When you realize that it’s wrong…

A reader asked:

I’m asking you because you are a good person. My brother has dyslexia and all his life he was bullied to think he was worthless, a mistake of our mother. I admit I have my parcel of blame in this, but I too was raised to think of him of a lesser being by our grandmother. These days he’s being bullied by his teachers, expecting him to get higher grades, again, like mine. He asked me the other day what he would do with his life, because he really thinks he is unskilled and is  a big waste of time and space. He asked me what he is good with, because from his eyes, he can’t do anything right.

I honestly don’t know what to say to him and I know this is pretty much because I was born resembling my grandmother with my father’s memory while he resembles mother in almost everything, whom grandmother hated until she died.

I don’t know what to do, please help us.

I don’t know your brother and I don’t know what he’s good at, so I can’t address that directly, but, here’s what I can suggest:

Talk to him about the abuse

  • Tell him that what you and your grandmother did to him was wrong
  • Tell him that what his teachers are doing is wrong and disgusting
  • Tell him that he shouldn’t be treated like that and that it isn’t his fault
  • It’s not because of his grades, or anything about him. It’s because of prejudice and hate
Be honest about your part in it, and do what you can to treat him right from now on
  • Tell him that you’re sorry for your part in it, but don’t make it about you trying to feel better or get him to reassure you
  • Be specific about things you’ve done to him that you think were wrong
  • Don’t do those things
  • When he points out that you’re still doing those things, apologize and stop
  • Don’t expect him to trust you just because you’ve realized it was wrong – you have to stop doing it, over a long period of time, before it’s likely that you will seem safe
  • Listen if he wants to talk, but don’t push the issue
And here are some things I’d say to him directly, if I was talking to him rather than you:

It’s ok not to know what you want to do or are good at:

  • Doing stuff is awesome, and life gets better when you find good stuff to do
  • Everyone has worthwhile things they can do
  • It takes time and work and exploration to figure out what they are and get good at them
  • School isn’t conducive to this kind of growth for everyone
  • School is actively harmful to some people.
  • Having school and an unsupportive family undermine your ability to find things to do is really, really common for people with learning disabilities
  • It isn’t your fault that this happened to you, and struggling in that environment doesn’t suggest anything bad about you
  • You don’t have to be a super accomplished superhero to have worth as a person. Don’t hold yourself to that standard.

Spending more time on things you like helps:

  • People who struggle with school are often taught that anything they like is a waste of time, and that they should stop doing it and spend more time banging their head against impossible or barely-possible assignments
  • That’s really bad advice; you can’t develop your interests and abilities by renouncing everything you like
  • Finding stuff you like and are good at is more important than faking normal at school.
  • If you like video games, play them
  • If you like TV shows, watch them
  • If you like cooking, cook things
  • If you like talking to people online, find people to talk to
  • Etc etc. These are just some examples of things some people like, not necessarily things you do or should like. Do things that *you* like.
  • Doing things you like is important. Even if they’re activities other people don’t value very much. You have to explore to find out what you like and can do well. And you need space to do that in. So, take some space.

Acknowledging limitations creates abilities

  • People with disabilities are often taught that if we don’t acknowledge limitations, we won’t have any
  • And then we are forced to spend lots and lots of time and effort pretending that this is true
  • We spend so much time pretending that we can do things and forcing ourselves to do things that are barely possible, that we don’t have much available for anything else
  • If we acknowledge limitations and stop doing that, then all that time and energy becomes available for doing other things
  • And then we can actually start doing things well and succeed at things
  • Acknowledging and understanding disability is one of the most important life skills anyone with a disability can develop.

Connect with other people with similar issues:

  • Special ed teachers and other alleged experts often don’t know what they’re talking about
  • They will often advise you to do actively harmful things
  • Peer support from other people with related disabilities helps, because they often know what they’re talking about and have strategies for dealing with it.
  • In any case, judge for yourself and do what you think will help you. No one else gets to tell you what your coping strategies have to be.

For further reading

keelypizzapilgrim asked

Do you have any suggestions for books about social skills?

I don’t know of so many good books on social skills.

The one I’d recommend first and foremost is Power Tools by Dave Hingsberger. The most important social skill anyone can have is to be aware of one’s own power and mindful of not misusing it. This book is the best introduction I’ve ever seen to developing the habits of mind that lead to acknowledging and using power without abuse. Everyone should read it.

For that matter, his blog is also a really good resource for learning this, and also for learning social skills related to accessibility.

Ballastexistenz is also a good blog to read for learning about abuses of power that are not often understood or acknowledged, and some ways of dealing with life in a world in which they are common.

I think this is a good article, too: Five Geek Social Fallacies

And I’ve heard good things about this college book by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, but I have not read it: https://www.navigatingcollege.org

I’m not sure what else to suggest, but I bet a lot of people who follow this blog know of things. Suggestions, anyone?

Response to an ask about money talk

A reader asked:

Why is asking about money rude?

I get why asking someone randomly is rude, but why is it rude if it’s got to do with the conversation? On a tv show someone wanted to buy something really expensive and someone else asked how they could afford it, and another person said it was rude.

I don’t get why it’s so personal. Other times it’s acceptable to talk about how someone made their money, but only really if they’re rich.

I get that some people feel ashamed that they don’t make as much money as some people, but why wasn’t it acceptable in the first situation?

It’s hard to say without knowing the full context. I’m going to arbitrarily use an iPad as an example. Here’s some reasons it could be rude to ask someone how they could afford an iPad:

It could be (or be seen as) an indirect way of asking how much money someone makes. The perceived question could be “I didn’t think you had that kind of income! So how much *do* you make, anyway?”

It could be seen as a judgement about someone’s priorities. Eg, the implied question could be (or perceived as) “why are you going around buying *that* when your house is a dump and you keep complaining about how you can’t afford to get the roof fixed?”

It could be seen as contempt for the particular category of purchase. Eg, implied question “Why would you spend all that money on a stupid expensive toy?”

It can be (or be perceived as) a class dynamic. Eg “Who do you think you are buying an iPad? That’s for rich people. Do you think you’re a rich person who deserves that kind of thing?!”

It could also just be (or perceived as) someone trying to assert that they have the right to demand that you justify your spending decisions to them. The less money people have, the more they tend to be treated as owing people an explanation, and it’s draining. Even if you don’t mean that, it’s likely to be perceived that way.