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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

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Autism neurodiversity
matthew rushin young black man with long curly hair black autistic lives matter

Free Matthew Rushin

Matthew Rushin is a young, Black autistic man. A year and a half ago, he was a mechanical engineering student at Old Dominion University. In January of 2019, Matthew was involved in a car accident. Within hours, he was charged by a magistrate with attempted murder. He is currently serving a 50 year sentence with 40 years suspended.

MANIPULATED

Matthew’s legal representation did not consider his medical history or support needs when she coerced him into accepting a plea deal or what that would mean for his future.

*Additional donation options available below (see “Support Matthew”)

health at risk

A pardon package was submitted to Governor Northam in June. Please join over 200k people in calling for an absolute pardon.

how can you help?

  1. Share about his case
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  3. Contribute to his legal defense fund
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*Additional donation options available below (see “Support Matthew”)

breaking news

NeuroClastic Responds to the Commonwealth's Attorney's letter to Governor Ralph Northam with the facts.

Learn More About Matthew's Case

Articles from NeuroClastic
URGENT: Matthew Rushin is in Prison for Being Black and Autistic
Matthew Rushin was facing the potential of life in prison following a car accident. Here's how that happened.
Read More
Matthew Rushin and the Virginia Beach Police Department
Readers have unanimously responded with suggestions that police officers need more training in disability and mental health. Were VBPD officers trained?
Read more
Matthew Rushin and the Injustice System: The Worst Nightmare of Every Parent of an Autistic
Parents of autistic children know that the ignorance about autistic behavior and what autism means can be a death sentence for their autistic children if they interact with the wrong people.
Read More
Meet Matthew Rushin
He had absurd levels of ridiculous, reckless optimism. He always looked to the future. He was sensitive, kind and thoughtful in ways most people aren't observant enough to be.
Read more
Matthew Rushin: An Open Letter to the Commonwealth Attorney of Virginia Beach
The Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney (prosecutor) responded to the outrage over the unlawful treatment of Matthew Rushin, a 20 year old Black autistic college student.
Read more
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FAQ about the Case

Matthew was never convicted of a crime. On the night of the accident, he was charged with attempted murder in the 2nd degree, which has a maximum sentence of ten years.

Later, the Commonwealth Attorney increased the charges to two counts of aggravated malicious wounding, a class 2 felony with the same weight and penalty as first degree murder. He also charged Matthew with a felony hit-and-run with a penalty of up to ten years.

This is a common tactic used by prosecutors, especially against people of color, to put the accused in a lose-lose position. The accused person either accepts a plea agreement and forfeits their right to due process, or they go against a jury that is likely to decide their guilt because of internalized prejudice.

Matthew’s lawyer told him that if he didn’t accept the plea, a jury would take one look at him and decide he was guilty, then he’d be spending the rest of his life in prison. If he accepted the plea, though, he had a 50/50 chance of going home.

Matthew’s parents were livid that he had been coerced to accept a plea agreement. They believed that once he’d signed the paper, it was over; however, more than a week elapsed between the day Matthew signed a plea and the hearing to enter the plea before a judge. During this week, it could have been withdrawn; however, Matthew’s attorney did not inform him or his parents that the plea could be withdrawn.

Matthew was diagnosed as a young child with ADHD. In middle school, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s (now called autism). In 2017, he had a car accident that left him in a coma with a severe brain bleed and traumatic brain injury. At the time of his accident, he was having seizures due to swelling and bleeding around the brain; however, he was not diagnosed with seizure disorder.

As a result of his 2017 accident, it was realized that Matthew had a Rathke’s Cleft cyst on his brain which would need to be monitored for changes indefinitely and may require brain surgery if it grew.

Matthew had to learn to walk and talk again after that accident, and eventually was able to make a mostly-full recovery and resume classes at Old Dominion University where he was a mechanical engineering student; however, he was experiencing PTSD related to the accident and anxiety from it.

