fbpx

The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity

URGENT: Matthew Rushin is in Prison for Being Black and Autistic

Matthew Rushin was charged with attempted murder, then later the charge was increased to two counts of aggravated malicious wounding, for a car accident.  Here’s how that happened.

Flashback: January 6, 2017 – (Virginia Beach, VA, USA)

Matthew Rushin, an 18-year-old Black, ADHD, and autistic college student, drives his friend to urgent care during a blizzard. On the way back, he is involved in a single car accident that nearly killed him, leaving him in a coma with a traumatic brain injury, two collapsed lungs, and severe bleeding around his brain.

matthew-hospital
Matthew Rushin in the hospital, in a coma, with his little sister at his side.

Despite the odds, Matthew survives, adding PTSD and traumatic brain injury to his list of diagnoses. After learning how to walk, talk, and speak again, he returned to college at Old Dominion University where he was a mechanical engineering student.

But, not everything was the same. Following his injury, Matthew could only sleep on the floor.

Immediately, I recognized this position. This is how I self-regulate. From an article I published on PsychCentral:

What’s more, my vestibular system– the system responsible for balance— is so under-responsive that it’s the equivalent of being blind or deaf; therefore, my sense of balance is contingent on my vision and my hearing. If everything is moving too fast, if there are too many sounds, I just become so dislodged from balance and physical space that it’s dizzying enough to actually cause me to faint. I have to sit down a lot, especially in loud and busy public places.

I asked Sarah Selvaggi Hernandez, The Autistic OT, why someone might suddenly start sleeping on the floor following an accident. Here’s what she had to say:

Individuals on the Autism spectrum experience sensory information more intensely than other people. Just like some sounds can be literally painful for an autistic person, someone with an impaired vestibular system may experience intense dysregulation, such as dizziness, disorientation, and nausea.

In someone autistic, a TBI could exacerbate already-present sensory issues. This extreme vertigo may be even more pronounced, to the point that even slight shifts in a reclined position, such as the bed, may feel to them as if they are literally falling. The firmness of the floor may be like a functional anchor that keeps them safe.

Vestibular issues often come with visual processing deficits. Vestibular.org lists possible visual symptoms of vestibular disorder as:

Vision

  • Trouble focusing or tracking objects with the eyes; objects or words on a page seem to jump, bounce, float, or blur or may appear doubled
  • Discomfort from busy visual environments such as traffic, crowds, stores, and patterns
  • Sensitivity to light, glare, and moving or flickering lights; fluorescent lights may be especially troublesome
  • Sensitivity to certain types of computer monitors and digital televisions
  • Tendency to focus on nearby objects; increased discomfort when focusing at a distance
  • Increased night blindness; difficulty walking in the dark
  • Poor depth perception

According to the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Organization,visual problems following a TBI are often overlooked or symptoms are not present at the time of injury. One symptom noted was,

The integration between the vision and balance system can be disrupted, making it difficult to process motion properly. Symptoms can include discomfort and even dizziness when scrolling on a computer screen or phone, or when in busy environments such as grocery stores, social settings, or sporting events.

This will be relevant to Matthew’s story shortly.

January 4, 2019

Matthew left home to go to a nearby shopping center and get some pastries from Panera Bread. Pulling into the shopping center, a car clipped his front bumper. The driver wouldn’t move from the intersection and kept sitting there, on the phone. Matthew tried to prompt him to pull off, but the man wouldn’t move.

Matthew became overwhelmed suddenly, panicked, and in a move very out of character for him, he drove out of the parking lot. It’s possible that he had a PTSD flashback from the accident which nearly cost him his life.

**Update: Or, it triggered a seizure. Upon gaining more evidence and reviewing it, it became clear that Matthew lost consciousness before the accident.

In a panic, he drove away, doing his breathing exercises and trying to calm down. After only a moment, Matthew realized he needed to go back to the scene. As rain poured down, Matthew made a U-turn, and at that point appeared to partially lose consciousness. The next thing he remembered clearly was the LED lights of a Ford Explorer.

