The Premier of Victoria, Australia (where I live) has a media release on his website today, stating that he will overhaul the Family Violence system so families will be safer. It’s an interesting read – apparently living in a regional or rural area means you’re more inclined to be a victim of family violence. There will be an emphasis on greater training (and no doubt awareness), safety hubs, and stronger accountability for perpetrators. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
But what about when you are a victim of domestic violence, and you can’t leave? When you can’t hurriedly pack your children up and go to a safe house? When the perpetrator is not going to be held accountable for their behaviour? When even the ‘professionals’ don’t know how to help you?
This is a difficult topic to write about. Baring my soul in a forum where anyone can read it – people who don’t know me or my family, people who may judge my actions, and those who may simply not understand our situation and therefore say things that are hurtful. However, it’s been on my mind for some time, and I’ve decided that I need to share it. I know there will be some mothers and fathers out there who will be able to relate to what I go through, because they, too, are victims in their own homes.
There are moments where everything is fine, and family life is almost ‘normal’ – as normal as it gets for us anyway. I tell myself that maybe things aren’t really that bad, that I’m exaggerating things in my own mind, and just being too sensitive. I feel like maybe if I was to just not be so tired, to be more capable, get more things done, then life would be easier. Then reality hits, often literally.
Sometimes it comes on with a warning – an escalation. The noise increases, movements become more agitated, the air pressure almost seems to increase. The other children become quieter and argue less, and stay out of the way – they learned that lesson the hard way, too. I speak softly and calmly, and avoid using trigger phrases that add fuel to the impending volcano. It usually doesn’t work, but I do it anyway – what else can I do? Then the eruption – the yelling and screaming, the arms flailing, clawed fingers connecting with my skin. The benefit of adrenaline – you often don’t notice the pain until it’s all over, but sometimes it’s so bad that you can’t help but notice. Not much you can do about it at the time though – you’re too busy protecting yourself or someone else.
At other times the blast hits you without any warning, and that’s even worse. Like when I was standing in the kitchen, staring into space while waiting for the toaster to pop. The first clue I had was the punch in the stomach, quickly followed by more blows. It’s harder to defend yourself then, and psychologically it makes it harder to deal with as well. You tend to always be prepared – always in fight or flight mode. Adrenaline is constantly pumping through your veins, you are hyperalert to sounds and sights, even smells. It’s hard to sleep when your body is preparing to defend itself, and you never really relax.
I can’t just pack up my kids and leave my home – the scene of my domestic violence. Because the violence is not being caused by my husband, but by my 7 year old son. The one who has no idea of appropriate behaviour, who bites himself (and others) so hard that he draws blood and leaves red, angry teeth marks behind. If it was my husband causing this amount of damage, there would be counselors I could ring, people who could support us, maybe safe places to go. But this is not possible with my son – somebody needs to be here to look after him.
Children with Autism are often extremely strong, requiring several adults to keep everyone safe when they have ‘an attack’. Our reality is that the day will come (soon), when our son will become too strong for me to handle, and my other children will not be safe living with him anymore. We then need to make some tough decisions – ones I really am not strong enough to contemplate right now.
Even if it’s not your child who is being violent, for a family who has a child with Autism, you can’t just pack up and leave a dangerous situation. They often need the familiarity of their surroundings to be able to cope. Living in a different home every week, not having your familiar things around you, makes life very difficult for children with major sensory and anxiety issues. Changing schools is virtually impossible – the amount of assistance that each school can or will provide varies hugely, and is not something any parent would have the strength to go through several times a year. Yet for the woman’s safety, this is exactly what is at times recommended.
I have no answers on this – I would just like to raise awareness of it, given that we are approaching Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd). There are many things that are impossible or wildly different, when you have a person with Autism living in your household.