This morning, peering through the fog to identify the number 63 bus, a student asked me if the timetable was correct.
I didn’t know that was what she was saying at first, of course (though that was soon clarified because everyone speaks English, usually excellently). But clearly I must look as if I’m fitting right in.
The 6 days I’ve spent here have been a great way to feel my way into the Norwegian culture and way of life. I’ve been staying in a private home, using the local buses, shopping locally and cooking for myself. Temporarily, I’m as Norwegian as I can be. This is the best way to travel.
INTRODUCTION TO TRONDHEIM (FEEL FREE TO SCROLL DOWN IF YOU WANT TO SKIP TO THE DIARY!)
I’ve really found myself warming to the city and a lot of its people. Norwegians aren’t unfriendly – very far from it – but they don’t like to interfere. You get on with your life, and they’ll get on with theirs. But start a conversation, and they are more than happy to share their opinions, their thoughts, and their experiences. And when they find out why I’m here, they are falling over themselves to give me information, opinions and contacts.
Trondheimers – or Trøndere – aren’t bad at inclusion and integration. They’ve had lots of practice, back to the very beginnings of the city 1000 years ago, when its founder Olav I Tryggvason managed to gather cult following both as a Viking king and a Catholic saint.
A long time ago, of course, but these things can stick.
Another thing Trondheimers are good at is independent thinking. Both Denmark and Sweden have tried to enforce their rule from time to time – the name Trondheim was the Danish king’s legacy to the city (which until then was known as Nidaros), and it’s a lot closer to the Swedish border than to Oslo. Trondheimers seem to have taken on board what makes sense to them, and ignored or amended what doesn’t, right up to the present day with Sunday opening (Trondheim said Nei, and although it’s legalised by central government few shops here open on Sundays), and the EU (not members. Emphatically).
So on the one hand there’s no doubt they’re open to the world: on the other, there’s a strong sense of regional and national identity.
As the old capital, Trondheim was the hub of the Viking empire – expeditions set off from this very harbour to explore the North Atlantic and as far south as the Mediterranean. And when Christianity arrived, it became an important pilgrimage site for the whole of northern Europe; the tradition continues today, with a modern pilgrim’s lodge on the banks of the Nidelva river, just below the largest medieval cathedral in Scandinavia.
Today it’s the third largest city in Norway, with 180,000 inhabitants and a vibrant student scene. More than 30,000 students attend the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where many of the courses are taught in English, and there’s a strong musical tradition here – everything from choral music through jazz and blues to hard rock. Go 20 or 30 km out of the city and you can find bears and wolves: or even track and catch your own Christmas dinner.
It’s a fascinating place, and the autumn colours are fabulous.
If you’ve never visited Norway – I’d say it’s time to give it a go!
SATURDAY 24 – SUNDAY 25 OCTOBER
A bit grey and cold on Saturday, but well worth the walk into the town centre. I’m the only person who turns up at the tourist information office so I get a one-to-one guided walk: I get the perfect introduction to the area and a chance to ask a lot of questions that otherwise I might not have been able to put. When the tour’s over I go to the supermarket and spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to work out what exactly the minced meat I’m buying is. I don’t think it’s beef and it doesn’t, later, taste like venison. But it might be reindeer.
Sunday is a day for catching up on emails, and nursing my knee – with unbelievably bad timing I aggravated an old cartilage problem about 4 weeks ago, and until 2 weeks ago I was seriously wondering if I’d be able to walk. Ice can be a problem for me at the best of times. So though Sunday turns out to be a decent day, weather wise, discretion is the better part of valour. Mostly, today, I stay indoors.
MONDAY 26 OCTOBER
I meet psychologist Bjørn Gjervan and have a long discussion about ADHD and the various therapies and approaches he’s found to be effective. Bjørn is good company, and I really appreciate his willingness to share with me his unpublished research on Sør- and Nord-Trøndelag (the areas on either side of the fjord). He has some really interesting things to share on the prevalence of physical pain in people with ADHD and its impact on their functioning: because most of my experience is in the field of autism and Aspergers, much of this is new to me, and it’s fascinating.
TUESDAY 27 OCTOBER
I find myself chairing a discussion group of eight Norwegians, hearing their experiences of living with ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome and Tourette’s. Some have one or more of these conditions themselves, others are parents of adolescents and young adults with difficulties, others are regional leaders within the national organisations that provide support and training. The refreshments (home made foccacia and aioli) are second to none, and I’m deeply grateful to all those who come along and share so openly. I don’t have time for bleeding hearts but no one around this table has had an easy ride. In the 21st century, it surely shouldn’t be so hard to find acceptance and inclusion in a developed nation. None of us has chosen the hand life has dealt us but we will all fight on in our various ways because this has to change. It has to.
I’m so grateful to Arthur Mandahl of ADHD Norge, for arranging this gathering and making it possible. Thank you, Arthur, and thank you for your interest and encouragement.
WEDNESDAY 28 OCTOBER
I’ve been looking forward to meeting Hanne Kvello and Elinor Olaussen, but our discussion is more interesting even than I could have imagined. Hanne is part of the disability support team at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Elinor works for Universell, promoting a fully inclusive environment in education. Both have a strong personal and professional interest in the areas I’m researching, and we share a lot of common ground. There’s a great deal from this meeting I intend to process and think through, but one thing stands out. That is, to see the step change we all want in inclusion and empowerment, the one thing we can’t do is leave it to a select group (disability advisors, for example, or support groups) and assume we’ve done enough to make a difference. This is no time for tokenism – everyone needs to be aware. Otherwise all the good work can be undone in minutes by a careless lecturer or ignorant administration staff member.
It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t cost a thing. Just put yourself in someone else’s shoes, for 5 minutes, and see how it feels. Then act accordingly.
THURSDAY 29 OCTOBER
This morning I’m at the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at St Olav’s Hospital to speak to Professor Torunn Stene Nøvik. She is very interested in improving services for the age group I’m studying, and we agree it’s particularly difficult when services are dictated by an arbitrary divide between childhood and adulthood (i.e. the 18th birthday) that simply doesn’t take reality into account.
In the real world, many young people with Aspergers, ADHD, Tourette’s, and related conditions don’t have the social or developmental maturity of their peers anyway, and this leaves them highly vulnerable in the far less structured and supportive world of adult services.
But the truth is even worse than that. The way we’ve structured our services is failing these young people far more fundamentally than just leaving them slightly adrift at a time when others are expected to assume responsibility for themselves.
Although research clearly shows the brain is nowhere near “the finished product” by the age of 18, the services on offer haven’t caught up with this yet.
By failing to reflect the fact that for many, brain development – and the associated social and emotional development – continues well into the twenties, we are falling very far short of providing appropriate support at a time when it is still vitally needed.
It’s like saying to someone “OK, the station is 10 miles in that direction, but I’m afraid the train stops here”.
You might make it. But you have a very high chance of getting lost along the way.
And it’s a lot more than simply inconvenient. For some, the opportunity to live independently of benefits, find employment and a stable, fulfilling life and be part of the society we’re building for the future is in the balance. The stakes really are that high.
The question is, are we prepared to make the changes now? Because otherwise, we’ll all be carrying the social and economic cost, long term.