As any fule kno, different is always less. Me and my lot are simply the best way to be: if there were a better, we would be it! We look at those lesser types with sympathy.
Lemn Sissay was fostered by a white family until he was twelve, when they demanded that he be taken away and he was kept in a series of children’s homes. That white mother each morning would comb his hair, with “a strip of metal with barely visible slits”. “Mum dragged the comb through the roots until my skull felt like it had been dipped in acid and was pouring with blood.”
She just accepted this pain. “You have hair sore,” she would say. I don’t know why she didn’t use the kind of plastic comb I used to use, but possibly the tines broke.
Mum was a midwife, and one day she took Lemn, whom she called “Norman”, to see Errol Brown, the lead singer of Hot Chocolate. He had been visiting the hospital, they got chatting and she told of her Black foster-son, and Errol Brown promised her Lemn’s first Afro comb. “I stared at the strange and elegant genius of design and style: an Afro comb. ‘Your very first Afro comb,’ said Errol Brown.”
A comb that would not hurt him. Who would have thought it? If the comb hurt him, the problem was obviously him- his hair, so unlike that of normal people’s, the best kind of people’s, which would cause no kind of difficulty with a normal people’s comb.
It took a Black man to give Lemn Sissay the comb he, as a Black boy with Ethiopian hair, needed.
Francesca Happé studies autism. She notes that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association would not recognise PTSD, necessarily, in autistic people, because it requires the trauma to be life-threatening. She gives the example of a man who takes the bus to work every day. One day the bus goes on a detour, and he has no idea where he is, and no way of getting to work. After that he has PTSD: he may be triggered if he passes the bus stop he always used, or even by the colour of the bus.
This is a man who goes to work even though being late is a threat to him, and it actually happening traumatises him. I hope if I were in that situation I would tell my boss and they would tolerate it- it is apparently not my fault, don’t let it happen again. I would be irritated but not traumatised. We expect this man to live in a neurotypical society though it stresses him this badly.
One autistic friend suggests that autistic people don’t have jobs, often, because they try working and it does not work out for them, so they won’t do it again. If work can traumatise you, I am not surprised they won’t do it again.
It is hard work to see the value of difference, or the problems of difference. You comb hair with a comb. It is so obvious, no other solution is imaginable. When the child is hurt, the problem is with him.