Increasing numbers of parents are being accused of exaggerating their autistic child’s problems, with reports that it is happening after the parents request more support for their offspring.
Autism Eye has been contacted by a number of parents who say they have experienced allegations of fabricated illness regarding their children.
The term used is ‘Fabricated and Induced Illness’ (FII), indicating that parents are thought to be embellishing a child’s symptoms because of anxiety, or for attention or financial gain. It can result in youngsters being listed on the Child Protection Register or taken into care.
Parents have reported that accusations of FII, also known as Münchausen syndrome by proxy, were made when they asked their local authority for more support for their children either in school or at home.
Jenny Lockley from the West Midlands was branded with FII after she fought for her son’s condition to be recognised. Following a diagnosis from one of the UK’s top autism specialists, her local education authority refused to give her son extra support in school. She believes it was the request for support that triggered the accusation of fabricated illness.
Stories of parents being labelled with FII within the autism community are causing anguish to already-stressed families, said Jan Loxley-Blount, who runs the Parents Protecting Children support group. “My feeling is that it’s a problem that’s growing,” she said. “Local authorities are cash-strapped and it’s easier to say someone is making a fuss than to give them more resources.”
A petition has been set up by campaigner Zoe Thompson, a parent of a child with autism and proprietor of a school for children with the condition. The petition calls on autism charities to speak out about the ‘dramatic’ increase in FII cases. It can be seen by clicking here.
The petition claims to relay the experiences of several support organisations that FII allegations are used to ‘bully, coerce, victimise and control families’.
It claims fabricated illness allegations are often used ‘to force parents to comply with educational placements that are against their wishes’. It notes that such placements are cheaper for service providers.
Loxley-Blount cites the influence of ill-informed psychiatrists and the mislabelling of some mothers with undiagnosed autism as having FII as additional factors responsible for the surge in fabricated illness cases that the support group has seen.
Charlene Kollecker, from Staffordshire, was accused of ‘over-medicalising’ her four children’s difficulties when she made repeated requests to a school for extra support. The children, two of whom have an ASD diagnosis, were then listed on the Child Protection Register.
But Kollecker’s case has had a better outcome than most. Once she had obtained her own diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, social services became more sympathetic, taking the children off the CPR and recognising Kollecker’s anxiety and literal interpretation of reports as autistic traits rather than an attempt to over-dramatise her situation.
She said: “Luckily we’ve had a good outcome, but this situation is an absolute nightmare for many parents.”
It is not just local authorities who parents say are behind the FII labelling. Paediatricians, whom parents report have never even met their child, are being asked for their views at local authority meetings where social workers are accusing parents of fabricated illness.
In one case, where a child had already received a diagnosis of a bowel condition in addition to autism, the mother was accused of fabricating the child’s bowel problems. Asking not to be named, the mother said: “It all started after I asked my local authority for more help to support my two children at school, who both have special needs and after requesting help at home for a forthcoming hospital stay.”
Calls from campaigners for a halt to the tide of FII accusations come at a time when professionals are being instructed by the UK’s health regulator not to play down the physical and mental health conditions of people with autism.
The lack of care, support and understanding of autism has led the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to issue guidelines to professionals to ‘standardise and improve the care and management of autism’.
Read our in-depth report on FII in the autism community in our forthcoming spring edition of Autism Eye magazine.