Saturday, August 18, 2007

Accept or Overcome

Reading the Autistic Bitch From Hell, who I find to be perhaps the word's most reasonable and good natured commentator on the subject of autism, prompted me to write a few words about accepting differences. ABFH's post is about how silly it would be to take a grieving/acceptance approach to the models that psychologists and other professionals use to explain wiring differences. It's a great post, so I'll let you read it rather than trying to paraphrase it myself.

A somewhat different question is how neurodeviant kids can accept the individual circumstances of their own wiring. I say kids because, by the time we have grown up, we hopefully all know that everyone is their own person and there is little to be desired in being the same as everyone else. For some reason, however, this is not obvious to the under-sixteen set.

MK has recently been complaining about what his brain can and can't do. He talks about being mad at his brain. He says, "I wanted to, and I told my brain to do it, but my brain didn't do it." This particularly comes up in relation to medium-term memory, attention and word retrieval. It is frustrating for him to see something done by other people, apparently with ease, that simply doesn't work for him.

At the grizzled age of 44, it seems obvious to me that everyone one has varying cognitive and physical strengths and weaknesses, and that success lies in knowing your own, and those of people around you, and then using that knowledge to your advantage. For example, like MK, I misplace things all the time. Unlike MK I have specific spots where I place important things like keys, so that I will know where they are, I schedule an extra five minutes for finding things before leaving the house, and when I can't find something for all that, I take it as an inconvenience on the same sort of level as bad weather. While MK sees this kind of approach as being fine for his father, he expects better for, and from, himself.

Part of this is cultural. Kids exist in a culture where everything is expected of them. For instance, I'm not very good at math. My response is to hire a bookkeeper. If I were a kid, that option would not be on the table -- especially not during math class. (MK is very good at math, as it happens, but the principle is the same.)

The other thing is developmental. Kids are constantly gaining new skills. Often, skills will come on line as a strength that no one would ever have expected. So it's reasonable for kids to try things and hope that they will just be good at them, even if they weren't particularly good at them the last time they tried.

In other words, for kids, accepting one's differences and finding a work around, or putting those sort of tasks on the back burner so as to concentrate on one's strengths, is not always possible and may not even be well advised. For kids who are wired differently than many of their peers, the ever-shifting balancing act is particularly challenging and, for their parents, giving advice is not so easy.


abfh said...

This has to be the first time I've been described as the most reasonable and good natured commentator on the subject of autism, LOL! If I had to pick someone who deserves that honor, I'd choose Maddy McEwen of Whitterer on Autism, who always maintains her good cheer no matter what life throws at her.

I do try to avoid the temptation to rant overmuch, though. Too much complaining is not good for one's mental health (I just wrote a post on that subject).

On your question of how kids can accept their neurological differences: My first thought (and you've probably already done this) is to point out to MK that there are things he can do that his peers cannot do. For example, he is good at math, and when he tells his brain to solve a math problem, it generally does what he tells it. Some of his classmates are not as fortunate.

Everybody has to learn to accept the individual circumstances of their own wiring. What makes it hard for kids with neurological differences is that we don't really live in a culture where "everything" is expected of kids. Rather, conformity to the norm is expected. Society doesn't attach much value to having a skill that few people share, whereas it's considered a major problem to lack a skill that most people have.

mcewen said...

Too right. We need to get the balance right. I'm still working on mine and theirs.
Best wishes