There was no sign of brakes having been applied.

**Update: Three forensic engineers examined the evidence and all arrived at the same conclusion: this was pedal misapplication. Matthew was slamming on the accelerator thinking it was the brake.

Tragically, the driver of the other vehicle, a 72-year-old man, was severely injured.

When Matthew climbed out of the back of his vehicle, as the airbags were deployed and that was the only way to exit the vehicle, he was confronted by a man who came to him yelling, asking him, “Are you trying to f$#king kill yourself?” Matthew shrunk back against his vehicle as the man continued to press down on him, yelling. Matthew was repeating “trying to kill myself.”

Every autistic person will instantly recognize this reaction.

It’s called echolalia.

We repeat things when under duress. Matthew’s speech was slurred and witnesses claim he seemed confused. Note that there were no drugs or alcohol in his system.

In fact, yesterday, I asked the autistic community a question on Twitter. This whole thread needs to be read by every parent, teacher, therapist, medical provider, and police officer in the world.

Especially cops.

twitter poll

Let’s look at some of the responses:

Emmanuel’s response should be given paramount attention. He is a young Black autistic man in the United States.

twitter 4

Ira Kraemer, an autistic neuroscientist, had this to say:

twitter 2

Autistic novelist C.L. Lynch had this to say

twitter 5

Autistic writer @Joseph_Wolfstar was thorough in their response:

Always bad but specifics vary, including:

– no ability to speak
– only able to repeat the same phrases without really processing what input I’m getting (often related to whatever set me off, eg “but it’s not fair”)
– i don’t recall the last time i had a meltdown in an unsafe environment where ppl were trying to verbally pester me. It’s theoretically possible i might be able to form a couple words if I thought my life or safety depended on it,

BUT

a) it would be REALLY damaging and significantly up the recovery time i needed
b) any such ability is dependent on who i was trying to communicate with and how they were responding (take me somewhere safe and give me ample time to try to speak might get you a few words leaving me in an overwhelming environment and keep pestering me with input after input, no way)
c) bc of that, the sorts of environments where my safety would be most dependent on verbal abilities are likely the ones I’d have zero of them d) even best case scenario, it’s really unlikely I’d be able to say anything complex and I’d be unreliable about even basic one or two word needs like “home” or “too loud.” My writing ability wouldn’t be intact either but you’d be much better off trying that than getting me to talk

 

As is clear, no matter how articulate someone is, autistic people do not have the words during a meltdown. Pastiche Graham, a Black autistic woman, had this to say:twitter-6

And because this is so extremely important, and for consistency’s sake, here are some more responses:

twitter 10twitter-11twitter-13 - Copytwitter-14twitter-15twitter-16twitter-17twitter-18

Autistic Barbie, an autistic advocate with a large social media presence, responded:

twitter 9

Autistic Barbie’s response is from the experience and perspective of a white autistic female who has fluency of speech. Imagine the amplification of this terror of being a Black autistic male.

Nicholas Grider responded,

twitter-12

Given the sociopolitical climate, Grider didn’t want to center himself in the current narrative because he is not Black, but he does note that prior issues with police interaction have left him with PTSD and melting down daily.

For those who don’t know, autistic meltdowns are terrifying, semi-conscious experiences that I, as an epileptic autistic, compare to para-seizure activity. They are similar to being stuck in a night terror. As a mother, I can say that comparatively, giving birth is far easier than experiencing a meltdown.

Police Arrive on Scene

Eventually, a bystander asked the man yelling at Matthew to leave.

When officers arrived on scene, they noted that Matthew’s speech was slurred and he was not fully coherent.

Still, even though they acknowledge the fact that he was mentally incapacitated, they claimed that Matthew told them that he was attempting to kill himself.

Matthew told them he was autistic.

