Content warning: This article mentions emotional abuse.
Although it is necessary for personal growth, looking upon one’s past is one of the harder things we as a people must do. As we get older, we feel farther away from the path that led us to our present selves. Many people walked paths full of friends, family, and opportunity. My path was filled with lots of adults I didn’t know, kids who didn’t understand me, and people I didn’t trust. I entered the foster care system after a very long and hard conversation with my mother. We talked about how my home environment wasn’t the one I needed in order to grow into the person she knew I could become. I had a strained relationship with my older sister, and it started to affect my relationship with my younger siblings. We decided that it would be best if I moved out of the home, while my mother maintained her parental rights, in order to salvage any possibility of a relationship with my siblings in the future. So, starting at the age of 14, I grew up as an autistic child in the Minnesota foster care system. Throughout the five years I spent within the system, I stayed in many houses, none of which I could ever call home.
One of the most obvious signs of autism is the lack of basic understanding of relationships and emotions. It was challenging for me to tell when someone was serious or being sarcastic. This also made it hard for me to notice when I was being bullied unless someone else pointed it out. In my first foster placement, I lived at another family’s house and came into my first experience of bullying within the system. There was nobody who could help me learn the things necessary for me to recognize when I was being mistreated. The bullying in that house only came to an end when my mother finally pulled me out.
As I was starting high school, I was moved into a group home with several other kids that were all my age. Another thing that autistic people face throughout their lives is that so many people misunderstand them. That is one of the biggest issues I faced in my new placement. I had plenty of fun times in that house. We would play sports often, and they had an adorable dog that I loved. Despite those simple pleasures, it was still an unbelievable struggle for me. Nobody knew how to care for an autistic teenager. Instead of trying to communicate with me, I was just labeled a problem. I was effectively kicked out in the middle of winter. They decided to drop all my belongings outside on a frozen, snow-covered doorstep. I moved back in with my mom until another placement was found for me. While I stayed with her, we worked a lot on understanding other peoples’ intentions and perspectives.
After about a month, we found a place where I would be watched over by staff with one other person. It went better than the others, at first. They split the house up between the other resident and I so that we barely had any contact with each other. I was left to myself and only had small interactions with staff. I never knew a house could feel so cold. After a while, there was this staff member who would go out of her way to hurt my feelings. She would make snide comments that were easy for me to understand and would purposefully hide my stuff so I could not find it. One day, the same staff member started screaming at me and chasing me through the house. I locked myself in my bedroom and called my mother. She immediately pulled me from the house. I stayed with my mom for a few months, and we continued to work on understanding social cues and perspectives.
Due to unavailability, I was moved into corporate foster care where I experienced a lot of emotional abuse due to a blatant lack of understanding of me and my autism. After two years, at the age of 17, I was moved into adult foster care where I waited until I could move out on my own at 18. Foster care has many faults. Because of my autism, I was left out to dry. There was nothing and no one there to protect me besides my mom. A lot of kids don’t have that person to save them like my mother saved me. Most of the trauma I experienced could have been avoided with simple training. If we can find a way to put policies out there that mandate training for both staff and foster parents, we could help provide the support those kids need, save a lot of kids from experiences like mine, and give them a better shot at the future they deserve.