so I understand how distressing it must have been for Joseph. Eventually I got a job to start just after returning from travelling so I cancelled the claim before I left the UK and it all worked out fine which was a huge relief! This sort of intense, illogical anxiety is very difficult for people who aren’t on the spectrum to understand particularly as, in a lot of cases, this anxiety doesn’t respond to reassurance, no matter who it is from or how it is phrased. I can look back now at forum posts I wrote at that time and see how illogical the anxiety is and how frenzied my writing was because of how frenzied my thoughts were but, at the time, my mind had convinced me I was going to go to prison, just as Joseph’s mind had convinced him he was going to be arrested.

The most tragic thing about this case is that Joseph took his own life whilst the people that orchestrated the scam in order to get some easy money are unaware that he committed suicide and have most likely targeted lots more people since that fateful day. I hope that Joseph rests in peace and my thoughts are with his family. I leave you all with one reminder-although our anxiety may appear illogical to you and indeed is often illogical, please understand that, for us, at that time, it is taking over our every thought process and that is the scariest thing we have ever experienced. Yes it will fade eventually but, while we are in the throes of our anxious thought spirals, we can’t see that so we need someone to guide us through that without judgement. Joseph’s tragic story illustrates just how all encompassing such anxiety can be in autism.

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