This morning my car wasn’t happy, so I took my son’s go-kart-in-car’s-clothing on the school run.
He’s not passed his test yet, so it has Learner Plates on it. And oh how they make a difference to how other drivers behave around you.
Most people give you a bit more space, just in case you need it. Then there was the red car who tailgated me for a mile before overtaking me (whilst I was going 60mph, the limit). And the grey car who sat on my bumper the rest of the way.
It’s not that interesting a story. But my driving style hasn’t changed a bit by getting in a different car.
People do behave noticeably differently when they think you’re not as good at something as they are. They forget to look at the evidence before them, they rely on assumptions.
Learner driver = will slow me down, get in my way, drive badly.
But I don’t hear anyone arguing to get rid of the label.
Why is that? Well, it has positives. And as this wonderful Post by MamaPineapple demonstrates, you’re going to get the labels anyway. Better one label that explains certain behaviours, than many useless negative labels.
Erratic and slow driving. How would that be labelled? Drunken. Selfish. Hogging the lane. Bad driver. Dangerous. To be avoided.
The vast majority of people react in one of three ways to any label, they may be overly nice and quietly assume superiority, or they might understand and try to think of ways that might make things easier, or they may be irritated by any perceived way that this labelled person could get in their way.
So what do labels give us? What is their point?
Well, for the Learner they make people more likely to be patient, to give them some space, to expect occasional stalling or slower manoeuvring. They give the Learner driver freedom from the negative assumptions that it is their personal failure that they cannot drive as well as other people.
It’s not a perfect analogy. Not by any means. The L-plate is there to be surpassed, a temporary state.
So what happens when the label is forever?
As with so many things in life, the problem is other people. The problem is lazy stereotyping and a lazy representation in the media leading to a lazy, stunted view of those of us who have a label.
The other day I cautiously mentioned my label to my evening-class tutor. She made no assumptions. She realised in hindsight that a particular event had been inaccessible to me. She offered to give more information about things like that in future. She just offered.
She didn’t assume I wasn’t the same person as before, she saw it for what it is, an explanation. Because she knows autism isn’t a value-judgement. It just is.
Labels are funny things. It’s easy to argue that we shouldn’t have them if you only look at the negatives, and it’s easy to argue the opposite if you only look at the positives.
All I know is that my label has changed me. My label has taught me how to work with myself. It’s taught me how to predict my patterns and given me increased quality of life.
When people respond positively to my label, when they see it as a shorthand way of passing over lots of complex information, then my whole world is made easier.
When they respond negatively, and I’m including saying things like, “We don’t need labels” in that, then they are making my life more difficult.
A truly accessible world would not label labels, ‘labels’.
The fact that I’m telling you is not for pity, or an intellectual exercise in why the world should be different, it’s for a purpose. How do we make the world better without asking for it to change? How do we ask for that change without using labels for specific needs? I’m happy to hear solutions.
I really don’t like labels. They scratch my neck and distract me. They provide too much sensory information inside an otherwise soft item of clothing. But they serve a purpose, if I cut them out then I need to be certain that I know exactly how to wash each and every different piece of clothing in my wardrobe. If I know that, I won’t need the label.
Will there still be tailgaters and overtakers and patronisers and people who bung all their washing in together on the same wash regardless? Yes, for now. But the world turns and we turn with it. Times are changing. We’re here to stay.