Learning Disability is for life not just a week…

But this week IS Learning Disability Week (well, one of them… for more about the 2013 confusion of weeks click HERE. 

I’m in the process of compiling a new volume of stories/vignettes in follow up to last year’s novel about the fictional drama group No Labels – A Week with No Labels (still available in ebook and paperback) called Jock Tamson’s Bairns.  In fact I’m giving away a free sampler of it. But a couple of the stories didn’t make it into that free sampler (simply because they weren’t written in time.)  One of them (Heather Holds my Hand)  is currently up HERE for free on McStorytellers  and the other one, for those who just can’t wait, who are too lazy to click on, or who have read everything else and can’t get enough, well – HERE IT IS.

Angus isn’t interested?

Angus speaks in a high monotone whine. He doesn’t give you eye contact. He has a face only a mother could love. To be honest most of the time I think his mother would find it hard to love him actually.  It must be hard to be such a mother. It must be harder to be Angus.

Angus has Aspergers syndrome.  He’s on a spectrum. Poor Angus. Until you think that perhaps you and I are on this spectrum too. He’s at one end of it; far away from the comfort of the Bell curve of normality.  So he knows where he stands. My question is: Where are you on the spectrum?

That’s an unsettling thought I know. But maybe one should think less in terms of spectrums (would that be spectra) and more in terms of people.  Because models and facts and terminology don’t give us enough to go on when we are trying to live a life together in a confused and confusing world.

For example: Let’s look at ‘the facts’ such as they are. About Angus and whether he is interested.

Angus can remember dates and events and pictures and what people said on TV and can (and will) repeat them ad nauseum without being prompted. If he wants to. Problem is, they are usually not the things you want to hear. His particular interest is in war. Dates. Places. Equipment. Battle strategies.  It’s not his only interest though. He has an interest in computers which would give Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg a run for their money. But they all got to college. No one labelled them with Aspergers. No one checked whether they fitted under the Bell Curve. Unlike Angus. Angus was ‘diagnosed’ on ‘the spectrum’ and his life went down the toilet.  He’s stuck in school in the ‘Behaviour’ unit with no chance of getting into college.  Because he has ‘behaviour’ issues.   A euphemism for saying he doesn’t behave in the way the Bell Curve would deem ‘appropriate.’  He isn’t interested like he should be.  No one questions what we are doing to make him interested. The blame is laid firmly at his door for being ‘difficult’ and by ‘difficult’ they mean ‘different.’  In their infinite wisdom, (You know they. We all know who they are. I don’t have to define or describe them to you now, do I?) they noted that he couldn’t ‘fit in’ with ordinary day to day life and then they spent ten years trying to force him to do just that.  Are you surprised it didn’t work?  If you had no arms would you appreciate people spending ten years trying to teach you to touch-type? No. You’d want them to get you prosthetic arms wouldn’t you? Or adapt the things you had to use on a daily basis to be stump friendly.  It only makes sense. But with Angus, they just spent year after year trying to bang this square peg into a round hole two sizes too small. Any surprise he’s not interested in what you have to say to him today?

On a good day Angus can hold focus and concentration on a task for hours at a time.  If he’s interested. He won’t thank you for reminding him he needs to eat, or maybe he should take a break to have a walk or give his eyes a breather. He’s busy, he’s happy and he’s not interested in what you have to say.  He’s working.  They don’t see it that way though. They think he’s just ‘messing around’ or ‘being difficult’ or ‘not engaging socially.’

On a bad day Angus goes into meltdown.  Funnily enough, a bad day usually comes when they don’t allow him to engage on what he’d call a ‘good’ day.  On a bad day, he can throw a tantrum with all the extremes of a two year old and all the power of the seventeen year old he is.  Angus is, they say, the master of ‘challenging’ behaviour. But only when he is ‘challenged.’  Otherwise, he’s a pussy cat. But no one can be bothered to work out what it is that makes the pussy cat turn into a ferocious tiger.  No one has learned what makes him flex his claws. So he gets left alone a lot. Angus spends most of the day stuck in the corner of a room. Away from people.  Alone.  Isolated.  People say it doesn’t matter because ‘Angus isn’t interested.’

The ‘facts’ as they are written down on his ‘profile’ are thus: ‘Angus acts like he isn’t interested.’ What value ‘facts’ eh? Of course, in a way he’s not interested.  He’s not interested in many of the things you and I are interested in, but he’s very interested in the things he’s interested in – things you and I can’t be bothered to spend time on.  For example, would you spend hour after hour looking at tin foil? Would the telephone area codes across the world be fascinating to you? … but what harm is Angus causing by his interests? Okay, when he blurts out some facts about the D-Day Landings randomly in the middle of a conversation on something seemingly unrelated it can be annoying but just because he’s ‘inappropriate’ doesn’t mean he’s not interested.  He just has poor social skills. And I suggest that in dealing with Angus most of us exhibit pretty poor social skills.  We don’t give him credit. We expect him to fit in with us. Why should he?  Who is to say that his interests are more or less worthy than my interest in nineteenth century popular fiction or your interest in embroidery/horseriding/sports. Each to his own, eh? We’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

So if Angus isn’t interested in us and we aren’t interested in him, isn’t that how the isolation is continued.  We need to find common ground. And his brain isn’t wired to be the instigator of such a conversation. So we need to meet him where he is, not be stubborn and demand that he meet us half way.  He hasn’t got the fuel to make the 60 mile journey.  He’s only got fuel for 10 miles.  We have fuel for 120 so why not just take the trip all the way to his house, where he feels safe, and start from there?  Do you begrudge him that?  Shame on you.

Let’s try coming at the ‘facts’ from a different angle. Angus likes computers, Not the way you and I might like computers. He likes the patterns in algorithms.  He likes to see that all the lines of a programme are ‘right’. This is a useful skill properly harnessed.  If he’s left to get on with it on his own Angus could hack right into the security services within half an hour. He wouldn’t do it to find out secrets, he’d do it to check the ‘coding.’  But aren’t there better ways for him to spend his time on computers? You bet there are. And he could be paid for doing them.  It’s up to us to see his talents and to employ them to the best advantage of both Angus and the society he lives in.  Give the boy a living wage rather than benefits.  Play to his strengths, don’t dismiss him because he’s on ‘the spectrum.’  Don’t patronise him by calling him ‘high functioning.’  Give the boy a job he can do and he’ll do it all day quite happily.  Treat him like a reject and he’ll behave like one.  It’s a simple enough equation isn’t it?  Forget the Bell Curve. Forget the models. Forget the spectrum. See the boy.  And learn to treat him like a man.

You can download a free sampler copy of Jock Tamson’s Bairns just by clicking HERE  or going to free downloads on the HoAmPresst site.  More information from Guerrilla Midgie Press 

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About callyphillips
Writer.

One Response to Learning Disability is for life not just a week…

  1. Thank you for “Angus isn’t interested”, Cally. A very moving and, more importantly, very convincing piece.

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