Sunday, 24 October 2010

With the right support...

"With the right support, he was able to succeed at school."

"With the right support, she was able to find a job." 

"With the right support, they can go on to lead fulfilling lives."

When reading about Aspergers and Autism, you'll probably see sentences like these all over the place, and chances are you won't think much of it. I certainly didn't at first. A few lines explaining that good support can be helpful, even vital, weren't going to raise any red flags. After all, it's perfectly true. What's there to object to? 

Well, as you may know, there seems to be a bizarre misconception that children on the autistic spectrum don't grow up naturally like Neurotypical kids do, and in certain circles any progress, whether academic, social or linguistic will be put down to whichever therapy the parents have decided to push their child through. When little Sarah widens her vocabulary, it wasn't her learning naturally as all kids do, or even a concentrated effort on her part to learn something she wasn't naturally good at. It was 'the therapy'. I think the problem with this attitude is obvious- even though the therapist may have been very helpful, any effort Sarah made to learn the new words is ignored as though it wasn't there, essentially relegating her to the completely passive role of an object that doesn't think while the therapist takes all the credit.

The more I look at the the 'with the right support' sentences and their ilk, the more parallels I see with the sort of scenario described above. In both cases, the autistic person who is doing most of the legwork when it comes to improving whichever bad situation they happen to be in is shafted, and other people, who may have helped a lot but are still, overall, secondary figures, come to the forefront. Adapting to an initially rocky school experience, finding good employment or learning a useful new skill or coping mechanism stops being the autistic person's achievement first and foremost. It was all down to the 'right support'- the team of people around the autistic person who are implied to have just moulded them like putty until they presented the correct results. 

Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea, I'm not saying the 'right support' shouldn't be congratulated where they deserve it. Some 'right support' are amazing and deserve all the praise they get and more. What concerns me is the apparent ratio between congratulating the autistic person for improving their own situation or encouraging them to do so in the future; and congratulating or enouraging external figures. In my experience the latter happens more often than the former, often when it would make more sense for it to be the other way around. It's misplaced and excessive. 

It's just part of the idea that people on the autistic spectrum (and as you could argue, people with disabilities in general), don't really count. It's "does he take sugar" at work. It's the assumption that people on the spectrum are apathetic and oblivious and don't fight or strive for anything. It's people on the spectrum being subconsciously, but automatically, placed second to whichever neurotypical is nearest. 

It's trivial in itself, yes, but the wider problem it's a symptom of is definitely not.