Guest Post By Chris McKee
It was a dreary Tuesday morning. I sat in ICT across from a group of (for want of a better word) jocks; the ‘hard lad’ Saturday night binger type. They have that over confident attitude that demands a shove down the stairs, especially today. However, my aggravated tone is down to their conversation that I heard. There is no need to quote their derogatory sludge of abuse, but basically they are speaking down to those with conditions such as Autism and Down’s as if these people are inferior to everyone else. If it was not for Mrs Aiken sitting four feet from me, I would have reached over and battered them with my 700-page textbook.
Overhearing such conversations, especially in a secondary school environment, is unfortunately a regular occurrence for me. On so many occasions I have had to restrain from showing my disgust at people’s ignorance towards Autism. During a speech for GCSE English last year, I spoke on Autism as my topic theme. It was worthwhile to give a personal account of my experience with Autism but there was a brief moment while I voiced my opening paragraph to the class audience that I noticed a snigger from the back corner of the room. Why did I hear that, I wonder? I carried on nonetheless and managed a grade A, but that was the turning point for my views on Autism. It will never be accepted by everyone. Not in this society. Since that event, I have developed quite a strong opinion on Autism, its effect on others, and those who do not understand the disorder- hence my fuming reaction to the comments I overheard in ICT.
I was around 11 when I was first introduced to my Dad’s new ‘friend’, Judith. My father had been living in an apartment for a number of years after the break-up with my Mum, with me visiting him every Sunday since the divorce. Being only a pre-teen at the time, to me Judith was just another friendly face who generously delivered donoughts and other confectionaries during my weekly visits to the apartment. It was only when I discovered a card placed on the mantle of the living area (that read something like “You mean everything to me”) that it dawned on me that my Dad and Judith were somewhat involved. Quizzing my Dad on the subject, I learned that they had been dating for a number of months and were planning on moving in together shortly. I also learned that Judith was a single-mum with a number of children, three to be precise. Jonathan aged 13 at the time, Jamie who was aged 7, and Matthew who was just turning 6. Just as I explained to my English class, I was told by my Dad that Matthew had a “unique quality” that made him different from other people- he had Autism.
I met Matthew later that week when I went to visit my Dad and Judith in their new house. At first, he didn’t take much notice of me. I barely heard a “hello” as he ran past me into his room. This was by all means not an isolated incident i.e. over the next few Sundays that I visited my Dad, Matthew still took little notice of me. I was perfectly fine with this because, to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from him. Over time, our relationship gradually developed. It was in 2006 that I met Matthew– a stranger who had a condition that I had no knowledge of whatsoever. But now I call him my brother and I wouldn’t change him for the world. This is the reason why I become so aggravated when people speak ill of those with Autism or Down’s. When they insult those with Autism, they insult my brother.
I have spoken a little about myself and how I came face-to-face with Autism in my life but I hope you have taken something else from this- perspective. To finish, I would like to repeat a paragraph from my GCSE English speech on Autism:
“Autism is not a disease. It is not an imperfection that should exclude ‘sufferers’ from their place in society. We need to realise that it is in nature. If you were to travel back 50 years and say to a person that a dark-skinned man was equal to another with white skin, you would be laughed at. Now look how the battle against racism has developed in today’s age. I hope that within another 50 years (or sooner!) those with Autism will have won their battle to be treated with just as much respect as you or I. The perspective is yours. The decision is yours. Make the right one”