I’m a neurotypical, supposedly. A neurotypical is defined as a person not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behaviour. Neurotypical seems, to me at least, to be one of those awful PC definitions that non-disabled people come up with to set them apart from other folk. Who knows?
In my work I work alongside people who might be considered the opposite of neurotypical, whatever that is. I meet a lot of Autistic people. (No I am not going to call them people who are Autistic, thank you very much.) They are like snowflakes. No two are alike.
Our world seems to think that the way to “help” Autistic people is to make them as close to what neurotypicals are as possible. I have always felt really uncomfortable with this because it is the way of us so called neurotypicals that often causes Autistic people so much stress. I’ve often thought that what we need to do is try and understand how individual Autistic people are thinking, how their brain works, and then fit in with that. Rather than “fix them” so to speak.
I am no expert but what I do try to do is get an insight as to how Autistic people think. Particularly the ones who I know as friends and colleagues. So I watch, listen and ask. Or at least try to. Last week, just by chance, I got a real insight into the mind of an Autistic person.
Now this person is Disabled. Her whole identity is Disabled. I wouldn’t be game to call her anything else. She is a feisty woman, and quite scary. Loveable, but scary. But anyway part of her Disabled identity is that she is Autistic too. She, through her several million Facebook posts, gave me an insight into how her Autistic mind works.
It was harrowing to be honest. Because my friend is a highly energetic and effective disability activist. Of late she has been particularly active in the abuse and deaths of people with a disability space. She, along with many others, has been pushing hard to get the Royal Commission up to investigate the abuse and deaths of people with a disability. She even, at the last minute and at her expense, booked a flight from Perth to Canberra to be present at the reading of the Bill into this matter.
After this she posted on Facebook as to how this was impacting her and her Autistic mind. I think it is best told in her own words:
A politician asked me yesterday what I’d said.
‘Hooray fuck,’ I repeated. He laughed and told me he’s stealing that line.
It’s one of my favourite phrases. It describes things so perfectly – when things are entirely shit but there’s a glimmer of joy, or the reverse. Think people who are dying in horrible pain of incurable cancers who die quickly. Or when you get a Royal Commission but know you’re going to have to fight your arse off every step of the way.
It’s how I feel about my autistic-brain, which neatly catalogues every single abuse case and Coroner’s inquest I have ever read into neat filing cabinets, ready to be recalled in a second. We were at DHS with the redress team today and talking about banking, capacity and safeguarding.
You don’t need my vicarious trauma and you probably read about Janet Mackozdi. But there are fifty, a hundred stories like hers. Not all of them have been investigated.
It’s a good thing, carting this around. It helps me be a better activist in this space and understand patterns and where there are common issues. It helps me explain issues, using stories. It’s also a horrible thing, carting this around. Because when politicians like Scott Morrison deny the need for a Royal Commission or dismiss family abuse, those stories, all the stories, come flooding in.
All the dates. The places they died. The horrible little unforgotten details. They are the facts that keep me awake at night and refuse to be silenced. They are barely concealed secrets that roar, never whisper.
If I had a different brain, I would sleep. Be still. Maybe garden. I don’t put things down lightly. But this is a good thing, because it means someone else may never need to pick it up again.
I have a theory that this is why so many autistic folk have a difficult time with life. It’s that combination of rote memory and experienced or observed trauma, carried. It makes us very good at some things – it makes us often completely unable to deal with life as it’s presented to us.
Imagine that. All these facts stored in your brain in little filing cabinets. Just ready to be remembered and regurgitated at the slightest trigger. Imagine driving and hearing on the radio of yet another death or abuse case concerning people with a disability. TRIGGER – Bang – hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of gory details of disabled children abused, disabled people strangled, disabled people left to starve or rot in their own waste. Imagine at the slightest trigger all of this flooding your mind.
How would one cope? I would curl up in a ball and most likely cry Instead my friend gets angry and fights for the rights of these disabled people virtually every waking moment of her life.
And then when the Bill concerning these deaths and abuses of disabled people is read in parliament, imagine her feeling of disgust as Liberal politicians left the chamber. Imagine watching Julie Bishop, this most senior politician, walking out when it was time for this Bill to be read.
A Bill concerning 572 deaths of people with a disability in Victoria in the last decade. A bill concerning 1459 reported incidents and a further 141 deaths of people with disabilities in South Australia and NSW alone in I know not what time frame. These cases being just the tip of the iceberg.
Imagine this swirling in your mind and engulfing you as politicians show apathy and walk out. While Cormann gets freebies from his mates. While Hockey gets profits for himself and his mates through Government contracts. While half a billion dollars is wasted on a security company registered at a shack on Kangaroo Island that allegedly doesn’t even have electricity.
Imagine being told we support the Bill in principle but …. While money is handed out like confetti by inept and corrupt officials. Imagine that and then imagine what was going on in the brain of my friend as she witnessed this first hand.
She is still standing and she is still fighting. I know not how. That is what heroes are made of.