Yet there was no evidence of Matthew saying this from the recorded footage of the officer body camera videos from Virginia Beach officers Cordingly, Dolida, and Nash. Over 12 hours of body cam footage with no time unaccounted for, and not once did Matthew say he tried to commit suicide.

What he did say, over and over and over, was that was not trying to commit suicide. Multiple times he repeated, over and over and over, that he lost control of the vehicle.

 January 4, 2019, 9:30 pm

Lavern Rushin and her husband receive a call from a police officer. The officer asks if the truck Matthew was driving belonged to them. After they confirmed that yes, the truck was theirs, the officer asked if the truck was stolen.

Once on scene, Ms. Rushin’s husband was again asked if the vehicle was his or if it was stolen.

That night, after hours and hours of interrogation, Matthew was charged with 2nd degree attempted murder.

Body Cam and Interrogation Footage

The police officers told Matthew they had videos of the crash, which they claimed clearly showed he was intentionally driving into oncoming traffic. This is the evidence that was used to bring charges to a magistrate.

That night, after hours of interrogation, a magistrate charged Matthew with 2nd degree attempted murder.

How could officers acknowledge that Matthew’s speech was incoherent, yet his alleged words were enough evidence for a magistrate to charge an autistic college student with attempted murder?

Later, due to lack of evidence, that charge was reduced to two counts of aggravated malicious wounding an a hit-and-run charge.

Lack of Evidence

Three officers accused Matthew of saying he wanted to commit suicide. Conveniently, none of the three officers were wearing a body cam.

Why not?

Autistic Neurology and Traumatic Brain Injury

The evening of the accident, Virginia Beach was experiencing heavy rain. Matthew was pulling into the parking lot on the way to Panera when a car failed to remained stopped at a stop sign and their front bumpers grazed each other.

Given the nature of his sensory processing issues, exacerbated by traumatic brain injury, did the constant movement of rain cause Matthew’s vision, depth perception, and spatial awareness to be compromised? Was it the other man’s fault? Evidence suggests that the accident was the fault of the other driver, Matthew maintained that the other driver hit him, yet Matthew would later be sentenced to ten years for this minor parking lot scuff.

Matthew has been experiencing transient blindness in prison. He has a cyst on his brain as a result of his TBI. The leap is not a large one acknowledge that intense stress might have impacted Matthew’s visual processing that night.

An autistic meltdown is characterized as a loss of control, wherein many autistic people report difficulties with motor/movement planning, visual and auditory perception changes (things becoming blurry or appearing to move in slow motion or sounds being distorted.

In a 2019 article, autistic writer Mike Wise interviewed autistic people about how meltdowns feel. Here are a few responses:

I can’t answer the question of what my meltdowns feel like because I literally don’t know.  That’s why they’re so terrifying.  I have an extreme need and can’t tell what it is in order to meet it.  It’s as extreme as being on fire, but even then I’d know I needed to either smother it or get in some water.  With this, I don’t know what the feeling is or how to stop it.

Another autistic wrote,

Like I am going to die right then and there and there is no hope, and I hate literally everyone– even those I cherish most in the world. I speak very quietly and walk into another room to be alone and cry in darkness and quiet, and my entire body aches. I scream into a pillow and feel complete agony until it passes. I also can’t really feel my body as I’m walking. I feel like I’m outside of my body pushing myself to move into another room by sheer mental force.

One woman relates of meltdowns,

Intense brain fog and irritability signal that I am going to have a meltdown soon. If it’s slow coming on, and I recognize what’s happening, the symptoms often feel similar to a migraine. My senses are heightened to a painful degree (the stuff that is usually just sort of irritating becomes debilitating, like I am going to throw up), and I can’t handle light or sound or smells– must escape– my anxiety becomes so consuming that I feel like I will never be free from the intense misery I am feeling at that moment.

Matthew Rushin was having an autistic meltdown. He suffered from PTSD and traumatic brain injury caused by a car accident. Any autistic person coming in contact with this story will find it relatable and will immediately understand Rushin’s behavior.

