But you look so normal

25 06 2014

There are probably hundreds of blogs with that title on the net today. It’s something many people with an unseen disability have been told. My response is usually ‘I am normal’ , even although my disability is one that highlights how abnormal I am, or how abnormal I should be just to appease society.

It’s no secret that I have autism. The shell looks fine if a little rotund, the inner workings are somewhat wonkily wired. I’ve often joked that to be a convincing autistic I need to rock back and forth and talk incessantly about trains or numbers. People would be more comfortable with me fitting that stereotype, one where I can garner sympathy, but I don’t. I can articulate rather well, I can even successfully take part in small talk and social chat. I have thousands of acquaintances. Socially I do ok. I am a strong independent person, even if I can’t cook. You will never see what’s going on under the surface to get me to that level of interaction. I look just like you. Normal.

You, who can socialise instinctively. Normal. You, who knows the cues to talk or shut up. Normal. You, who pick up on more subtle forms of communication such as body language or facial expression. Normal. You , who is unlikely to struggle with sensory overload or processing basic information. Normal. You, who probably doesn’t become catatonic at the sound of sirens. (There you go Lex Luther, there’s my weakness) Normal.

But you struggle to read me in the same way I struggle to read you and because you are in the majority, it’s expected I will change to fit in with you. In fact, autism is a developmental disability, I am expected to ‘develop’ my skills and understanding to become normal. Some people make a fortune out of trying to get people like me to develop normal skills so I can pretend I am normal to be like you.

Well you know what? I’m really fucking successful at doing normal. Too successful. I have to convince people of my disability. I have to persistently justify my struggles (or symptoms if you prefer such language), even to people who have known me all my life. They say, “but you’re just you, I don’t care what they label you, you’re still the same to me” and in this statement those who claim to accept me refuse to learn about how my brain works, what my struggles are, or how they could help me overcome them. They silence me with their questioning, ‘what is normal anyway?’ Immediately followed by telling me I should try to understand that I’m different and I can’t expect normal people to understand. If this is acceptance then I don’t get it.

And if I struggle to justify how my brain works to those who know me best, what chance have I got of convincing those who don’t know me that I need help and support or understanding? If my disability was visible, if I hadn’t learned not to stim or hide being ‘symptomatic’ (there I go again with that medical language) I don’t think I’d have to justify myself over and over again. I’m definitely not saying those with visible disabilities don’t have problems with justification, hell I’ve read about ATOS and the WCA, but if someone can see the problem they’re more likely to try and understand it. It’s easier to try to imagine mobility issues than it is an entirely different way of processing and thinking. Physical disability is visibly justified, it makes sense to them that there could be difficulties or support needs. When you look just like them and can pretend on the whole to act just like them, when you finally get the courage to say ‘I need help’, you’re met with ‘prove it’ and if I try to prove it, I’m made to feel like a fraud or a con-artist. Only then to be told, ‘prove it more’.

I shouldn’t be made to feel like I’m faking it just because someone else struggles or refuses to understand. Why should I have to fit in with your world? Why can’t you try to fit in with mine? I do look normal. I am normal. Like any normal person I have struggles and sometimes these require me to ask for help. How I appear on the outside shouldn’t define what I need or get.

Armchairs from whence we opine…

9 08 2011

It’s easy for us sitting in our cosy wee homes at the tv or computer watching these riots, to pass judgement and tell anyone who will listen what we would do if we were in control.

It’s easy for us to look at our cherubs and “knowingly” say, “Oh my child would never do such a thing”.

It’s all a bit easy for us to sit in our comfy armchairs here and opine, really.

In my last blog post, I suggested some of the issues at play but didn’t really go further into them. I’m no sociologist, not even of the armchair variety, I can only talk from opinion, which is as valid or invalid* (*delete as applicable) as anyone else’s.

Not once have I condoned the violence or the perpetrators, I just said I understood that there were deep-rooted reasons that went further than the death of an alleged criminal at the hands of the police. The cliché I used? “The straw that broke the camel’s back”.

I am also not an apologist as I’ve been accused. I have no need to apologise for the behaviours of others. I am not involved. I just understand there are reasons… do I really need to say it again? Have you got it yet?

Now all these ‘poor people dun good’ have come out the woodwork telling us they had poor upbringings in poverty stricken areas and they didn’t riot. How nice of them…. because, you know all poor people are the same, just like all black people are the same, all Tories are the same, all British are the same… blah blah blah bullshit.

I have tried to explain to little avail, that when you feel like you have nothing to lose, then anything goes. Respect for authority goes out the window and in my opinion, this is why these riots have spread across the country. All respect has gone…

For whatever their individual motivators, these youths have nothing to lose and everything to gain… including a nice plasma tv and a pair of trainers they could probably never afford if they didn’t just help themselves.

Does that make their behaviour justifiable? Of course not, it just provides a backdrop to their motivation. A motivation that most people I’ve spoken with have had real issues trying to come to terms with, because it lies out with their own realms of understanding, experience and their own moral code, therefore it can’t possible exist or be justified.

We live in a society where you are defined and judged by your material possession. Your credibility grows with the size of your TV… and it doesn’t stop there. If you have a bigger bank balance you’re a better more worthy person. If you have a small or invisible bank balance, you’re less worthy. If you’re rich, you are celebrated for breaking the law (e.g. tax evasion – boy weren’t they clever bunnies for finding loopholes) – if you’re poor the entire country hates you, regardless of your reasons.

