Love Has No Disability

a modern painting of a sleeping girl

The freedom to love wasn’t a dilemma in my life until I met Raajveer (name changed) again. I never even thought about it, because why should I be bothered if some people are marching on the streets, celebrating love and posting about the freedom to love on social media? It wasn’t really making any difference to my life anyway.

I met Raajveer at my workplace when he was nine years old and I left it when he was 12 years old. I was his counsellor. Today, at 17+ Raajveer is a 6 feet tall, well-groomed individual. I was pleasantly surprised to see him again. Raajveer’s mannerism is slightly different from that of other young adults of his age. He will widen his pupils while talking, sit with his legs crossed and point his index finger every time he is talking about something important. He has a soft voice. He will repeat the same thing again and again. Sometimes, he starts daydreaming and giggles. Raajveer has Asperger’s Syndrome.

His mother wanted me to help him understand the etiquette for talking to women as he would sometimes still behave in a childish manner that is inappropriate for his age. His teacher said that his way of talking is sexual in nature and he is probably acting out his inner feelings and desires with his female teachers and other non-teaching female staff. “No! No! He has never crossed any boundaries. He has never been into anyone’s personal space but the way he speaks with his eyes wide open is perceived as inappropriate by the others”, said Raajveer’s mother Natasha (name changed).

I couldn’t understand the school’s concern completely as, to me, Raajveer appeared to be a late bloomer who had not realised or explored his sexual self. “It’s strange! Just because he talks in a particular manner, it is perceived as sexual in nature? In India, most persons with disability are either considered as asexual or over-sexed. I don’t interpret his behaviour as sexual”, I told Natasha. “Also, there is a huge possibility that he doesn’t like women or he probably likes people of all genders as he admires fair faces or beautiful people of all genders”, I told his mother. Natasha just mumbled something and requested me to work on this mannerism and his body language. She ignored my comment about Raajveer’s sexual development and orientation. I had a few sessions with him and then we discontinued.

After five months I received a call from Natasha telling me about the content of a WhatsApp chat that Raajveer was having with one of his male teachers. “He is missing his Sir and crying. He is very confused. He sent him roses on chat and reassuring messages saying that he will always be there with his Sir and will never leave him. We are very worried. My husband is not aware of this, and neither do I want to tell him about it. Please help him”, said Natasha over the phone.

I met Raajveer and talked about his latest trip and his phone usage. On asking him about his interaction with his male teacher, Raajveer started giggling again and he blushed. He took two minutes to contain himself and spoke about his ‘Sir’. “See ma’am, he is so good looking. Isn’t he?” asked Raajveer, covering his face and smiling.

“He has started to experience attraction for his Sir, Natasha. What he is going through at the moment is very natural. We can probably make some arrangement for social dates for him with people his own age and not with people his teacher’s age. Also, we will have to start helping him understand the different shades of romance, as not all feelings are love. Raajveer being on the Autism Spectrum sometimes gets fixated on people so we will have to teach him to give space to the other person. There are many aspects of attraction and relationship where Raajveer would need emotional help,” I was trying to explain to Natasha when she interrupted me and said, “I have seen him doing self-talk where he plays the role of a female character from a serial and talks to the male character but I am not comfortable with this. He can date a girl and I can make arrangements for that, but certainly irrespective of what research suggests, I don’t want him to think or behave like this. Please take this idea out of his mind!” insisted Natasha.

I can understand a parent’s worry for a child with special needs becoming prey to the predators out in the world, but this was not a fear, it was more to do with discomfort and disbelief. Natasha is in a state of denial and she is requesting me to do something which I probably cannot do. I cannot change his sexual orientation. Who am I to decide anything for him? Or for that matter, his parents also cannot decide who he feels attracted towards. Earlier, I believed that homosexuality is influenced by social factors as a few people I interacted with told me that they have been influenced by many social media posts and discussions and “chose” to become bisexual. But in Raajveer’s case, it does not seem to be at all influenced by anything external. It is this individual’s self that is now coming to the surface. At the same time, there is a possibility that Raajveer is exploring his sexuality and has started to experience feelings of attraction and romance for the first time, and we will have to keep the conversation non-judgmental and unbiased to help Raajveer lead a healthy sexual life.