While some people who are autistic or ADHD have difficulty with driving due to poor motor coordination, spatial or visual processing issues, or difficulty with motor control, many autistic people are extremely safe and reliable drivers who go their entire lives without an accident.

NeuroClastic’s editorial team and consultants from various medical, psychiatric, and occupational therapeutic fields have reviewed Matthew’s medical documents following his 2017 accident and have found that he his family did everything recommended to ensure that he was cleared to drive.

However, after his second severe accident, which was similar to the first, it became apparent that he may have an underlying condition causing him to lose consciousness. The same condition may have been responsible for both accidents.

In fact, when viewing the interrogation video from the night of the accident, NeuroClastic’s lead on Matthew’s case noticed what appeared to be a focal seizure.

We forwarded this video, along with Matthew’s medical records and transcript summaries from the body cam footage that night, to a board-certified clinical neurologist with more than 40 years of experience in the field. He wrote a letter summarizing his findings, indicating that Matthew’s symptoms were consistent with post traumatic migraine or temporo-frontal epileptic events and that he was in urgent need of care from a qualified neurologist.

 

The prosecutor’s office claimed that Matthew was not taken to the hospital after his accident because he said that he did not need to be transported; however, witnesses used the following phrases to describe Matthew’s behavior following the accident:

…agitated, a little in hysterics, distraught, he didn’t seem like he was all there, he wasn’t really answering very well, his speech was a little slurred, disturbed-like mentally at that moment, like maybe shock, he wasn’t receiving what the police officer was telling him, he was moving his head around a lot, flailing his arms quite a bit, wasn’t receiving information (from bystander holding him and telling him to calm down and suggesting he lay down), it’s like he didn’t hear me, impression that even when the officer came up he was not understanding what was being communicated to him by witness or officer.

Further, Matthew’s face and head were bleeding. An officer placed Matthew in cuffs on the scene because he was believed to be too erratic and was “flailing,” and not because he was under arrest. Given those descriptors, it should have been clear that Matthew was not capable of making informed decisions about his health.

One of the arresting officers had even responded to the 2017 accident and found Matthew unconscious and face down in water. Matthew’s father stood in the rain on the side of the road, without access to Matthew, for nearly two hours while police prevented him from speaking to his parents.

Lastly, and most importantly, if VBPD and the prosecutor truly believed that Matthew was suicidal, then they absolutely should have assumed that he was a danger to himself and needed psychological care. But, it does not appear that VBPD did believe Matthew was in mental health crisis, which would have meant that he was not suicidal.

In the above video from the Washington Post (Lindsey Sitz), a statement from VBPD at the 8:57 mark reads (emphasis mine):

Matthew Rushin was an adult at the time of the accident, and there was no indication that he was in mental health crisis.

In the following article, the stages of a seizure are mapped out with direct quotes from VBPD’s body cam transcript summaries and police reports:

Matthew Rushin: Did Virginia Beach PD suspect seizure and hide it?

This article demonstrates with quoted evidence that VBPD were made aware that Matthew had last consciousness and that he did not remember the accident.

First Statement from Matthew on Body Cam:Officers knew he lost consciousness

 

We do understand that anyone could be treated unfairly regardless of race or disability, but the primary evidence against Matthew was that he repeated a phrase that a man was yelling at him immediately following the accident. This man yelled, “What were trying to do? Were you trying to f#cking kill yourself?”

Matthew repeated something to that effect, though what he said isn’t clear: some variation of “I should be dead,” or “I want to die,” or “maybe I was trying to kill myself?”

Autistic people, especially when in a state of overwhelm, often repeat things they hear as a way to help with auditory and verbal processing. This behavior, known as echolalia, is one of the most common traits associated with being autistic.

For more information, watch this video from Amethyst Schaber (2014):

If you watch this video, from the interrogation room the night of the accident, Matthew is talking out loud trying to still process what he’d heard. When autistics are alone, they often spend time trying to process social information they didn’t understand in the moment.

