This week I put up a video onto my Twitter of the harassment I received while attending the LGB Alliance Conference last October. If you’re interested, you can watch the video yourself - it is currently at just over a million views. It is more successful than any comedy sketch or web series I have ever put up on the platform. People love drama, I get it. I’m not bitter about it.
If you watch the videos, you’ll notice that the members of the LGB Alliance who are emboldening his awful behaviour accuse me of provoking a man with autism into distress. As he shouts abuse at me - calling me a nonce, a pervert and all other kinds of thing, his “supporters” attempt to shame me, and frame me as a bully. You will hear them say “This man has autism. He has every right to be upset” and you will hear him say “I’m autistic”. The people at the conference with him are supposed to be supporting him - not as an autistic person, but as a member of their organisation. But I don’t want to talk about him, or them - or even me during that encounter. The video is there. You can watch it.
I want to talk about the presumption of mental capacity. The longest, single job I’ve had in my life up to this point was my time as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities. I worked in the role for five years, first as a general support worker, and then as a team leader. It was in a residential, private care home - and over those years I met, and supported lots of different people, with lots of different reasons for being there. And some of those people were autistic.
I was familiar with autism as a concept when I started that job, but little did I know then, the sheer scope of how little I actually knew. Every day was a learning experience - challenging my own assumptions, ingrained prejudices & stunted outlook on the world. I didn’t always make the right choices, but I tried to remain humble, listen to the people I was supporting - verbal and non-verbal alike, and adjust how I supported them based on their specific wants and needs.
Not everyone I supported was easy to support. I was challenged - a lot. Sometimes in public. Sometimes behind closed doors. I was sworn at, called names and physically assaulted, sometimes frequently - frazzled on 20 plus hour double shifts. But I understood, at the very least, that I was there to support these people to live the most fulfilling lives they were capable to living.
And what’s more - I loved that job. I will never forget the individuals who trusted me enough to let me support them. In the end, ironically, I left because I myself didn’t feel supported by the company.
One of the most important things I learned in my time as a support worker, though - was the concept of mental capacity. Sure, I understood what it meant generally, but any care home worth a damn will do everything it can to make good and sure that you understand it properly, and never forget it - even if that means multiple tedious e-learnings a year. The short version, though, is that I was taught to always assume that an individual has mental capacity, unless otherwise officially assessed. For example: if a person with, lets say - autism - decides they want to eat 5 Mars Bars for dinner, even though their doctor advises against it due to their personal health - although it is important that I, as a support worker, advise the person that the choice might be detrimental to their health, I should also allow this person, with mental capacity - to eat those 5 Mars Bars.
If a person is non-verbal, you can demonstrate this by testing an individuals ability to make choices. For example, you can present a non-verbal person with a mars bar, or a banana. You can hold the two foods out in front of that person, and that person will likely reach out for one. That, is a choice. That is mental capacity.
Equally, if a person with, let’s say - autism - decides they want to spend their last £10 for the month on a fourteenth copy of Doctor Who Series 3 to put in their collection, rather than get their mum a birthday present, I can of course advise them why this might not be the best choice, but at the end of the day - who’s money is it, and who’s business is it? This person has a mind, and freedom, and an indescribable passion for Doctor Who Series 3, specifically.
And if a person with, let’s say - autism - wants to attend an event for lesbians, gays and bisexuals against trans inclusion - then he rightly should be able to. If he wants to attend said conference, without the aide of a support worker, or a parent or guardian - but instead with his equally invested adult boyfriend, then he rightly should be able to. Then, if he wants to have a conversation with someone for 30 minutes at the conference named Jen, who he doesn’t know is a trans woman - and discuss his various warped views on gender, politics and Islam, then he rightly should be able to do so.
If then, he later discovers that Jen is a trans woman, and he takes it upon himself to grab his camera phone, start filming and then attempt to verbally intimidate and harass said trans woman, should he then be completely shielded of all personal responsibility simply because he has a diagnosis of autism?
As a former support worker, who strongly believes in the presumption of mental capacity for all individuals until otherwise known - I think this man should be afforded all the legal rights and responsibilities that come along with having mental capacity. He seemed pretty sure of his own points of view when I spoke to him, verbally.
When he found out I was trans, like all people - he was presented with a choice. And he demonstrated perfectly his ability to make that choice.
Now that’s support.
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I feel incredibly called out in that part where you talk about an autistic person buying a fourteenth copy of series 3 of Doctor Who. It's a really good show and I love it.
Although as someone with autism that spent years as a pupil in a school where most pupils had autism, as well as now having volunteered for years at that same school, I agree with every word of this.
EDIT: I read this article to my mother and she also thinks that paragraph is about me.
Rubbish, he has no diagnosis of Autism, especially Asperger’s he wouldn’t be that verbal if he did, people with autism don’t like conflict