Am I an expert in the matter of sex and sexuality? No, I am not, but today both as a layperson and a professional, I have a question for all of us. There was a time, and I am sure it still exists, where women with a disability were made to undergo hysterectomy without their consent. Some people found the menstrual cycle of the girls and women under their care too cumbersome to manage, while others encouraged having a hysterectomy to avoid unwanted pregnancy. All this happened without the consent of the women in question. It was for the convenience of their caregivers. Now, here is a boy with an average IQ, on the Autism Spectrum, who is clearly showing that he likes men, but we are trying to take away this choice from him. He is entering a grey zone, and he too will go through heartbreaks and moments of love and acceptance. If there is someone who needs to change, it is Natasha and her husband. They will have to accept his choice and give him their support.

I spoke to Natasha and explained to her that from the very beginning, we teach youngsters on the Autism Spectrum about personal space, safe and unsafe touch, the concept of privacy and the basics of sexual development covering mostly topics about physical development. As far as emotional and sexual maturity is concerned, many professionals or parents miss out on the ways to teach young adults to understand their feelings and to express these feelings in an acceptable manner.

The challenge becomes more difficult for teenagers or young adults who are experiencing emotions like romantic love and infatuation, or are developing crushes. Emotions like love and infatuation cannot be strictly defined. The type or intensity of emotion can differ from person to person, based on circumstances.  There is no ‘rule book’ for love and a high level of grey area thinking is needed to understand and sort out these feelings. Even more difficult is understanding reciprocal emotion. What is the other person feeling about me? Do they also feel the same? How do I understand?

The few strategies which I recommended to Natasha and we have started to work on with Rajveer are as follows:

  1. People with Autism – be it mild or severe – have difficulty with ‘grey area thinking’.

They are ‘black and white thinkers’ and want everything to go along expected lines. They find it difficult to navigate the murky world of grey. The concepts of ‘make do with, maybe, could possibly be, let’s manage with what we have’ are difficult for them to comprehend. This difficulty impacts their social life in a big way, as we all know that our social life is full of grey areas. Parents of children with Autism could expose them to grey area thinking as much as possible and in all kinds of situations. Secondly, they could work on the development of perspective thinking, e.g., other people may not like the same things that I like. If I like somebody it is not necessary that the person will like me back, and so on.

  1. We can have norms for social behaviour, but we cannot set rules, especially for the behaviour of other people. For example, if we greet a person at the park, it is expected that they would respond with a greeting or a smile. But that is not a rule. If the person is distracted or not in a good mood, they may not respond. And therein lies the difficulty for people with Autism, as it involves grey area thinking.
  2. At the same time, parents and teachers can provide their children and students with some guidelines to deal with various situations. They could read something like this:

Do remember that liking/loving someone is a choice.

Do remember that the person you like/love might not like you back. You cannot assume that just because you like them, they will reciprocate your feelings.

Do move on if they are not interested.

Do be polite and respectful.

Do ask for permission for any physical contact.

Don’t get too personal and ask personal questions at the beginning.

Don’t pressure anyone to like/love you.

  1. In order to implement these suggestions, it would help to have open discussions. Start the conversation with a few observations, e.g., “I notice that you keep checking X’s Facebook profile very often”. “I think you like X a lot”. Draw out responses instead of asking questions. Encourage them to define how they feel about the person in question and what they like about the person. In some cases, it helps if you give them a choice. For example, “So what do you like about X? Is it their smile or eyes? Their manner of speaking or how they dress?” Such conversations will go a long way in helping them understand how they are feeling and conduct their social life in an appropriate manner.

People with Autism or any other kind of disability have the right to explore and raise questions about different aspects of their sexual self and find appropriate means to express their love for someone special. Now I understand why people talk about the freedom to love.

 

इस लेख को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें।

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