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There is only love.

June 13, 2013

Every three months I go to the hair salon and esthetician to get “all spanked up” as my mom says.   My cousin is the queen of waxing, and her stylist friend works magic with the hair left behind.  I like to joke that they’re cheaper than the $100 an hour I’ve paid for therapy, and I leave looking much better.  The stylist is a stepmom, and has sharp insight into the challenges of stepfamily life.  Yesterday she got into describing her oldest stepson, and he sounds eerily similar to my Big Boy: really bright when it comes to math and reading, but socially inept.  He would play video games all day if allowed, and it’s very hard to get him out of his head and into the here and now.  The family finds him exhausting and difficult, and have decided to have him tested for Asperger’s syndrome.

Their story has haunted me since I left.  I have never thought my Big Boy has Asperger’s, and I’m sure those of you who know him would say, “No!  He’s just a very bright boy who likes to sort and categorize things.  And all 8 year-old boys love video games.  He plays soccer, loves to ride his bike, and is well-liked at school.”  But I wonder if my love for my son is blinding me to some signs that he’s really exceptional.  What if he’s on some kind of spectrum and having him tested could help him in the long run?  Would labelling him get him access to help in developing empathy and social skills, or would it further alienate him from his peers?  I have known challenging children before whose parents seemed blind to their behaviour.  I have questioned why these parents denied the concerns of friends and caregivers.  However, when faced with the question of whether I should investigate my son’s behaviour, I understand how hard it is to open the door to the possibility that he may have a syndrome with a capitalized name, instead of just being a smart , if socially awkward, kid.

 

I watched this great TED talk last night about how it feels to parent a child that is exceptional in some way.  The lecturer describes how parents deal with a child who is deaf, or has Down Syndrome, or is gay/lesbian/transgendered.  He theorizes that some parts of our identity are laterally transferred down through generations: ethnicity, usually nationality, etc., and other parts of our identity are acquired horizontally, either from peers or spontaneous genetic expression.  If those horizontally acquired traits don’t match the parents’, there’s a culture clash.  In these cases, exceptional children must find their tribe, find a community of individuals who share their exceptionality and build culture around that identity.

The talk made me think about my sister, who is transgendered.  When her uniqueness became unavoidable in teenagehood, we all struggled to understand, but we never rejected her identity.  In some ways it was a relief to put her differences into context, even if letting go of the boy she was, and the expectations around that, was really hard.  She has found her tribe, but she is also an admired and adored member of our family.  I think because she has both, she’s been able to avoid any personal issues around her identity and has dedicated her life to helping other youth discover and embrace their uniqueness.

We are all unique, it’s just that the traits that make some people special are a little more socially acceptable than others.  My hope as a parent is that my Big Boy can find his tribe and feel like the way his brain works is okay, and even cool.  With these labels, if they lead to greater understanding, instead of stigma, then I hope tolerance and acceptance can ultimately happen, and the people who wear the label can realize their ultimate potential, something every person deserves the opportunity to work towards.

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