This afternoon I went for a pint and a pie in an Edinburgh pub. Some time to get my head together in a quiet atmosphere, read the paper, stroke the dog and relax. Perfectly normal.
My wife and I know how difficult things can be for our daughter. And it isn’t easy for us either, as we try to understand how her mind works and put things in place to help her navigate the normal day-to-day routines of school, friendships and family-life.
I’ve already used the word ‘normal’ twice. But one person’s interpretation of ‘normal’ is not likely to be the same as another person’s. And that realisation made overhearing one particular conversation in the pub all the more difficult today.
As I sat at one end of the bar, I could overhear a conversation going on at the other end of the bar: two clearly intelligent men talking about books and TV programmes. The conversation turned to Scandi-noir programming, and a discussion about Saga Norén of ‘The Bridge’. Saga’s problems with inter-personal relationships were brought up and she was labelled as ‘autistic’, even though (I think) that term is never actually used in the entire series. Then the discussion moved on to the main character in ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’. One of the men described her as both ‘autistic’ and a ‘weirdo’ in the same sentence.
Now, this is clearly a sensitive time for us, but it disgusted me that autism and ‘weirdo’ were so inextricably linked in this person’s mind. I may expect the playground taunt of a term like ‘weirdo’ to come from another eight-year-old, but not an intelligent adult.
This speaks of a fear of the ‘different’, the ‘unknown’. Well, we are trying to celebrate the different and the unknown – but without the negative connotations of a word like ‘weirdo’.
And to the men in the pub – think twice about what being autistic really means.