This is a first draft of a chapter from my next book about working with people with disabilities. I’m trying to tel some stories about people I worked with, again to help others learn from. The book is in it’s very early stages so it will be a long time before it’s published.
“I can play drums better than Phil Collins in Genesis”
“Oh, you don’t say”
“Yeah, I mean I love all the early Genesis albums, don’t you?”
“Ahh, yeah, they’re interesting”
Grant couldn’t read the fact that I wasn’t a fan and that I was new and didn’t know I could just tell him exactly wat I thought.
Upon moving to London and starting my first job here as an Outreach support worker Grant was one of the first Service Users I met, as he usually hung around the office, usually to talk the heads off anyone who’d listen and usually because he had little else to do.
He was always skinny, at the time in his late 30’s and bald on top, gaunt looking with a lightbulb shaped head, big feet in ill-fitting shoes and worn and ragged clothing. Grant was one of those people who probably didn’t come across as having a learning disability straight away, you’d probably just think he was one of the local odd balls, which he was.
“I’d love to hear you play sometime”
“Well, I do go to Scar studios to play, working on a band”
It wasn’t till much later I discovered Grant couldn’t play drums at all.
It’s quite common for people with disabilities to think that they are more able or possible even fantastically gifted at something (in truth, many non-disabled people are like this) And for support staff it poses quite a big problem and if you choose the wrong response you could ruin a relationship or at the very least lose a moment where you can make some progress.
A person you are working with wants to be a Hollywood star, but they have no discernible acting skills, you can either lie and encourage them knowing they will never become a Hollywood star but may be happy with doing some local theatre or something. Or, you can tell them that their dream is fantasy and they will never be like Brad Pitt and should probably give up (as diplomatically and delicately put as you can) They person may accept your opinion and find something else, or agree to keep their dreams more modest, or they’ll tell you to go fuck yourself…
Just like any relationship you need to understand a person before you can be expected to make the right choice.
As a musician myself I wanted to encourage Grant and eagerly awaited the chance to hear him play, which didn’t happen for around 6 months when the London Symphony Orchestra put on some workshops for disabled people. Naturally this amazing chance couldn’t be missed and I took Grant there, he found his way to the percussion instruments and sheepishly began to play.
He had no sense of rhythm at all. I suspect, somehow he knew this, but he continued to believe he was great, but it wasn’t long before he decide drums were passé and playing guitar was a better choice… I had learned my lesson.
Grant was known amongst the team for going through keyworkers frequently, he would disagree with their advice and unceremoniously “fire” them. They didn’t lose their jobs, people should have a choice in who their key workers are. Grant often bragged about it, it was a power play for him. I moved on to another role before he had the chance to fire me and I’m sure he would’ve in time and he always mentioned this years after when we chatted.
“You were the only keyworker I never fired”
“That’s because I’m the best”
Laughs… I wasn’t, but I probably was for Grant. He had his fantasies but he also had some very real issues that needed a much franker response, a real response.
Grant was unfiltered in what he said, personal issues flowed freely from his mouth, and opinions which may be highly offensive flowed freely. This was both a good and bad quality, something that made him open to support but also very vulnerable.
One day many years after I was keyworking Grant we were having an informal chat and cigarette as was common when he popped into the office. The conversation turned to music and one of Grants many opinions about it.
“I fucking hate boy bands, westlife…fucking awful”
“Yeah, not a fan myself”
“I mean, they’re all fags aren’t they?”
“Don’t ever say that again, firstly, you don’t know that, secondly and most importantly I won’t put up with homophobic comments like that”
“But, you aren’t gay”
“So what Grant, that’s out of order”
“Stop now, come inside with me”
We walk inside and I take him up to my director, who was gay.
“Grant, tell him what you just told me”
He goes silent.
“Go on, say it”
“You won’t say it because you know it’s wrong”
That was a pretty common thing for him, saying something outrageously ignorant and bigoted. He didn’t really feel that way, he just said stupid stuff, stuff that having a disability wasn’t an excuse for.
When I was still keyworking him, only a couple of weeks into that role his mother passed away and it was my job to inform him, I had never had to deliver that kind of information to someone but I did, it was my duty. He took it quite well at the time but I knew he was going to go and drink a lot and probably do some drugs, which was another problem.