This will not be speculation or conjecture, as this behavior is as understandable to autistics as breathing.

The question is, did the Virginia Beach Police Department know Rushin was autistic, and had they been trained to understand and support autistic citizens? Did they obtain medical support for Matthew to be evaluated given his complex medical history?

The answer to that question is damning. More on that soon.

To be continued…

Click here to continue with Part 2 of this series.

This is article 1 on a series of articles covering the details of the Matthew Rushin wrongful imprisonment case. Please stay tuned to NeuroClastic for explosive details about political and police corruption, footage and evidence from Rushin’s case, media reports from the case, and interviews with Rushin’s family.

Please review this petition from 757 Black Lives Matter to Governor Ralph Northam which contains more information about Rushin’s case and sign the petition, which currently (at the time of publication) has approximately 14,500 signatures.

Click here to contribute to the Rushin family’s legal defense fund.

Related Articles

25 Responses

  1. Wow! As an autistic female, I’m almost afraid to drive anymore now because I don’t want to open myself up with the possibility of being charged with murder should a situation like this ever happen. Cops need to be trained in dealing with mental illness/developmental disorders. Our entire judicial system needs to focus more on treating mental illness as opposed to the classical “reform” which is essentially just privatizing prisons so wealthy people can become richer while completely disregarding basic humane treatment. There needs to especially be attorneys who specifically deal with autistics. I hate how this world is so quick to write people off and accept the worst of them as opposed to trying to understand them. So much “boomer” mentality that labels someone who looks “‘normal” but has special needs as a baby/drama queen/criminal/sociopath.

    1. My question is if he knew he was autistic and had these symptoms of an autistic breakdown after his original accident knowing how difficult it is, why wouldn’t he have some type of bracelet or ID card so the cops could be made aware coming on the scene. Also wouldn’t it have been wise for him not to go out on a slick rainy night especially after he had been in a major accident just two years prior that put him in a coma. Shouldn’t he bear some responsibility since he did cause the accident that almost took someone’s life and yet he knew after the first accident after what you described with all the sensations and episodes he could have my opinion is he is danger to the road. Shouldn’t be driving.

  2. As an autistic male, I drive as little as possible. There are so many sounds you encounter when driving. And you have to concentrate so much. But I don’t blame fellow autistic people for driving. Sounds like Matthew got a raw deal from the police.

    1. And in metropolitan traffic so many things can be happening from so many directions all at the same time. True, VA Beach doesn’t count as a massive major metropolis like NYC but they do have a lot of people packed in to a small area. We were there when Pembroke Mall was only 1/2 to 3/4 the size it is now and when the intersection of Independence Blvd and VA Beach Blvd had only half as many lanes on each road as it does now. Absolutely No Way I would want to try driving there now.

      A couple years ago out here in this midwestern farm burg I had a surgeon who immediately recognized without being told in the referral that I was autistic. Her son was an autistic adult. We had some similarities and differences. Driving was more than he could deal with but he could watch TV, for me it is the other way, I can deal okay with driving, especially out here in the country, but really, really, need to avoid TV and movies.

      Driving is pretty much a necessity in our culture, especially in the suburbs and out here in farmland. In the suburbs, zoning is largely responsible for the requiring of being able to drive in order to participate in society – housing is here, jobs are 12 miles that way, shopping is 5 miles the opposite way, health care is scattered every which direction, education too is scattered here and there. If you can not drive, or are unable to afford thousand dollar car repairs, let alone acquiring the car itself, it is “too bad, so sad, you can’t play with us.” And that’s not right.

  3. I lived in VA Beach in 1980s, it was kind of fun yet I’m happy to be many years gone from there.
    2 things in the text are leaving me confused:
    Those being,
    1, “… the recorded footage of the officer body camera videos from Virginia Beach officers Cordingly, Dolida, and Nash. Over 12 hours of body cam footage with no time unaccounted for, …”
    and a bit later,
    2, “Three officers accused Matthew of saying he wanted to commit suicide. Conveniently, none of the three officers were wearing a body cam.”