And then we have the gall to question why they don’t care for their environment, their neighbours, their lives…? because no one cares about them.

When 45 million people (the other 15m are statistically in relative poverty) direct their hatred at you and your lifestyle, when you are made to feel worthless if you rely on the state, when your life chances diminish by the postcode you were born into, when your parents are too busy struggling to make ends meet or fighting illness or addiction to consider discipline or support, when you can’t find work regardless how hard you try… when any number of these things and more combine to beat you further down, why should you care?

Humans aren’t generally solitary animals. They crave socialisation and acceptance. If they don’t get acceptance from one group of people, they find another.  When everyone including authority (e.g. parents, police, government) fails them at every turn and uses them as scapegoats for all societies problems, there comes a point when they’ll go elsewhere. Somewhere that acceptance is offered. I’m sure you’ve heard people in gangs refer to them as family. They fill a void.

And then there’s the group hysteria element. There’s an interesting book I read years back, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, where it discussed the hysteria of decisions made in a group setting.

It’s a known fact, people get carried away in groups.

An example seen at its simplest and most innocent in clapping audiences. A few may clap and others join in, soon if you’re not clapping you’re going to look and feel a bit daft amongst a room full of people all clapping. This doesn’t justify looting or rioting but in a very simplistic way it provides an example of how people are getting involved, and how easy it is to get caught up in the moment. You may not want to clap at that moment but everyone else is, how will it look if I don’t?

It doesn’t justify the behaviour but humans are like lemmings, they’re terrified to stand out in a crowd. They don’t want to create more problems for themselves. Turning your back on those who claim to look after you, is often more than most can contemplate. Gangs are no different in that respect.

And when you have a large group of people who have no respect for authority, you have a difficult resolve. You have the choice to wait and hope it’s all going to die out itself, you can jump in all guns blazing (quite literally in the hopes of many people I’ve heard from) or you find a completely different approach.

I’m not sure if these events will die out themselves anytime soon. Many of the issues are deeply rooted in the local culture. Ignoring them hasn’t helped in the past 30 years. We may get respite but it will happen again and again.

Sending in authorities such as police, or relying on governments, won’t work as these people have no faith in the authorities. Like I said earlier they have nothing more to lose. Their current freedom is already limited, be that financially or by postcode, stop and search or whatever… jail isn’t so much of a threat, especially when coupled with the youthful arrogance of being invincible and uncatchable…

Sending in people with water cannon’s, guns, the army etc will only inflame the situation more. It will only anger more disenfranchised people who didn’t see fit to riot at the start and many more rational human beings from a wider geographic location who don’t want to see allegedly developed society turning into a war zone. Dog forbid we start to piss off the moral middle classes.

That only leaves finding a different approach and I firmly believe the ONLY approach that will work in the first instance is having the wider community take charge of the problem. I don’t mean vigilante behaviour. Violence will never solve this, the police are well aware of  that. I mean everyone taking to the streets. Not in protest and not in violence but taking a stand. There may be 500 rioters/looters and 1000 police per location but there will be tens of thousands of residents. They need to put their message across, let these kids know their feelings too. They may have the same gripes as the rioters but they are using different methodologies.  These kids need to learn to understand there are alternatives to violence or criminality, especially when many of the alternatives are failing them in other areas of their lives. These kids need to feel a far larger “family” than just their gang.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not getting moral on the concept of family like many others have,  I’m talking about family in the binding sense not the blood sense. Your community should be your family too, but for too long we’ve spent time breaking down community. Neighbours don’t talk or know each other’s names.  Old fear young. Young fear each other…no one has anything good to say about anyone else.

They need to feel like community again. The community needs to become family again. Not in WWII style pulling together with sing songs and cups of sugar, but with regards to respect, support, having somewhere go other than further down a relentless spiral.

But this isn’t likely to happen any time soon. There is too much anger going around just now. There’s too much finger-pointing. There is no quick fix. These problems are decades old and they haven’t gone away, we’ve just ignored them. We’ve ignored them for far too long.

This needs to be a multi agency resolution… from the very bottom right up to the very top and most definitely not top down.

To fix this needs more than just jailing or shooting the rioters. We, the whole of Britain, need to reassess how we think and feel and talk about, and behave towards others. We need to address the inequalities of society beyond just skin colour. Maybe we do need to hug some hoodies… but we also need to be chastising some bankers, ensuring that those who make money from society give more back to it. Ensure that parliament, our employees, actually listen to their voters rather than corporate machines.

How many more scandals can this country take before we all stand up and say enough is enough? I guess though, from these comfy armchairs, that takes a lot more effort than average joe can be bothered with. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe when those poor people stop behaving like mindless thugs eh? Then maybe we’ll bother to do something… but if they won’t behave why should we bother to be nice to them? If they don’t work why should we think they have value?

If they don’t have a 50″ plasma TV and an equally as comfy armchair, they’re nobodies. Nobodies don’t exist. Can’t be heard or seen…

We’re told, “children should be seen and not heard.” For too long we haven’t listened and now we’re seeing the result.