However, what it lead to was him explaining his story. In his home town in Essex he had gotten embroiled with some dodgy characters who he had managed to get away from and they attempted to burn his mother’s house down while she was inside it. This was one of the reasons he had moved to London was to escape these people, but hearing about this brought back those thoughts and how his mother had survived physically unscathed but emotionally disturbed.
Over the following couple of years he frequently went back to his home town to try and find these guys and kill them. No amount of advice would change this and we flagged it as a safeguarding incident, police were informed but never did anything but make note of it. The likelihood he would follow through was slim but he could easily get himself seriously hurt.
Grant suffered from real paranoia, clinically so. He often thought people were following him and when under the influence of drugs this was worse. He smoked marijuana frequently, and as I had done my fair share of drugs in my youth I was happy to tell him the dangers, but also say.
“I’m not going to report you for getting stoned, but please stay away from other drugs”.
It wasn’t long before he met someone else, one of the many dodgy characters around London who gave him some drugs. The white powder he couldn’t identify which judging by his description of the experience was heroin. I warned him again.
“Please Grant, stay away from this shit, it’ll kill you”
But he was depressed, deeply unhappy and dying didn’t bother him. And one day under the influence of something he seriously assaulted a staff member by hitting them with a chair.
He was placed in a psychiatric unit for several months. At this point I wasn’t directly working with him and he was disengaging from his support network more and more.
He left the hospital and was supported to find a new flat on his own in a very nice part of London. One day he showed up at the office looking distressed and missing a tooth. His dental hygiene was terrible and had already lost several teeth. But this was fresh and broken, he told me a story.
“I was just walking home, at night and a guy tried to mug me. I hit him, then he hit me, so I knocked him out but my tooth was broken”
He made lots of dramatic gestures to indicate the amount of pain his was in. I didn’t believe him, but I reported it, we called the police, he told them the same story, he had believed his own lies. I didn’t honestly ever find out the truth of that incident but I knew he couldn’t knock out a paper bag let alone a human.
Several months later a worse incident, he had a broken arm and that’s when we found out he had let some drug dealers take over his flat to sell drugs, this was after several months of not letting staff into his home, purposely meeting them outside or not meeting at all. This time the police did get involved. It was decide then that he should move out of London, to somewhere new where he would be away from the bad influences. A great deal of work and resources were put into him moving to a small seaside town, support was arranged and officially he was no long in the care of our organisation.
He was back in 3 months, apparently he had found drug dealers there and was now under threat from them and rather than allow us to help him get established he chose to live on the streets. Naturally he complained about it but we were there saying we’d help even after years of him throwing the support back in our faces, this is part of the job, you often don’t thanks from the people you help and you’re not allowed to give up even when they treat you badly in return.
He made his choice and we very rarely saw him thereafter.
There were many other tales I could tell about him, buying dodgy bootleg porn DVD’s in cafes, getting odd jobs, being assaulted, girlfriend issues and often my interactions were just him droning on about his problems, it was often depressing. It was a real exercise in trying to empathise… he is disabled… but he’s incredibly unpleasant to be around.
I do have great fondness for Grant, he made me laugh and we had some things in common which I used as best I could to positively influence him. But I do chalk it up as someone I couldn’t help, someone I failed with.
The last time I saw him, after knowing him for 9 years and not having seen him for at least one year he came into the office shortly before I left that organisation. I was happy to see him and chat, he launched into another story about the homeless men’s hostel he was living in and how he was “war” with another guy over some reason I can’t even remember. I smiled…
“Nice to see you Grant, pop in again sometime.”
I didn’t bother with any advice, I knew now it was a cycle, it was maybe part of his nature. Not even sure he wanted my help and if he did would probably do the opposite of what I suggested. I don’t know where he is now but I wish him well.
 Essentially support in the community or at home, rather than in a day centre or residential setting, usually very dynamic and fast paced.
 The term given to people who access services from a provider, I worked for the provider charity
 Keyworker is as it sound, the main point of contact, essential staff member, big brother, nurse, guidance counsellor…