I’ve been in bed for a few days, have got up to have a ramble.
Imfunnytoo wrote this blog last week on the subject of brain damage. She’s written several thought-provoking blogs lately, so do go over and have a read. However this particular blog started off with a family member suggesting that because Imfunnytoo isn’t so hot at maths, she must have had that part of her brain damaged as well as the cerebellum damage associated with Cerebral Palsy.
Now we know that Imfunnytoo probably has no issue with the areas of her parietal lobes associated with mathematical ability, only it just so happens that she’s not so talented at maths as other family members are. This could be to do with brain architecture – she just didn’t inherit the maths-whizz gene - or it could simply be because she wasn’t particularly interested in maths and developed her talents elsewhere. Clearly the lady has significant talents elsewhere.
This raises several issues. Imfunnytoo’s own blog focuses on whether she might be insulted to be considered “brain damaged” and I’ll leave that to her.
Another issue is the fact that non-disabled people all too often associate all our personal strengths and weaknesses with our impairment, one way or another. Usually our strengths are described as being despite our impairments, and our weaknesses - physical, cognitive and emotional - are thrown in with the package. Both are subject to exaggeration; Imfunnytoo couldn’t just be not as good as maths as other family members she had to have a cognitive impairment consistent with (more extensive) brain damage. And we’re all used to hearing how very very brave, bubbly and bright we are despite it all.
But yet another issue is this really troublesome issue of relativity. Surrounded by people who are extraordinarily good at something, the any of us could be at a disadvantage. I really do feel that when we talk about impairment and particularly those with the most stigmatised of impairments; learning difficulties, conditions like Autism and even mental ill health, there is an awful lot of mileage in considering the great diversity that exists among non-disabled people and seeing impairment as a natural part of this diversity.
The thing that baffles me is why it should be so very difficult to do this, without actually concluding that impairment doesn’t actually exist. Of course we can never know what it is really like in another person's shoes, but we can use our own experiences, imagination and powers of empathy. There are physical and biochemical differences in all our brains. We all have intellectual and emotional strengths and weaknesses. We all have to grapple with the juxtaposition of words, spoken or written and their syntax, context and meaning etc. If we think about these experiences, we can surely see the potential for having a great deal more difficulty and at least begin to guess what that must be like and how we might make life easier for one another.
Non-disabled people are particularly keen on dismissing those less tangible conditions altogether; children with ADHD are merely badly disciplined, dyslexia is an excuse of being a bit thick, people with depression just feel sorry for themselves. I don’t see it, I don’t understand it so it doesn’t really exist.
And yet, without pretending that “we’re all a little bit disabled”, impairment is an intrinsic part of the human condition and our experiences of limitation are only the extreme ends of the spectrum of limitation that we are all part of. Many people, for example, have a serious lack of imagination.