“Asperger’s – It’s a Syn-Drome”

After years of campaigning by the parents of Piers Bolduc – a young man with Asperger syndrome who was incorrectly diagnosed as schizophrenic and incarcerated in Broadmoor – health chiefs have finally promised that moves are in hand to secure his release.

Stephen Ladyman, minister responsible for mental health, told Piers’ MP David Liddington that he would ensure the 28-year-old (who has spent nine years in the special hospital for the criminally insane) was released as “expeditiously as possible.”

That was more than a month ago; since when inertia at the Home
Office and Department of Health has meant that a precious place secured for Piers at The Hayes, a special centre in Bristol for those with Asperger’s (the
high-achieving end of the autism spectrum) has gone to someone else. Thus
Piers remains wrongly locked up for slightly wounding a young man with a
penknife while taking powerful anti-psychotic drugs he should not have
been prescribed.

Piers’ case, first highlighted in the Sunday Telegraph, is far from
isolated. Stephen Ladyman told the Commons that 31 people with autism, 21
of those with Asperger’s, were held in three special hospital. But many
more are inappropriately detained, sectioned under the mental health act
in secure psychiatric wards, hospitals, care homes and units for those with
learning disabilities having suffered misdiagnosis and inappropriate
treatment, often with powerful anti-psychotic drugs.

The one positive aspect of Piers’ detention in Broadmoor was that
his condition was recognised and steps were taken to wean him off the drug
cocktail that had worsened his condition. The same cannot be said for
Matthew Thomas, now 43, who has been in and out of hospital since he was

Matthew was sucked into the mental health system in 1978 when a
breakdown during his exams led, as with Piers, to a wrongful diagnosis.
His parents, Jackie and Geoff Thomas, have been unable to get their son out of the system. Even though Asperger’s was finally diagnosed nine years
later, Matthew remained on the cocktail of anti-psychotics, tranquillisers and
anti-depressants he has taken most of his life.

To his parents Matthew had always appeared a “bit different.” But
it was not until he was studying for his “O” levels that he suffered what
everyone thought was a mental breakdown. He was taken into “The Priory”
in Roehampton and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. His parents, then knowing nothing of Asperger syndrome, went along with the diagnosis.

It led to two prolonged sessions of electro-convulsant therapy (ECT)
and a cocktail of powerful drugs – his parents list no fewer than 23
different ones in those early years. As they watched their son get worse,
only one Registrar dared challenge the diagnosis and suggest Matthew’s
schizophrenia was “atypical.” His already sceptical parents read
everything they could and became convinced Matthew was not schizophrenic.

They sent him to the US where the diagnosis was finally overturned. Back in the UK a year later at the Maudsley, he was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s and his parents were told he “did not have one schizophrenic feature.”

Nick Priechenfried was only 14 when he was given his first dose of
anti-psychotic drugs by a GP. Although another doctor took him off them,
the reprieve was short-lived. Nick was correctly diagnosed with
Asperger’s but seven years later he was still sectioned and diagnosed as
schizophrenic and put on the cocktail of psychiatric medicine his mother says wrecked his life.

(cont’d.) He ended up in the Medium Secure Unit at Horton Hospital,
Epsom, with very ill and disturbed patients. Even though leading autism
experts confirmed the diagnosis of Asperger’s, Nick’s treatment with
powerful anti-psychotics continued. Following other disastrous placements, Nick eventually went to the Eric Shepherd Unit in Hertfordshire.

Three years ago, psychiatrists there weaned him off all medication, resulting in a huge improvement in both his mental and physical health. As Nick says:
“If you are put on anti-psychotics when you do not need them, you soon develop a psychosis.”

What has happened to people like Piers, Matthew and Nick is nothing
short of scandalous. But it is a simple message that they and their parents have been trying to convey to Stephen Ladyman and his fellow health chiefs.

Not only is the continuing misdiagnosis, treatment and inappropriate
placements for people with Asperger’s devastating for those involved, it
actually costs millions. An investment in proper services now – particularly with the huge increase in children being diagnosed on the autistic spectrum – would save money in the future. Why isn’t the government listening?

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