“Can do A” “Can’t do B” – the stereotypical views of autism

After the look at the stereotypical support worker in “Wot a kerfuffle“, we now turn our attention to the other side of the Little Britain coin. How does the apparently fraudulent character of Andy Pipkin represent the confusion in our lives as autistics today?

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“Want that one!” “Yeah I know” “Stop paraphrasing me!” You can tell I watched my Little Britain DVDs a lot back when it was being made regularly and yours truly was getting through jobs like underwear.

Andy Pipkin. The apparent fraudster being pushed along in his wheelchair by put-upon carer Lou Todd, demanding what he will obviously not want when given it (“Want that one!” “Don’t like it!”), groping women in the street and getting out of his wheelchair and up to antics ranging from parachuting to climbing pylons and getting frazzled when Lou’s back was turned.

But without trying to attribute anything to Matt Lucas and David Walliams, who have continually insisted the character is just for laughs, let’s have some fun with character analysis (you can tell I studied drama). Just how needy IS Andy? Is he a total fraud? If anything he smacks of the sort of thing comedy, which works best when it’s anti-establishment, could get away with under the New Labour government when people with disabilities were treated much better than under what we’ve had up to now (April 2017) and readers of the Daily Mail (excuse the stereotype) who took the view that the majority of benefit claimants were spongers would have found expression for this idea in the character of Andy.

But let’s take another look at character motivation. Why would anyone fake a disability? Is the motivation necessarily ulterior? In today’s system, you have to exaggerate a bit in order to prove to the powers that be just how needy you are.

For example, the whole view that if you can do A, then you can do B and C as well. This has reached an extreme form in the idea that if you can lift both hands above your head then you are fit for work and other such drivel. Can you cook? You have to say “No” rather than “Well I can manage one or two simple dishes but the heavy multitasking element, as well as that involved in buying loads of ingredients makes it harder still – and no, a class in cookery won’t suddenly mean I don’t need benefit” (see here for more along those lines). To the vultures in power, a teeny bit of ability is like a teeny bit of yeast to a Jew at Passover – if it’s there, it invalidates everything.

So what are you left with? You can either claim to be able to do more than you can, which won’t help anyone, least of all yourself, or you can claim to be able to do less in which case, if your mindset is as literal as the average Aspie type (and I include myself to an extent) you’d better not let the DWP vultures see you taking a stroll in the woods (“You don’t look disabled to me”) or even buying a train ticket to London (“How can you afford that on benefits?”).

And even beyond the government, friends and family have their assumptions too along the lines of “If you can write a song that moves me to tears then you can do a soup.” Either that or they will insist you need occupational therapy when noting your zip has ridden down and yet when it comes to executive function and keeping one’s home in an orderly state, they’ll tell you it’s nothing to do with ability or even gender (where others would say “This place needs a woman’s touch”) and that you just need to forego some luxuries and pay for a cleaner. Either that or they’ll tell you you can’t manage your money in one breath and in the next will assert that you really ought to do something about your weight problem. So from “Can’t budget” to “Can diet fanatically” in one breath. Dogmatisation. It ain’t helpful at all.

Even in childhood I had some of this. “A clever chap like you not knowing that?” on the one hand while on the other begging my mother not to mention co-ordination problems on a form for a youth weekend away because I didn’t want to be prohibited from taking part in anything (mercifully I wasn’t).

But I have my own modus operandi for this. My motto is simple.

NEVER LET ANYONE TELL YOU WHAT YOU CAN OR CAN’T DO.

You would have needed someone to tell you when you were a kid. But now you can stand up for yourself inasmuch as you feel able. “Yes I can do A. No I can’t do B.” “Yes I think I could learn C with help. No I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do D – it’s just part of my disability.”

Never let anyone create a system that says “You can do X and therefore you can do Y” or “Well you struggle with A so why bother trying to learn B?”.

YOU know. You don’t need anyone to tell you.

Or as one folksinger put it “You may criticize me/Try to analyze me/Put me in your little pigeon hole/I’ll still hold the key to the place where I am free/A world that only I control”.

If the world adopted this motto, the Andy syndrome of apparent fraudulence would be a lot harder to find. Mr Pipkin himself would probably step out of the wheelchair and still show some signs of retardation (or whatever the politically correct term is) but at least not have to fake paralysis in order for his genuine needs to be taken seriously.

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