04 October, 2011

2. Unevenness and inexplicability


One of the reasons I don't write primarily about my disability (if you were wondering), and also a reason I am balls at self-advocacy, is because I'm a person with--DUN DUN DUN!--uneven skills.

I actually don't believe in uneven skills! It's a social construct and this is obvious in the fact that--while people sometimes make practical blunders like assuming someone with a physical disability has a mental disability, or talking to someone who is blind the way you might talk to someone who is hard of hearing--most people would admit if they were asked that there is no logical reason someone who is blind must also be deaf, or someone who is physically disabled must also be mentally disabled. And no one feels the need to say someone has "uneven skills" because they can hear but not see.

But within categories of disability, especially the mental disability category, there's this expectation of evenness. If someone's abilities aren't exactly at the same "level," whatever that means, they're possibly an amazing curiosity, but probs lying.

A person can write but not talk? A person scores high on IQ tests but can't do well in school? A person does well in school but can't figure out how to go grocery shopping or make a meal? A person can cook but not clean? A person can make some kinds of phone calls but not others?

No way guys, all these people are just liars! Check it out, this person claims she can't talk, but I found a video of her SINGING! Oh hey, you said you can't make phone calls, but I know that you made a phone call one time. Caught in the act!

As a person who can't make certain kinds of phone calls, like phone calls to follow up on jobs for example, I would never be stupid enough to tell anyone this. When someone tries to give me advice on finding a job and the advice includes phone calls, I just stop listening to what they're saying and start smiling really big to show them that they're helping me LOTS.

"Why can't you make those phone calls?"

"I don't know."

"How can you not know?"

"I don't know? I just don't? I guess probably you could locate it in something about phone calls feeling insincere, and worrying about bothering people, and not knowing what I would say in the phone call, all of which are kind of horrible things, multiplied by like a hundred because I applied for a hundred jobs so there isn't even an end in sight."

"Oh so you could make one phone call."

"I mean, theoretically, probably? I'd sort of deal with it all day. I'd write myself a letter about it. Maybe someone could sit with me. But it isn't one phone call, it's a hundred phone calls."

"Why can't you make a hundred phone calls if you can make one?"

"Because it would take a hundred days."

"So you can make phone calls!"

"You're totally right, if I took a hundred days and used them to only make phone calls and felt calm about everything else. I could probably do it in less than a hundred days if I had my own personal phone call aide to support me in all the phone call problems and keep me from running away from the phone. Maybe I could even do it in a few days, with a phone call aide. You win. Great job. Are you going to hire one?"

"No, that's stupid."

"I know, so why did we have this conversation?"

No one knows!

One time my dad tried to have a conversation with me because I said something about it taking me a lot longer to do certain things than it took other people. He kept asking me why. I was like, "I don't know, but towards the end of college I started having to pull one or two all-nighters every week, because I could only get work done if I had that much time to do it in." My dad kept asking me why I didn't do things like "sleep for a few hours, and then wake up and work." I was like, "I don't know, because I know that wouldn't make any sense for the problems the all-nighters were supposed to correct?"

We had started having this conversation because I didn't think I could write letters that night if I also wanted to go to bed at a normal time. My dad said, "What about you bring your letters downstairs and I sit with you and make sure you write them right now?" This sounds nice, but I already knew what kind of conversation it was! For some reason I agreed anyway just to see what happened.

When I went upstairs, I said, "If I don't come downstairs in ten minutes, will you remind me to come downstairs?"

My dad was basically like, haha! Caught in the act!

Because--you saw this coming if you have "uneven skills"--the fact that I asked my dad to remind me to come downstairs showed that I actually was just lazy and didn't want to take responsibility for my own actions. Asking for this was the final straw that pushed him over into thinking that the whole problem I was describing (which he'd obviously made it clear he had his doubts about) was too ridiculous to be true.

I don't know if it seems weird that my dad wouldn't believe I was telling the truth, since I have been diagnosed with some disability or other since I was a little kid. In my family, whether I'm disabled is not a controversy. But when I try to tell my parents a fact about my disability, it is always assumed to be not true.

Uneven skills can also be called inexplicable impairments and they are basically anything someone thinks is ridiculous or impossible. I guess you might be wondering why I am just writing about myself, when I am supposed to be writing about Internet arguments. The reason is that, first of all, random Internet judgments of someone's ability tend to be made out of the same mindset that assumes someone is lying because their disability seems too "uneven" or unlikely.

Someone with a developmental disability is typing? Someone with a developmental disability is writing a blog? I saw on their Facebook that they're in college! My bullshit detector is going off--this combination of facts is simply too ridiculous to be true.

So first of all these judgments often come from the fact that most people have a poor understanding of uneven abilities (especially when those abilities are stated by a disabled person and not a parent or best of all a professional). But second of all, it's because so many disabled people are really used to having people (at best) smirkingly accept our stated impairments, if not outright challenge them, that it is so upsetting and frustrating to have some random person on the Internet imply we are not disabled because we have a blog. At least my parents tell me to my face that they think I'm trying to get away with something.


  1. Oh wow, thank you so much for this. I feel like "if you can do x, why can't you do y?" is the bane of my life, truly. I feel like making a card that says, "Yes, I am a PhD student. Yes, I do very well academically. But that doesn't mean that I can cook a meal without a microwave, or do my laundry on any sort of reasonable schedule, or handle a bunch of other housework/personal business-type things easily. Get over it."

    And I hate the skepticism about being "really" disabled/autistic. You're right; it is an act of aggression.

  2. Thank you for this post, I have really uneven skills as we can call it, because this "obviously" have no logic or good explanation so I learned to doubt myself and what I can and can't do, my parents believe that if I really want I can do anything, most times they try to motivate me and that depresses me, because I can't do what is so easy for others, but sometimes I can do more complex things, and I'm really intelligent (I hate when people say I'm intelligent, because intelligent people can do things I can't).

    I feel like a fake, sometimes I lose a skill that most people think is so easy that it can even be considered a skill, actually people are not suppose to lose skills, so why does that happens to me? The reasons I have learned very well is because I'm lazy and spoiled (but if I'm lucky is because I'm suffering from depression and have no motivation).
    I hate the notion that skills are some kind of immutable thing or that they can only improve, any explanation I give is ridiculous because of that.