Viewpoint: 10 jargon phrases used for my autistic son

Mark Neary and his autistic son Steven Mark and Steven Neary

My son Steven is 23. He has autism and other learning difficulties. And the language of the social care system seems to make his life sound even less "normal" than it is.

The adult social care world is about many things, but one thing that I feel it's not about is care. The language seems to mislead you right from the start. Processes seem to come before people in a system of impenetrable management where money is the biggest consideration.

Day centres are closed down. Although you may have considered them a helpful lifeline, this closure is not a negative thing because it's been done to promote independence.

Service user choice is also a fabulous phrase until you find it results in being given a sum of money to purchase your own care provider but no one provides care at those rates which are calculated for you by a fairer charging policy. Which also sounds good but isn't.

Steven was transitioned into adult services six years ago. Soon after, he was taken into a care unit against all our wishes which resulted in a well-documented court case (Autistic man unlawfully detained, June 2011).

One of the unit's ideas was that he should have a person-centred plan. He had to create a wish list, and came up with six things:

  • Live at home with Dad
  • Go on holiday to Somerset
  • Have Christmas presents at home
  • See Toy Story 3 at the cinema
  • Have breakfast in the bacon shop
  • Go swimming at Hampton open-air pool

All six wishes were refused because they were not considered to be in his best interests. To me, that's not a person-centred plan, that's a system-centred plan.

About the author

Mark Neary and Steven in the pool

Mark Neary is a blogger and father to Steven, who has autism and other learning difficulties

A service user, like Steven, is a case and every piece of minutiae from his life must be recorded and analysed. For two years I had to keep logs of everything my son did. I still have 565 sheets of paper, all saying: "Steven had pears, grapes, bananas and oranges for breakfast." For 126 consecutive Mondays, a support worker recorded "Steven watched a Mr Bean DVD with his father."

I was never once asked to hand over the logs I'd written.

One manager explained to me once that everything learning disabled people do must have a value - not too bad until you realise that someone else is setting the value and its parameters are very narrow. Who on high decreed that everything we do must have some value?

I write a lot about the language of the social care world. I love it when I read stuff like transparency because the reality seems to be the opposite. I therefore tend to work on the principle that the opposite of what is being presented is probably closer to the reality.

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If Steven chooses either steak or fish for his tea, he is being empowered”

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But the thing that really gets my goat is when a person's entire life, everything they do, is jargonised.

I was recently comparing with a friend the way I present the everyday norms of my own life with the way the social care world presents Steven's life. We were having the conversation in a pub. If Steven were to go to that pub, or to a gym or swimming pool, for instance, he might be described as accessing the community.

Here are 10 jargon phrases I jotted down on the back of a beer mat, the kind of things which make Steven's life sound even less "normal":

1. I live in my home. Steven's current placement is in the family home.

2. When I make a pizza, I'm making a pizza. When Steven makes a pizza, he's increasing his independence skills (as overseen by an occupational therapist).

3. If I cry, I'm sad about something. If Steven cries, it is logged and analysed by the psychologist and positive behaviour team.

4. If I shout or swear, I'm angry about something. If Steven shouts or swears, it is challenging behaviour and new behaviour management plans need to be drawn up.

Mark Neary and Steven at a theme park Acessing the community aka a day at a theme park

5. If I choose between steak or fish for my tea, I'm making a choice. If Steven chooses either steak or fish for his tea, he is being empowered.

6. I have friends. Steven has a circle of support and influence.

7. If I'm asked what I want to do with my free time, I'm planning my hobbies. If Steven is asked what he wants to do with his free time, it's his person-centred plan.

8. If I make an unwise choice, I've messed up. If Steven makes an unwise choice he may be lacking mental capacity.

9. If I sort my CDs into alphabetical order, I'm being a bit anal. If Steven sorts his Mr Bean DVDs into colour order, he is being inappropriately obsessive.

10. If I eat two Mars bars, I'm being a pig. If Steven eats two Mars bars, he is challenging boundaries.

Mark Neary's Love, Belief and Balls blog

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  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    What a fantastic article. I too find these buzzwords irritating, almost as irritating as the labels that are forced on people. Maybe the care system are frightened that if they speak in plain English, their 'clients' will understand and have a say in their own care. Very little is done to actually benefit the client and their individual needs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    Unfortunately that's what you get when you create a society that is obsessed with the idea that no one can be an effective worker unless they have a degree, and consequently all graduates need to justify their excessive "education", by manufacturing inane rules and regulations justified with jargon they have created. Oh for a time when good old fashioned hands on learning was valued.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    Having been 'in education' most of my life so far...except before age 5 yrs...that makes 51 years as a pupil, student and then teacher, I can absolutely agree with the despair felt by Mark Neary when human care and appreciation seems robotic, joyless and patronizing. I intensely dislike 'accessing' anything in my own life and feel totally at ease when given the freedom to 'mess up' all by myself !

