Why do many people perceive me as having learning difficulties?

I think to start this piece, I believe it is important for me to clarify that I have nothing against people who have learning difficulties, but it is not something I personally have. It would be like a straight person being mistaken as gay, it does not mean they have a problem with gay people. In many ways, because I experience the specific discrimination many people with learning difficulties face, I may have a better appreciation. This would be exactly like the straight person who is mistaken as gay experiencing homophobia.

My intelligence is my biggest asset and it has been my escape route from social dependency and simply existing, as opposed to thriving as I do.  This is why I can become sensitive when I feel my intelligence is being undermined. I know my physical appearance as someone with jerky movements, speech impairment, and someone who drools, leads many people to assume I have learning difficulties. I also know wearing a helmet, a choice I have made, also does not help the situation.

People assume having a learning difficulty means you do not understand things around you, you are unable to make complex decisions and basically you are stupid. The thing is people with learning difficulties are not stupid, they just process things differently. So even if I had learning difficulties, I would find their behavior inappropriate and offensive. When you understand that I am often far more intelligent than those who believe me to be stupid and slow, you can begin to see my frustration. If I could speak all the words in my head, without having to simplify them so others can understand my speech, I could shred patronising people into neat pieces before they knew what was happening.

I have discovered the only way to prove intelligence is dry comedy or personal insults. Everyone can learn positive phrases to repeat like parrots. If I start to list my many achievements, people can just assume it is all in my imagination as I can’t really evidence any of it. And saying I do not have learning difficulties simply sounds I am being over-sensitive as it is evident to them I have. But being able to make someone laugh by making a witty observation of something immediately happening, as opposed to a poorly delivered rehearsed joke, takes intelligence.

Personal insults, as oppose to simple swearing, based on someone’s characteristics, is harder than it looks and shows great intelligence. It is not a technique I generally use, but I have a friend who is non verbal and uses it often, especially when he is managing is personal assistants. It is more banter than anything else, and a way to show his personality.

It is hard not to make assumptions as everything we do is based on assumptions. We assume a door with a sign with a man on it is a male toilet. The trick is knowing what assumptions comes from the evidence we have, and what assumptions we have made that actually lack evidence or it is from false evidence. Do the general public need to know whether or not someone has learning difficulties if that individual can perform the activities they need to do, like travel on a bus? People can assume I have a speech impairment because it can be seen, but they can not conclude that means I have learning difficulties.

Having my intelligence being undermined has been a lifelong struggle, and one that is likely to continue for many more years, mainly because of my speech. I can just hope slowly and carefully, the public understand of the issue will increase.

– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

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