The writer describes the changes in his life and different attitudes towards him.

Gary Butler (UK)

Something about me

My name is Gary Butler. I was born in the year 1970, so I am 39 years old now. I have mild intellectual disability (learning disability). I work for St George's University of London, UK as a Training Adviser. I want to share with you my experience of growing up as a teenager and becoming an adult back in the 1980s.

Where I live

I was born in South London, UK. I have lived there all my life.

I used to live with my family in a council house. There were six of us: my mum, my dad, my older brother, my older sister, my younger sister and me. I was the only one in the family with a disability.

The home environment was okay. My mum was always protective of me. But I did feel frustrated when I was growing up as a teenager. It was because whilst my brother and sisters were living normal lives, I was always being told what to do and what not to do by other people.

I stayed living at the family home until the age of 27. I would like to have moved out of the family home when I was a lot younger, perhaps when I was 18. But I couldn't because my mum didn't want me to move out. And everyone thought that I wouldn't be able to cope if I moved out.

I didn't get any help or advice about me wanting to move out of the family home when I was a teenager. I didn't know who to ask for help. The only social worker I had was the school social worker.

My education

I first went to school when I was five. It was a local mainstream school. Teachers there found me hyperactive. The doctors at that time didn't think there was anything wrong with me.

After a year I was moved to a school for children with special needs. I found it okay there, except that I got into a few fights.

I left school when I was 16. I didn't have any qualifications then. I had little involvement in planning for my own future. Nobody asked me what I wanted to do. They just assumed that they knew what I wanted. Everyone just thought they were doing things for me in my best interests. I didn't have much choice about my future and I just went with the flow. I was always being told what to do and when to do things. People were always talking about me rather than talking to me. I was only allowed to do courses that were specially tailored for people with disabilities.

After leaving school I joined a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) for six months. I then moved on to a College (South Thames College, South West London) to do a General Education Course. It was recommended to my mum by a family friend. I did the course for two years. I did learn quite a lot there. I stayed there till I was 18. I came away with a City and Guilds in Cookery at Stages 1 and 2 after passing all my exams there.

I then returned to another YTS. This was again introduced by a friend of the family who also had a family member with a disability. There I did Computer Graphics and Car Maintenance. I finished that at the age of 20. I didn't continue with Car Maintenance in the end because my mum always said I came home covered in oil. I wasn't that interested in it anyway. And I thought Computer Graphics was a bit too much for me to take in.

I did enjoy college, but the YTS wasn't exactly what I would like to have done. I would have liked to have gone straight to work like the rest of my family and a lot of other people. Part of my family's income was the benefits I got for my disability. I felt that the money I was getting from my benefits was my contribution to the family's income. My family also felt that I wouldn't be able to work because of my disability and so they discouraged me from having a job.

Becoming a man

It was quite difficult to cope with the changes happening to my body when I was becoming an adult. I found it quite embarrassing talking to people about it. My friends and I often talked about these things in a light-hearted way. I also talked to my mum about these things because my dad wasn't as good at talking about these things as my mum was. There was a Sexual Education Course at college, which was tailored for people with intellectual disabilities. I found that quite helpful. It helped me understand a few things about myself and the changes that were happening to me as a teenager.

I became interested in meeting girls when I was about 16. I have always been a good talker and my dad gave me some tips on how to approach and talk to girls. He told me, 'Use your brain and go for it, son.' I often got a thick ear from the girls. I found that a lot of girls didn't seem to be interested in being friends with me when they found out that I had a disability. When I got to know someone and they got to know me better, they decided that their friends would be laughing at them if they went out with me. However I did have a girlfriend when I was a teenager who I went out with for a while.

My friendships

I have always made friends easily. I made a lot of friends both at school and at college. I didn't keep in touch with a lot of them but I do run into them again occasionally. Most of them have families of their own now.