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    Oh so true

    Even when authorities are failing to provide the most basic statutory care The National Authorities collude to cover up and re-interpret the law

    Social care for SEN, Disability, and old age has to be funded. The crass cuts to services and critical care are dresses up in double talk Independent living if only

    Leaders start fighting for social justice

    Best Practice in a pigs eye

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    There are so many things about the care sector that seem impersonal, but as one of the most scrutinised systems it makes sense that they have this type of terminology to demonstrate that they provide a service that is accountable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    I've registered for a BBC iD just to thank you for this article. I'm sure we've all been on the receiving end of ugly and ignorant uses of language that only reinforce paternalism (from "care" industries and elsewhere). I hope that voices such as yours lead ultimately to change. Thanks again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    I work as a psychiatric nurse, and my entire working life is subjected to the gratuitous and grotesque use of buzzwords. To quote a writer from 'The Simpsons' episode "Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie",

    Excuse me, but "proactive" and "paradigm"? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important?

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Great article. I recently got thrown into the mental health system after I had a stroke in my early 40s. I keep asking whats wrong with me, and no-one will tell me, although I'm not allowed to drive and a psychologist visits every 2 weeks. My partner believes I'm still the same pain in the backside I ever was. It's all very prescriptive and secretive, not at all inclusive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    Officially they pretend it´s about accountability but that is a con. All the paperwork is simply a form of control from the official side and it also implies that anyone with "Special Needs" has to "earn" or justify what should be an automatic right, ie a decent life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    Why is it all these professions have their own vocabulary - campaign for plain english

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    'If Steven sorts his Mr Bean DVDs into colour order, he is being inappropriately obsessive.' Shows these idiots don't know the difference between (distressing) OCD and the (pleasurable) 'special interests' common to many with autism! Skill in handling autism issues is zero in many social work teams, but they still try to hide behind their jargon even when talking rubbish!

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    Great article. I am a learning disability nurse, there`s jargon already ! It is true, a lot of bureaucratic nonsense. After 20 years I am fed up with it. Just treat people decently and if you must record it, write in plain English. More jargon phrases please.....
    Best wishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    Excellent article! A good expose of a very disjointed system. As someone who used to work in the education sector from where young people used to "transit", I could see many parents worried at that point.
    Individual workers had their hearts in the right place but were defeated by a variety of systems. Individualised funding leads to separate planning and a loss of group resources & sociability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    I advocate for an Autistic young man in further education. I have been doing this since he was 13. Yes too often he is categorised when a simple action would gain so much benefit. Same for all children who i advocate for generally

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    Having worked within social care for 15 years, I have heard many of the terms mentioned and a lot more
    But my overall favourite was when they closed one of their day services last year.... we were told to DECANT
    The clients to other day centre yes I said DECANT ! ! !
    I’m glad someone has spoken out let’s hope things change for the better and fast

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    On writing my comment I was told I was 4 characters over the limit. On deleting 4 characters I was told I was now 2 over, on deleting 2 I was 19 over. Then 173 over, then 274 over!
    If you do not wish to have comments, plase do not ask for them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    I work for a well known learning disability charity and feel sad that this is your experience. I work in a supported house where the tenants' wishes are paramount. We go out of our way to ensure their goals are met. There is some jargon, and lots of paperwork, but we work towards supporting them to live as independently as possible. It isn't all bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.


    But at least you know where they stand. It's when kind meaning people have said kind things, but then been unable to carry them out that real problems start. You I'm sure spend your money wisely, and given its your taxes that the authorities spend I'm sure you'd want it spent with care. It's being told the truth bluntly that hurts, an Aspie trait in itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    Recent quote from our local authority confirming why they had changed "Transport Provision" for our autistic son next year; "As a local authority, we have a responsibility to ensure we operate our contracts in the most cost effective manner to ensure efficient spend of tax payers funds"
    Says it all really, might as well stick him on the number 9 bus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    What a fantastic article.


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