When I was at college in Manchester I was studying basic skills in a mixed class. The people in the class called me 'Billy no-mates'. I didn't have the mechanism to just go up to people and make friends with them. It was okay in class because of being busy, but it was difficult at lunch times and outside of college. They thought that I was weird and different and that's where the nickname came from. All the others seemed to be in gangs and friends with each other. 'Billy no–mates' was a label and not a nice one. It didn't help me to feel confident; it made me just feel worthless. I did have some friends but they were always learning disabled people, and we had something in common. We had the same sort of barriers going on with friendships and other people in general.
Part of the problem was about not understanding myself; I thought that I was the problem. I got my diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome and Autism when I was about forty. I had it explained to me and I began to understand why I had difficulties in interacting and socialising with other people. If there is someone new on the scene it's very hard for me to engage or make the first move.
The other part of the problem is because people in general don't want to talk to anyone who is seen as a bit different to them. I think it goes back to fact that we are different and the way society treats anyone who is different. For example, people of a different ethnicity or culture or sexuality. If you are not part of the general group of people then you are not seen as worth bothering with. A lot of People First groups set up because of this – because people have been pushed into a corner. Learning disabled people want to be part of the big picture, part of everything, but it's like you're sat there waiting for an invitation to join in with everyone that simply never comes. You can see it all happening but you don't get asked in – it's like you are the black sheep and you don't really belong.
This paper is about the revenge of 'Billy no-mates', where I am going to explore some of the reasons why it's so hard to make friends.
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