I went to a meeting about autism the other day, its aim basically to improve services for people with autism. It was a frustrating and demoralizing experience, sitting with well-meaning people who wanted to bring live-wires to such meetings but who then made the electricity that sparkled along those selfsame wires fizzle out as it seemed, almost immediately, that no progress would be made and almost inevitable that the well-meaning idealism would fall straight into the same deathtrap of guidelines, PR about "great strides forward" and ticks of boxes which in and of themselves sounded laudable but had (and this is the truly terrifying part) and have absolutely no relation to the reality on the ground.
At Winterbourne View care home, patients who had similar and/or more severe versions of my own learning disability were (according to Rebecca Cafe, BBC Bristol) slapped and restrained under chairs, held down and forcibly medicated, and in one case had mouthwash poured into their eyes.
In Parliament, Tom Clarke, MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, recently said:
"We cannot undo the pain, the suffering and humiliating experience endured by people with learning disabilities, and we most certainly cannot leave it to the bureaucratic monolithic machine to ensure that such abuses never happen again".
The problem, Tom, is that you're probably going to leave it to the monolith anyway and as a result such abuse will indeed happen again.
To take a historical example and to quote from Francis Wheen's aptly-titled tome How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World:
"...an official inquiry into the semi-privatised British prison service, commissioned after two murderers and an arsonist escaped from Parkhurst jail in 1995 [said]: 'Any organisation which boasts one Statement of Purpose, one Vision, five Values, six Goals, seven Strategic priorities and eight Key Performance Indicators without any clear correlation between them is producing a recipe for total confusion and exasperation' ".
Mumbo-jumbo has indeed conquered the world to the point that too many of us do not realize that carefully-worded arguments, bullet-pointed recommendations and guidelines pushed out ever so precisely by far too many pens mean absolutely nothing in practice. David Dimbleby recently defined BBC management's jargon as "bonkers and gobbledygook" so I'm pyrrhically pleased to say that at the end of a report I myself wrote four years ago, I called a spade a spade and said:
"In the end, bad people in your offices are doing bad things to other people."
Before I handed the report to the authorities, I took it to a friend in order to get his opinion. He considered that sentence too simplistic and suggested I modify it. I politely refused. I felt there was no sense in soft-pedaling on or softening my stance regarding the ugly treatment myself and others had endured.
A year or two later, the abuse at Winterbourne View was exposed. I met my friend for dinner not long after and said to him:
"You remember I refused to modify that sentence? Now you know why".
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives and works in Glasgow.
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