Thursday, November 20, 2014

"No Brainers" and My Son, the Scarecrow

Yesterday, my son told me something that I can’t stop thinking about.  We had already been discussing school and how he feels there, especially in math class.  Math is his hardest subject.  It just always has been.  He has some special issues where math is concerned.  No one denies that.

What he told me, though, was how he felt when a teacher poses a “no brainer” and he doesn’t know what to do.  That was the term he used: “no brainer.”  I don’t know if he heard that from a teacher or what.  His dilemma is as follows:

“If I raise my hand and get called on, and I get it wrong, everyone will know I don’t know it.  But if I don’t raise my hand and I am the only one not raising my hand, everyone will know I don’t know.  They will talk about me outside of class, about how I don’t know anything.”

He is ten years old.  In case you have not read about me and my son before, it may help you to know that he has mild autism.

My son seems to believe that he is the only one who doesn’t know everything when it comes, especially, to math.  Also, he can’t understand why anyone would like math when it is so hard.  He thinks he is the only one like this.  He’s like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

The Scarecrow wanted, more than anything, to have a brain.  By the way, can I just say that neither a scarecrow nor a tin man have a heart OR a brain?  So that’s a whole thing right there.  But I digress.  Let us continue to suspend disbelief so I can keep using this metaphor.

At the end of the film (SPOILER ALERT), the Scarecrow learns that he is, in fact, smart after all.  When it came time to need to solve a problem and have “smarts,” he came through.  He wanted the Wizard to give him a brain, but he had it all along.  Like the Scarecrow, my son wants someone to make him be good at math.  He wants external validation that he is good enough academically, and that he can do things other kids can do.  It just takes him longer.  And he might need some additional tools.

So is my son internalizing the idea that if he can’t correctly answer a “no brainer” in class, then he doesn’t have a brain?  Or that the brain he has isn’t good enough?

We have tried to help him understand that his autism is a difference in neurology.  He has a brain (and all the stuff connected to it), but his is wired differently than most other people’s.  He reacts differently to things.  His senses perceive more of some things, and maybe less of others, compared to his peers.  What he has begun to sense a lot of, very recently, is that being different isn’t just hard for him, but it’s hard for the people who work with him.  And he doesn’t understand why they might feel impatient with him (as he perceives it) or maybe not like him (again, his take on things).

When we use glib terms like “no brainer,” and when we react to kids in ways that might increase their anxiety, we certainly don’t mean to upset them.  But for a kid like mine, who is mostly trying to figure out how the world works and his place is in that world, I’d like to ask everyone to consider their word choices and their voice tones, and all those other additional meanings that can be attached to what we say.  There’s a little ten year-old Scarecrow over here who wishes his brain was like everyone else’s, and doesn’t realize yet that it will never be.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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