The parents of an autistic woman who died after being hit by a lorry are publishing a book of her writing to ‘prevent the mistakes’ being repeated.
Colette McCulloch, 35, who suffered from multiple mental health issues, was killed in July 2016 when she was hit by a lorry on the A1.
Her parents, who live in New Cross, Lewisham, have said their new book is not just in remembrance of their daughter but also for “all the other young people who feel different.”
Throughout her life Ms McCulloch had suffered from dyslexia, anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks.
In 2014 she was also diagnosed with High Functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
At the time of her death, she was a voluntary patient at a care home in Bedfordshire.
Following an inquest nearly three years after her death, a coroner described the incident as an “avoidable tragedy” and found the home should have kept her safe.
Assistant coroner Martin Oldham said that Ms McCulloch “was failed by a lack of a mental health assessment and by an inadequate regime of care”.
He said that she had “died as a result of failures for which no person directly is at fault nor any single or combination of organisations”
But added “this causes me considerable distress.”
Ms McCulloch’s parents are publishing their new book, called Why Can’t You Hear Me?, to raise awareness about autism and came up with an idea because of their daughter’s love for writing.
Her father Andy McCulloch said his daughter was a “very talented, very interesting, extraordinary child, but clearly with a number of problems”.
The book includes extracts from her diaries, poetry and letters, put together by her mother Amanda.
Mrs McCulloch said: “This girl can write sonnets to break your heart but can have a meltdown in Sainsbury’s over whether to choose cauliflower or broccoli.”
“Our book is a testament to our daughter but also a testament to all the other young, autistic people on the spectrum – and especially the girls.
“Colette is a tip of an iceberg. There are hundreds of other young people who have died in care without recognition.
“Our children are special and they have amazing minds.
“They are imagineers and they are extraordinary, but they are vulnerable.
“We must listen to them and we must try to understand them so that they can have the best possible life.”
Mr McCulloch said: “Like all bereaved families, we’re not looking for anything other than to stop this ever happening again if that’s possible.”
“If we can prevent the mistakes that happened to Colette happening to other people then we will have got somewhere.”
“She expresses it better than I ever could – it was important to get that out there so people understand that autism isn’t something you cure, you learn to manage it but they have insights that non-autistic people don’t, they’re incredibly useful insights.”
Caroline Spray was a friend of Ms McCulloch for nearly sixteen years after meeting as in-patients at the Royal Bethlam eating disorder unit in Croydon in 2001.
Speaking at the book launch, Ms Spray said: “Our connection grew as the other girls on the unit preferred to watch TV during the rest periods – whilst Colette and I preferred to shut ourselves away together to read books, draw, paint and write letters to friends and family.”
Ms Spray described how Ms McCulloch struggled to make friends at University and sometimes turned to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
She added that despite their own friendship being ‘difficult’ at times, she ‘never gave up’.
“If you knew Colette, warts and all, and knew her in the way we did then you would know she was special,” she said.
“Not special because she had special needs. Special because she really was.
“On a good day she could light up a room with that beautiful smile.
“She could mesmerise you with her charisma, amaze you with her artistic flair, and make you giggle just by hearing her cheeky little laugh.
“Colette possessed a specialness that just couldn’t and wouldn’t ever be given up on. Not by me, not by her parents or anybody else who dearly loved her.
“We could all see she had the potential to shine so bright in life, but she just needed the support to do so.”
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