All the leaves are brown

Autumn. All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey. Some people love the crunch of leaves under foot, the colours demanding attention as they turn gold and red and finally brown before falling. Autumn is called the Fall in America for good reason.

I don’t love this season though. To me, Fall is the limbo between the promise of spring, the life of summer and the final slide into dormancy that winter brings. Autumn feels like a metaphor for lives which are withering and will end not in a great celebration of achievement, but as a gentle spiral to the ground and final delicate disintegration back to dust.

So with trepidation, I found myself this week at a big conversation about what makes for a better life, a life filled with sparkle, colour and promise where autumn trees featured as a prominent motif. How wrong could I have been… it was joy made manifest, the first time in a while I’ve looked around a room and noticed that everyone in it had beaming smiles. On each table were autumn leaves and pens, each leaf becoming a statement of militant optimism against a pervasive, endemic lack of ambition for the lives of learning disabled people, trapped in perpetual Fall.

Over the afternoon the Trees of Fall filled with ambition:

I want to be Prime Minister

I want to go to shopping in New York

I want to party with Nile Rogers and Chic

If you believe in yourself, you can make it happen, just DO IT!

I came away pondering 4 things I heard. Things which make me want to be better, not to settle for ” good enough”.

Love – we must work to enable P to experience love and all it brings including hope, rejection, intimacy, excitement, pain, loss and ecstasy. Good social work helps people experience unconditional love from others and respects that people make all kind of decisions when they experience love. If 100 people tell you they want help to form a relationship, and only 2 have ever experienced being in one, what are you going to do about that?

Family and Friends. We trust who P trusts. These aren’t the enemy of social work they are are our greatest accomplices. They are the people P is telling us they want to advocate for them and support them. The earlier we start to build trust and build relationships with P’s family the better. Why wait till P is 18? Let’s re-balance our energy into spending more time bridging the unhelpful clear blue water between social workers who support disabled adults and disabled children.

Status. We’ve got it. They want it. Employment. Nice houses. Cars. Sex drugs and everything in between. We stay up late, they want to stay up late with us and be part of our circle of friends. We are all benefiting from being paid well as professionals, why can’t they. Even if that means they get a rubbish job with a rubbish contract they are on the ladder, seen by society, getting started. I heard a person on my table tell me that they told their family that day care was “going to work” because his dad and brothers all had jobs and he wanted to be like them. Lets crack on and sort jobs. People will sort their own housing options if they have enough money from being in paid work!

Power. The big one. The first three things usually give us power. For learning disabled people they don’t necessarily do so. That’s where we come in. That’s our job. Shifting the power from us to them by embedding status, striving to trust who P trusts and fighting for access to the status we all have. That’s how we devolve our power and enhance theirs. That’s how we make better, longer lives realising the promise a new spring brings.

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