My life as an adult

Daily life

From a young age, I have been able to look after myself with a bit of prompting from others. When I was a teenager, mum and dad used to make sure that I brushed my teeth twice a day and had either a shower or a bath at least every other day. I could manage most of my self care on my own, except that I needed some help in washing my hair.

My mum had always done most of the cleaning in the house when I was a teenager. But my parents did teach me to do some of the housework such as vacuuming since I was young. I learnt more and more of these skills as I became older. Like a lot of other teenagers, I tended to tidy up my room only when my mum told me to do so. However when I was told I was able to do it by myself.

My mum used to cook for the whole family. Mum and dad did not allow my brother, sisters or me into the kitchen when they were cooking and I did not learn much about cooking at home. I learnt most of my cooking skills at college. However I helped out with the washing up, but I often made a big mess in the kitchen when I did. They could always tell when I had been washing up.

My mum taught me how to separate whites and colours when doing the laundry. I used to help with putting the washing into the washing machine and my mum would then set the machine to the right programme. I sometimes helped with putting up wet laundry onto the lines and folding and putting things away when they were dry. I only learnt how to set the washing machine to the right programme and how to iron when I was much older and lived in a group home.

Managing Money

My mum helped me open a bank account when I was 18. My mum and one of the staff at the bank showed me how to put money into as well as taking money out of my account using my passbook and signature. I quickly learnt how to do these things by myself.

At that time, my benefits were paid through the Post Office. I used a benefit book and my signature to take out my benefits in cash. The Post Office Clerk showed me which box I needed to tick and where to put my signature in the benefit book. After I got the cash from the Post Office, I would put some of it into my bank account. I used to give part of my benefit money to my mum for shopping and housekeeping. I spent some of the rest on tapes and CDs.

I wasn't very good at budgeting to start with, so my family kept my benefit book and bank passbook for me until I was older and became better at budgeting.

Travelling around London

I went out with my mum when I was young. I learnt from watching her how to buy tickets on the buses and on the underground. I learnt that I needed to know where I was heading and have the right amount of money in my pocket. I started travelling on my own when I was 17. I was reasonably good at finding my way around independently. There was an Independent Travelling Course which formed part of my college course. I found that quite useful. Once a week we went out shopping as a group and they showed us how to use the underground and the buses.

I got a Freedom Pass from the local council. This gave me free travel on the underground and buses in London.

Leisure and hobbies

I used to go to the pub with my dad once a week on a Sunday. This then increased to twice a week when I also went to Darts Nights on Thursdays. I got into a darts team where I was the youngest member. I was very pleased that I won prizes for the team. I also enjoyed playing snooker and pool.

I have enjoyed having a lager or two in the pub since I was 18. I would only have a little bit more if I didn't have to go to college the next day.  I sometimes used to drink quite a bit more than I should have but not any longer.

I have always enjoyed clothes shopping. I managed to do most of my clothes shopping when I was a teenager, except I needed my mum's help in buying my trousers because I didn't know my waist size.

I used to go for walks with my friends. We sometimes went bowling or stayed in at each other's houses to listen to music and have a can or two. There was not much else on offer.  I liked watching television and films, especially action films. I have a collection of my favourite videos since I was a teenager.

Exercise and diet

I have always done a lot of walking. I also belonged to a swimming club for people with disabilities until I was 18. I went back as a helper when I was 23 and got paid for doing it.

How I am now

In 2006, I moved into supported living where I have a lot more independence. My fiancée moved in with me. It was the first time living independently for both of us. We have support from a carer who comes round twice a week. It is working out well. We are planning to get married soon.

I got a part-time job at a supermarket when I was 31 before becoming a Training Adviser at St George's one year later. I have worked at St George's since 2002. There I help medical students in their training. I help in teaching them how to care for people with disabilities. I enjoy my work very much. I have always believed in myself. I know that I can do things. I think if I didn't believe in myself, I wouldn't be doing the job I am doing now.

This article was first published on the site in 2010. Reviewed in 2019, content continues to be relevant.