Theresa May Equality Minister

Aspergers & Poverty – Silencing the unheard voice.

OK, So this is another UK-centric post today, for which I apologise.

The UK is a very diverse place full of mixed cultures and religions. During the past forty years or so various governments have passed different legislation against various forms of discrimination with varying degrees of success. On the whole we have made progress as a country. However, I think it is fair to say that we have a very long way to go yet. In parts of the country racism is still commonplace, women on the whole still earn less than men, homosexuality is sometimes viewed with intolerance,  a large disparity still exists between your socio-economic background and education and disability hate crimes still occur.

The previous Labour government passed a bill called the Equality Act 2010, which in essence took all these separate pieces of legislation and bundled them all into one package. As usual there were some improvements; arguably the odd backward step and it probably didn’t go as far as it could. This act – or at least most of it came into force on the 1st of October 2010, after the Labour government had been replaced with the Conservative / Liberal coalition.

One of the more interesting and progressive things covered in the Equality Act 2010 concerned a socio-economic duty. In effect this duty would force public bodies, such as local government to assess the impact of decisions they make on people from poorer backgrounds. Changes made to things like healthcare or education would have to be scrutinized and an impact assessment performed and considered before any final approval.

Theresa May - Equalities Minister

This socio economic duty didn’t come into force with the rest of the Equality Act. It was originally planned to come into force in 2011 to give the public bodies the chance to get policies and procedures in place to make this process as smooth as possible. However, recently, the new Conservative Equalities Minister – Theresa May has dismissed this specific duty as social engineering and political correctness gone mad and she has scrapped this duty.

So you may ask, why am I writing about this on a blog about Aspergers Syndrome?

Actually there is a link. A UK a survey undertaken by the National Autistic Society in 2008 showed that approximately 88% of people with Aspergers Syndrome and High Functioning Autism are unemployed. I am not going to go into the reasons for that now as I have covered them elsewhere. Aspergers Syndrome and Autism are very much hidden disabilities, and as such are currently poorly covered by disability legislation in the UK. This places people with Aspergers and Autism not only among the poorest members of our society, but also the least outspoken. When safety measures like the socio-economic duty are disregarded as unnecessary what does that say about the concern for vulnerable members of our society? And perhaps more importantly, who is left to ensure that these members of society aren’t completely overlooked entirely?

In the Video below – Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone who is Junior Equalities Minister completely fails to give any concrete plans to replace the socio-economic duty with anything superior or even anything at all that would give poorer people some hope of active equalities legislation.

To me equality means providing people with the same opportunities, and if a section of society cannot or will not speak up for itself due to its very nature, it does fall upon the governments shoulders to ensure that those unspoken voices are heard. Unfortunately, nobody seems interested in speaking for them.


Social Interation

Aspergers Syndrome & Relationships

There are a lot of common misconceptions about Aspergers Syndrome and a lot of them are taken as fact, often even by professionally qualified people who work in mental health.

Perhaps one of the most damaging and misunderstood aspects of Aspergers Syndrome is the way in which we form relationships. I have heard it said from many sources that people with Aspergers Syndrome tend not to form relationships because they don’t need them. This assumption honestly couldn’t be further from the truth.

Social InterationSocial interaction is difficult (often in the extreme) for someone with Aspergers for numerous reasons. We tend to struggle with non verbal behaviour – struggle with eye contact, facial expressions and body posture. People in general can find this a little disconcerting and we can inadvertently come across as perhaps rude or stand-offish. Some of us miss verbal concepts like irony or satire, so may not understand a joke right away. We may take things a little too literally and may not understand exaggeration or white lies. Concepts like small talk are difficult and we can have trouble understanding when it is our turn to speak. Not all these symptoms apply to everyone with Aspergers, but at least some of these symptoms will. It is essential to understand that this is a neurological problem and has nothing to do with things like upbringing or environment. It is the way our brain is physically wired and simply can’t be helped

When you have symptoms which have such a profound affect on social interaction, it is all too easy to become isolated. When isolation is the norm and social situations feel awkward and uncomfortable, even alien (especially from an early age), it is hardly surprising that many people with Aspergers don’t actively seek out people to try to befriend. When social mistakes are made, people can be exceptionally cruel, even if it is entirely unintentional. Occasionally a well meaning person may try to “bring someone out of themselves”, which unfortunately is often just another way of emphasising social disability. People don’t necessarily seem comfortable with the quiet guy in the corner or the socially awkward girl who perhaps doesn’t know how to take a compliment easily. Situations like these are exactly the kind that make people with Aspergers uncomfortable. As such it can easily become natural for us to view new people with a certain amount of suspicion and uncertainty. It is common to feel anxious and extremely uneasy around people who are unknown or who insist on making us the focus of a lot of attention.

People with Aspergers Syndrome are usually all too aware of their social deficiencies and it can become incredibly frustrating and upsetting that they are simply unable to interact socially in a normal way.

LonelinessThe journey from loneliness to feeling unwanted is a small one, and it often results in a certain amount of resentment too. It is a very sad thing, and one that many people with Aspergers Syndrome will experience at some point in their lives. Everyone needs companionship, whether they realise it or not. Most Aspies recognise that fact, but the sad thing is that it often feels out of reach.

Perhaps irony does play a very strong role for most people with Aspergers, given the other traits that we tend to exhibit: A strong sense of loyalty to those we trust, a natural sense of justice and a natural tendency to prefer honesty. We usually attempt to compensate for our social issues in many ways, not the least of which is listening intently to what people are saying. We are ususally of average or above average intelligence. We are often capable of seeing the world in different ways and can often come up with alternative solutions to problems. In short we have many of the traits that most people would want in a friend.

Establishing a relationship with a potential partner can be a complicated and often troublesome issue for the most socially aware people, but when you add Aspergers into the mix, well things become a lot more complex. The art of flirting is completely lost on many of us, which is perhaps the most basic of steps on the road to dating. I would go as far as to say that dating is an uncomfortable experience for most Aspies and one that many would happily do without if there was an alternative. During his or her teens a typical Aspie is likely to experience a whole catalogue of social mishaps, sexual mistakes and dating fiasco’s and often, as in the pursuit of friendship, it could be that eventually a reluctance to be that open with people emerges.

When we form relationships we generally need time to understand who it is we are forming this relationship with. Trust and confidence needs to built, before natural anxiety disperses. Initiating emotional contact is a potentially dangerous or damaging prospect for most people, but with Aspergers it can go even further than that because isolation is second nature.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about Aspergers is that we do feel emotion and we feel it in a much more intense way than most people because we often lack those inbuilt filters and social crutches that allow us to deal with intense emotion. Whether it is loneliness, sadness, happiness or love, we experience it and it is often overwhelming, which simply means that it can be difficult to show.

I consider myself quite lucky really. I have Aspergers Syndrome, but thankfully my social symptoms are mild. I’m not exactly the life and sole of the party, but I am able to interact better than some, which is something that improves with age as well.  For me the social journey was one fraught with disastrous relationships, brief fleeting friendships, meaningless sexual encounters, alcohol as a social crutch and a not insignificant dose of depression. I say social journey because it was a journey and one that is still ongoing. I am in a relationship, I am engaged to be married and I am happy and I rarely drink alcohol, I have even given up smoking which was another crutch. I still struggle with anxiety in social situations and I struggle to maintain long term friendships, but I am learning and improving all the time.

If you are reading this and you know someone with Aspergers and you want to be their friend or you want to date them or start a relationship, then go for it, just be aware that you need to give them time to learn about you and to give you their trust. The symptoms are complex and may even be awkward at first, but that is all they are – symptoms and a symptom doesn’t tell you anything about the unique person behind the condition any more than a sneeze tells you who is behind a cold.

Fiona Barnes

I visit and read a great many websites related to Aspergers Syndrome in order to keep up with the latest news and research as well as the latest opinions debates and discussions. I think a website that I have been visiting lately deserves a special mention.

Fiona Barnes is run by Fiona Barnes who is a 25 year old lady from New Zealand who was diagnosed with Aspergers during her teens. Fiona has taken on a mission to help spread awareness of Aspergers and to provide support not only for people who have Aspergers Syndrome, but also their families and friends. Thanks to her own experiences Fiona seems to have a unique and helpful insight into these issues and this kind of support is often something which is overlooked on many Aspergers related websites.

Fiona is obviously incredibly passionate about her cause and devotes an incredible amount of time and effort into her work. Her passion for this subject becomes very evident in her video blog:, although still in its infancy,  also contains a written blog and an active support forum where many individuals who have Aspergers or are affected by the condition regularly post.

Many websites that deal with the subject of Aspergers Syndrome often come across as a little sterile and clinical, but largely thanks to Fiona passion and talent, aspergersgirl is a friendly and vibrant site. If Aspergers Syndrome affects you or someone you know, I recommend you pay a visit to for support, to lend a hand and to join a friendly community.

Here are the links:

Aspergers Girl Blog

Aspergers Girl Video Blog

Aspie Paradise Support Forum

You can also follow Fiona on twitter: