My son has been watching programmes about Nazis and serial killers

He has an explosive temper and his viewing habits make me worry about how deep his anger is. Annalisa Barbieri advises a reader

I have an 18-year-old son who has had anxiety and depression for some time. I have brought him and his brother up by myself as their father left when they were young. My son had some input from Camhs [child and adolescent mental health services] with varying degrees of success, but his last episode of care with them was useless.

Once he turned 18, they discharged him with no advice or support. I have been told by a Camhs psychiatrist that he is on the autism spectrum, but with no official diagnosis. I was advised not to tell him, as he has a problematic relationship with his elder brother, who has a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.

My son has an explosive temper and is very hard to live with at times – if he gets angry, he will destroy things around the house. His bedroom door has had to be fixed three times now. However, my latest worry involves what he watches on TV. I recently looked at his viewed programmes, which included documentaries on Nazi Germany, in particular, concentration camps. He has also watched documentaries about Josef Fritzl, several about kidnappers and serial killers and a series about crime scenes and how they are cleaned up.

I found this very disturbing but have no idea what I should do about it. If I confront him, he will have a meltdown and accuse me of spying on him. He is constantly angry, but refuses to tell me why, saying: “Why should I tell you what is upsetting me?” He refuses to go to his GP for help about his anxiety. I have told him that I am here to listen if he changes his mind. Seeing the type of programmes he is watching has made me worry about how deep this anger is and I really have no idea how to help him.

I can see this is a very difficult situation. Now your son is 18, you cannot make him go to the GP or get treatment. I don’t think it was at all helpful for you (or your son) to be told that he is on the autism spectrum but with no formal diagnosis. Nor is it helpful to discourage you from discussing this with him. Even if his brother has Asperger’s, not all autistic people are the same.

I contacted Dr Ian Davidson, a psychiatrist who is autism champion for the Royal College of Psychiatrists ( With regard to your son’s viewing habits and your concern about them, he says: “Clearly, anyone can get interested in anything, but an autistic person can get interested [in something] in far more depth.”

He felt that, on their own, viewing habits such as your son’s were not a cause for concern; these programmes are on mainstream TV because lots of people find them fascinating. But that, if someone were to take that into everyday life – say, instead of watching programmes about cleaning up crime scenes, they were to purchase items to clear up a crime scene (or to commit a crime) – that would be cause for concern and a call to the police. Equally, if someone were, for example, watching programmes about bombs that would be different from downloading information about making bombs. I hope that gives you a clear distinction.

Davidson feels your son needs a “proper assessment. Every CCG [clinical commissioning group] has a legal requirement to do one.” And although you can’t force your son to get an assessment, Davidson says you could “do the preparatory work and ask what the pathway CCG is. Your GP should be able to tell you as you are not asking to discuss anything confidential.”

Although, even if diagnosed, there are no entitlements to further services, if your son were to be assessed/diagnosed, he could then get a Care Act assessment done through the local authority and mainstream services, which may be able to help him. If your son were diagnosed, you could then, in turn, get an assessment for your needs as his carer, which could include, for example, counselling.

I appreciate that a big stumbling block is making contact with your son, and this won’t be easy. When I asked Davidson how to help someone like your son, he said: “If your son is autistic he won’t necessarily have good communication skills, so you could try something like: ‘You appear to be unhappy. Is there anything we can do to help?’ If he won’t engage, you could then try something like: ‘If it’s too difficult to tell me, there are services that could help you.’ And you could get some information/links for him [I have put some below as a starting point].”

While some people don’t find a diagnosis helpful, most find it hugely beneficial. Your son may be anxious, angry and depressed for a myriad of reasons and one of them could be that he has autism and needs support.

I would contact the organisations below for more information, and for support for yourself. Go to your GP to find out the pathway for your son to get assessed – I know you have not had good experiences with Camhs, but you may get better support now he is an adult. Then try to present your son with information for him to get help. If he doesn’t listen at first, keep trying – and think about enlisting the help of any family members he may listen to.;;

Your problems solved

Contact Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence

Follow Annalisa on Twitter @AnnalisaB


Annalisa Barbieri

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