This brilliant article from an autistic father to his autistic son explains this process of unpacking that “information overflow” later.

An Autistic Father’s Letter to an Autistic Kid

Essentially, echolalia was used as a confession and disability was treated as a crime.

We bring up race because a similar case to Matthew’s, with a white autistic male from Matthew’s neighborhood, had extremely different outcomes. We know that guilt is often presumed when Black or other people of color are involved in an incident.

Here is information about a similar case which highlights racial disparity in treatment:

As a direct result of Matthew’s accident, one family’s lives were tragically changed forever. Matthew was traveling at a high rate of speed when his vehicle drifted into oncoming traffic at a median break. He struck a vehicle with an elderly couple inside, and the driver sustained life-threatening injuries.

The passengers of the vehicle Matthew struck were George and Danna Cusick, a New York couple who were vacationing in Matthew’s home city of Virginia Beach. The driver, George, sustained injuries that would cause him to experience permanent impairments.

Matthew himself has expressed his profound remorse. At sentencing, he told the Cusick family that he realized that he has caused them devastation, even though it was an accident. He offered to move to New York to play a supporting role to try and offset some of the loss they have experienced by doing whatever they needed.

We agree that this was a tragic accident, and that the Cusick family did not deserve this; however, Matthew being in prison for a medical emergency is not going to repair anything lost by the victims.

We also agree that the Cusick family deserves to know the truth, and that justice for them is understanding that this was an accident and not someone purposefully attempting to harm them.

But loss of consciousness is a medical emergency that was not a criminally malicious act, and having a medical emergency while driving is something that could happen to anyone.

Had Matthew been negligent to attend doctor’s appointments or refused tests, he would have been responsible for medical negligence. Though he had seizures the night of his 2017 accident, it was believed they were a result of his brain injury and swelling.

He was not diagnosed with seizure disorder. It is common to go years between seizures or not experience them until exposure to specific triggers.

Matthew was simply heading to his place of work at Panera bread to have a pastry with his girlfriend when she finished her shift. While he cannot be retroactively diagnosed, it is clear that there was cause for medical attention.

Justice by punishing for a malicious, intentional crime for an accident is simply adding one tragedy on top of another and does not help the family of the victims.

More NeuroClastic Articles

See For Yourself – The Truth About Matthew Rushin

Did Matthew Rushin attempt suicide without concern for innocent lives? Look at the evidence the police don’t want you to see, and decide for yourself.

On Matthew Rushin, Osime Brown, and Systematic Trauma to Black and Indigenous People

Wolfheart Sanchez with a candid look at how he feels that his existence as a Black autistic man puts him at risk of the same fate as Osime Brown and Matthew Rushin

Meet Matthew Rushin

He had absurd levels of ridiculous, reckless optimism. He always looked to the future. He was sensitive, kind and thoughtful in ways most people aren’t observant enough to be.

I Know Why Matthew Rushin Said He Wished He Was Dead

“I know why Matthew Rushin said he wished he was dead, and why that was the furthest thing from admitting to trying to commit suicide via car accident.”

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

Matthew Rushin, a young Black autistic and ADHD man, was a mechanical engineering student at Old Dominion University when a traffic accident lead to a sentence which would

External Articles

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district33@senate.virginia.gov, jennifer@jenniferboysko.com,
ralph.northam@governor.virginia.gov, ralph@ralphnortham.com, district09@senate.virginia.gov, district31@senate.virginia.gov, district08@senate.virginia.gov, delgdavis@house.virginia.gov, dellbagby@house.virginia.gov, district16@senate.virginia.gov,
service@oag.state.va.us, kelly.thomasson@governor.virginia.gov, brian.moran@governor.virginia.gov, tonya.chapman@vpb.virginia.gov,
DelCHerring@house.virginia.gov, DelVWatts@house.virginia.gov,
DelPHope@house.virginia.gov, DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov,
DelJLindsey@house.virginia.gov, DelRSullivan@house.virginia.gov,
DelMLevine@house.virginia.gov, DelSHeretick@house.virginia.gov,
DelMMullin@house.virginia.gov, DelJBourne@house.virginia.gov,
DelKDelaney@house.virginia.gov, DelJCarrollFoy@house.virginia.gov,
DelDScott@house.virginia.gov, DelTKilgore@house.virginia.gov,
DelRBell@house.virginia.gov, DelMRansone@house.virginia.gov,
DelJLeftwich@house.virginia.gov, DelLAdams@house.virginia.gov,
DelJCampbell@house.virginia.gov, DelJMiyares@house.virginia.gov,
DelRCampbell@house.virginia.gov, DelKPlum@house.virginia.gov,
DelKKory@house.virginia.gov, DelALopez@house.virginia.gov,
DelSRasoul@house.virginia.gov, DelMPrice@house.virginia.gov,
DelDHelmer@house.virginia.gov, DelJCole@house.virginia.gov,
DelSSimonds@house.virginia.gov, DelCJenkins@house.virginia.gov,
DelTWright@house.virginia.gov, DelRRobinson@house.virginia.gov,
DelTWilt@house.virginia.gov, DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov,
DelNRush@house.virginia.gov, DelGDavis@house.virginia.gov,
DelCCoyner@house.virginia.gov, DelABatten@house.virginia.gov,
district25@senate.virginia.gov, district18@senate.virginia.gov,
district28@senate.virginia.gov, district36@senate.virginia.gov,
district21@senate.virginia.gov, district35@senate.virginia.gov,
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district04@senate.virginia.gov, district20@senate.virginia.gov,
district38@senate.virginia.gov, district34@senate.virginia.gov,
district24@senate.virginia.gov, district14@senate.virginia.gov,
district02@senate.virginia.gov, district17@senate.virginia.gov,
district29@senate.virginia.gov, district05@senate.virginia.gov,
district01@senate.virginia.gov, district07@senate.virginia.gov

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I know why Matthew Rushin said he wished he was dead, and why that was the furthest thing from admitting to trying to commit suicide via car accident.

Who Is Matthew Rushin

Matthew Rushin is a young Black man diagnosed with ADHD, Asperger’s, and anxiety disorder. Due to a car accident that nearly took his life, he incurred several serious injuries including Traumatic Brain Injury and two collapsed lungs, which caused him to remain in the hospital, unconscious, for several days. Although I don’t know if he was officially diagnosed with PTSD from the incident, it’s hard to imagine that wasn’t a highly traumatic experience for him.

Two years after the accident, he went to go to Panera, where he worked, to get pastries. On his way into the shopping center, he clipped a car that was coming out. This triggered a very expected response from someone traumatized as well as someone on the autism spectrum. He “freaked out” and left the scene.

I wholeheartedly believe the incident caused a meltdown, possibly an anxiety attack, and/or a flashback to the traumatic event he experienced.

If you don’t understand meltdowns, they are an intense overload on the brain that can affect being able to think straight, motor functions, and more. When the outburst of a meltdown is over, which can include screaming and crying, hyperventilating, writhing, and more, the effects are far from over.

You can feel the nerves in your body tingling. Every sensory input is heightened and it’s easy to over-react to even small things. Anything is likely to spark another one, especially immediately after. The aftereffects of a meltdown can last weeks.

The thing about Matthew is that, after doing his breathing exercises to calm down, he wanted to do the right thing and go back. He did a U-turn to return to the scene, but lost control of the vehicle. It was very possible that it was due to hydroplaning as it was raining at the time. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to gain control of the car in time and he clipped the driver’s side of a vehicle, which caused them both to spin out of control. Another car ended up hitting Matthew’s.