    There are 3 officers named described as having body cam videos + a comment that 3 officers were not wearing body cams.
    How many officers total 6? In 2 different groups of 3?
    In how many different locations?

    1. Guess I will add that one of the couple things I have against VAB is that is where the Armani suit Psychiatrists diagnosed me as bipolar and not autistic. Took over 20 years for their mistake to be remedied. Caused a lot of trouble in my life until fixed.

  4. Police officers are not medical professionals. It sounds like they need to hire doctors to go on scene when mental health could be a factor. I’m a little bit confused with some inconsistencies in the article. It was stated that there was body cam footage. Later, it was stated that there wasn’t. Which is it? Also, if he was saying, “trying to kill myself” to one person then it could be possible he continued to say it. I’m sure all of that will come out in court. Hopefully the charges will be reduced to reckless driving and the hit and run. I imagine he will also lose his license unless he gets on a medication that will prevent this scenario from happening again. It’s not safe for other people on the road.

    1. Couple years ago, there was a situation with the guy living across the street from me, probably mid 40’s or so. He was very seriously mentally ill and was self harming, he was literally having fights with himself all night and breaking everything in the house into matchstick pieces, there were scenes out of a Frankenstein movie where some neighbors were chasing after him down the street with shovels and stuff in their hands. I felt very guilty about interfering, but I also felt incredibly sad about how increasingly poorly he was doing over time. He appeared to be off food, off meds, and only drinking alcohol. His mother would come over every couple of weeks to check on him; he never let her inside. The day I saw him bashing her in the head and blood everywhere I called adult protective services and asked for emergency service. They make arrangements in which a couple of social workers come with the sheriff officers to deal with the situation. It was horrible and I still feel like I should have done differently. I had tried to get in touch with the mother earlier, but she never got back to me. They had a hard time getting him out of the house. He was really fighting the officers. but at least there were MH professionals that knew what the problem was and they managed to get him into the car and into to services. They didn’t shoot or tase him (but he was white).

      An organization like Adult Protective Services could be better financed to cover more/other issues. Or, probably could have an entire agency like that for any Black Lives Matter scenarios. Anyone seeing traffic stops getting out of control, or since black folks can’t do anything in our society, any situation involving a black person, a ‘Black Protective Services’ (staffed by mostly black people) could be immediately involved. If that’s what it takes, then do it. Take the millions and billions from the police departments and fund citizen protection. I’m old and am very, very tired and depressed about racism being as pervasive (or more) as when I was a kid.

    2. There was body cam footage. 12 hours of it. There was no footage that contained Matthew saying he wanted to kill himself.

      This case has already be adjudicated. Matthew was given a fifty year sentence. Nothing came out in court because he was coerced into taking a guilty plea.

  5. In Eureka Calif, the sheriff’ and police depts are implementing an autism logo on some type of material that can be attached to a seat belt and I think also a bumper sticker. I don’t know what the design of the logo looks like, but it’s supposed to be recognizable enough (some sort of training) so that an officer will not shoot or injure an ASD person that might be trying to run/evade or not able to answer questions ‘appropriately.’ I’ll ask my ASD parent Facebook group what it looks like and post an image.

  6. I am so sad reading all of this. I want Mathew to know that he is not alone. We are here with him, fighting for him now. I feel like I understand his confusion and agony, having had several brain injuries myself, I am not how I used to be. When I get triggered the emotions and overwhelm makes me want to disappear…the psychic pain is unbearable. Sensory overload and not being able to regulate the symptoms of your brain not functioning is something only those who have a brain injury or autism can understand. God bless you Mathew and all of you who suffer from this challenge in life. I love you even though I don’t know you.

  7. Why was someone with this many problems driving in the first place? Other drivers have the right to be protected from people who are not fit to drive, which is the case here.

Talk to us... what are you thinking?

%d bloggers like this: