Archive for January, 2008

As I see it, it is a rare phenomenon when a government creates its legacy early in its tenure in power, it must therefore be quite unique when a government creates its legacy to history with its first act in parliament or legislature.

The Australian Labor government has announced that it will issue an official apology to the stolen generation, on the first sitting of the new parliament, for previous wrongs done by the government to Aboriginals. Many government policies have impacted negatively on the indigenous populations, and such an acknowledgment of the dire consequences of those policies by the newly elected contemporary government will probably be seen as a great step forward in social justice and may lend this government an image of a righter of past wrongs… or will it?

The apology and acknowledgment of past wrongs imposed on Aboriginals is an act that is many many years overdue. Long did we watch the previous prime minister, John Howard, play semantic games expressing regret, doing all he could to avoid one word – Sorry. On other issues, the previous government was at once either blind to what was obvious (climate change), willfully confrontational (boat people), clearly discriminatory (gay rights), officious and callous (the Rau and Solon episodes), the list goes on.

The foreshadowed action by the new government will probably be seen as a great step forward in social justice, but it may also be seen as an act toward simply catching up to where our understanding of what kind of social justice and level of human rights ought to be accepted in Australia. Have we, after eleven years of very conservative rule, become so bankrupt in recognising and living social justice that the act of doing something so overdue as the apology to the stolen generation is seen as a wonder, and as the one social justice thing this government can live on for the rest of its tenure. In other words, if this government is true to its defense of social justice and human rights; the apology, while being a great step in social justice, it must not be its only step.

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What follows is a talk I gave on January 20, 2005 at a disability and rehabilitation conference. While parts of what I spoke of are not new concepts, it is in how I presented them, and made several links that caught the interest of some of those present… Sadly, what I say in this talk is understatement.

I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when I was 39 years old.

Even though I was diagnosed with a condition that I had lived with all my life, and the effects of my difference had been noticed and acted upon, I can stand here and say with total confidence – I have never suffered from Asperger syndrome.

I have never suffered directly from its effects on my behaviour, I have never once experienced pain nor spontaneously bled at the moment when saying anything or doing anything inappropriately. I have not needed hospitalisation at the moment of reacting in a way that I thought was appropriate for the situation.

I have never suffered from Asperger syndrome, because Asperger syndrome itself does not cause suffering… I suffer grievously, and have suffered for more than 35 years, from OPD.

OPD is an insidious thing to experience,

it affects everything we do,

it effects what we think of everything we do,

it robs many of us of ambition,

and it inevitably affects how we think of ourselves.

OPD causes great suffering, often including physical pain and injury. It causes rejection, isolation, depression, sometimes even suicide.

OPD can lead the most brilliant people to doubt their abilities, qualities, even their basic worth as people.

OPD can cause systems to work against sufferers.

Systems like education systems – where the sufferers are penalised for being themselves.

Welfare systems – where the suffering is downplayed,

family systems – where the sufferers find more pain where they ought find solace.

OPD can affect families; it can cause rejection by siblings and parents.

The only known cure for OPD is education…

So what is this scourge?

What is this thing that some must endure a ceaseless battle against?

What is this thing called OPD???

OPD is – Other People’s Discomfort.

We (aspies) may not feel the discomfort, but we certainly suffer its consequences…

Let me put it like this:

Being uncomfortable about other people for one reason or another may be seen as part of the human experience; but when that discomfort leads that person to purposefully act against the person he or she fees uncomfortable about then we enter a different realm.

A definition of the word ‘disorder’ is – a condition in which there is a disturbance of normal functioning. If a person changes their usual pattern of life to purposefully act against a person as a result of his or her discomfort over them, then this person is experiencing a disturbance of normal functioning, of normal social functioning.

When the level of discomfort felt reaches the point of acting against another in response to that discomfort, then I argue that the discomfort becomes a disorder… But I think all that goes without saying – we know that, but we don’t break it down in such a way. We do not call OPDD (Other People’s Discomfort Disorder) by that name, we take groups of people with a particular difference that make others uncomfortable, and sectionalise OPDD, hiding its common basis. Hatred may be seen as an emotional manifestation of OPDD.

We call the discomfort over people of different races or skin colours RACISM

We call the discomfort over people from different countries XENOPHOBIA

We call the discomfort over people who are (or may be) homosexual HOMOPHOBIA


We seem to call the discomfort over people with a disability NORMAL

Each a different weed, but all from the same seed (discomfort of difference).

Can you see the link? Can you see how discomfort over someone else’s difference is the basis for so much unnecessary pain?

ONLY through education, only through learning about the qualities different people have irrespective of what colour their skin is, or where they came from, who they love, or how their brain works, or anything can we hope to eradicate OPDD…

OPD occurs only as a result of encountering a person with OPDD…

If being uncomfortable about other people for one reason or another is part of the human experience, then we are all subject to OPDD…


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