Matthew managed to get out of his car from the rear, forced to use that as an exit because of the airbags going off. When he emerged, he was immediately verbally attacked by the driver of the car that hit him. Witness reports say that the man almost pinned Matthew to the vehicle, yelling aggressively and seeming to want to start a fight.

Witness reports again state he was disoriented, his speech was slurred, and he was not responsive to the Officer speaking to him.

Here’s where Matthew’s words came out, the ones that were used to put him in jail.

“I wish I was dead.”

These words would be used against him to try to say that Matthew hit the car in a suicide attempt. But that’s not at all what he meant. As an autistic individual with trauma related to car accidents (nothing nearly as severe as what Matthew endured), I would have said the same thing.

“I Want To Die”

Just months after being hit by a vehicle going at least 60 mph on the highway and said vehicle leaving the scene before police arrived, I was rear-ended in traffic. It was minor, but I was scared that I had hit the person in front of me as a consequence.

“I want to die,” was something I immediately thought. I screamed and cried in a meltdown, barely having a clear enough head to cross lanes of traffic to pull over and get out of the way.

Thankfully, I hadn’t hit the person in front of me. But the very possibility that I had participated (even if it was not my fault) in even an ounce of the pain to the person in front of me was suffocating in the moment.

Elopement

People on the autism spectrum are known to do something called “eloping,” which is basically running away, often into a possibly unsafe situation.

Most people assume this is what children or high support needs individuals do, but anyone on the spectrum can do this, and it’s often an automatic response. This is what teen autistic Alex did when he hurled himself into traffic to get out of ABA therapy.

Matthew knew he couldn’t actually run away this time. So, he felt that immense pain, that he caused someone a pain anything like what he had went through just two years ago, and his version of elopement was, “I wish I was dead.”

Knowing that same sinking, horrifying, heavy, overwhelming and immense guilt and sorrow, the feeling that you just somehow ruined someone’s life, I immediately knew why Matthew said those words.

The Looming Wall of Horror

There was no time to realize that everyone was alive, or that the looming wall of horror was not as bad as it seemed in the moment. He was amidst the absolute worst of the effects of an autistic meltdown, the aftereffects of a possible panic attack, and the trauma of being in a car accident both just then and two years prior.

A Break from Protocol

Yet the responding officers did not follow protocol to check his mental health, even though they should have if Matthew had indeed intended to commit suicide. There were no drugs or alcohol involved, but his slurred speech and disorientation should have been an immediate sign of concern regarding his mental state.

Not only is Matthew autistic, experiencing the effects of serious trauma and meltdown which commonly cause incoherent responses, he also has a Traumatic Brain Injury. It was pure, absolute negligence to ignore the state of the young man and instead treat him as a criminal.

Police Coercion

They made the situation impossible for Matthew. Tried to convince him that his foot was purposefully on the accelerator. In the midst of trauma and overload, an authority figure, a police officer, tried to convince Matthew that not only had he hurt someone, he had intended to do it.

This case makes me sick. To me, it is clear that Matthew is a caring and empathetic person. It is clear that instead of compassionate care for a person going through being in a car accident, police officers wanted to make Matthew into a bad guy. They claimed he said he wanted to commit suicide, but this statement itself was never said and never caught on body cams.

Matthew, in a trauma state, an autistic person in crisis, plead guilty to charges that were maliciously high and designed to bully him into an admission of guilt against his mother’s wishes, all without understanding what his plea actually meant would happen to him.

He is unjustly serving time– 10 years– for a crime he did not commit. He did not intend to cause harm. He did not try to commit suicide by crashing into a vehicle. He only wished he was dead when a man was in his face, screaming at him after he was involved in a car accident, because he felt an unspeakable amount of pain.

As an autistic person, it is undeniable to me that Matthew is wrongfully serving a sentence right now. It should be clear to you, as well. Please help bring attention to Matthew’s situation and call for a review of the case and his release by signing this petition.

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

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