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Welcome to my Mind, Does Anything Look Familiar?

June 24, 2012

My mother, brother, gradparents (paternal) and of course, me! I’m the happy one, not the embarrassed/bored one.

Warning:  If you know me personally, this post may thoroughly blow your mind.

For some reason I have been drawn to parenting forums lately.  I always hesitate to give parents advice because I am not a parent and I am afraid I will either be dismissed as unqualified or even worse – I will give bad advice which will start a chain of events ending in serious psychological disorders.  But I finally realized why I am really good at working with children; although I am an adult, my brain still works exactly the same way it did when I was a child!

So now I feel empowered to give more parents advice.  Not because I am more qualified to raise their child or any crap like that, but because I can often help them understand what exactly is going through their child’s head.  I am a translator; I have spoken ‘child’ my entire life and now, after 30 years of banging my head against a wall (and causing the adults in my life to do the same) I finally have achieved fluency in ‘adult’ as well.

I can’t in good conscience leave out my father.  And if the fact that I would publish such a terrible picture of myself doesn’t prove I love him, nothing will.

I recently read a request for advice on another forum that I have heard so many parents echo.  To summarize, this mother knew her 4 year-old son was smart but was having a difficult time understanding him and getting him to understand her.  She felt that he wasn’t listening, didn’t understand consequences or discipline, and she didn’t know what to do.  She had him tested for various cognitive disorders and they found nothing.  After reading some of her anecdotes I immediately realized

“Holy shit, this woman is talking about me!”

Well not exactly, but I understood what was going through her head and her son’s head at the same time.  This was my response:

Hello!  As both a teacher and a young adult who has spent most of his life trying to understand his own processing and communication differences [please note my use of the term ‘differences’ as opposed to ‘disorders’] I hope my two cents will be of some value to you.

One important thing to remember is that processing and communicating are different brain functions.  I have a feeling that your son is a WAY better abstract thinker than you realize.

Suppose you ask your son a hypothetical question such as “What would you do if a stranger asked you to get into his car?”  Your son’s first instinct is not to answer your question, but to ponder why you would be asking such a question in the first place.

“Stranger?  What stranger?”

Your son instantly runs to the door expecting someone to be there.  Children implicitly trust their mom, so if mommy says there is a stranger then he is here somewhere.  But where is he? Then he remembers you mentioning a car.  And the next thing you know he is running in front of traffic.

Many adults observing behavior like this jump to conclusions such as “my son doesn’t listen”, “he doesn’t understand/he is slow” or “he must have ADD”.  In fact, the child is just thinking on a different (and generally more abstract) level than the parent.

Situations like this can lead to emotional problems as well if one isn’t careful.  Everything your son did here made perfect sense to him – in fact, when he sees mom sprinting his way he is thinking “Mommy is going to be so proud of me for what I did all by myself!  There she is now, running to give me a big hug!”

Imagine how confusing it is when instead of a big hug and kiss mommy yells, cries, and punishes.  You mentioned how he tends to react to you raising your voice.  [she commented that whenever she raises her voice her son doesn’t hear what she is saying; he only seems focused on the fact that she is yelling] These are moments of profound confusion.  In his mind he did everything right so when he gets the exact opposite response than he is expecting his brain jumps into overdrive to figure out what the hell went wrong.

I mean no disrespect, but it really bugs me when people use the term “thinking outside the box” with respect to any young child.  Right now your son is in the process of defining his box – the world has not imposed one on him yet.  Your goal should be to keep him as far away from that box as possible.

This is such a critical time in your son’s development.  Right now his brain is in overdrive learning and processing everything around him but his communication skills haven’t caught up yet.  They will, have faith in that.  In the meantime, be extremely aware of everything you say to him.  When his responses are odd don’t assume there is something wrong with him, stop and deeply consider how he may have interpreted your words differently than you intended.

Every child is born with an instinct to please their mothers.  If you push too hard or get frustrated all the time he is going to read you like a book and try to make you happy the only way he can; to put the brakes on his processing so he can focus on the communicating.  This will make everybody extremely happy – until he starts to explore the world around him again only to find he is firmly enclosed in a box that was never there before.  He may not hate you or resent you, but all of the sudden the world will have lost its interest.  Nothing will be the same and his brain will associate that change with you.  This is not a road any family deserves to go down because there are always casualties.

I am very sorry for being so long-winded.  I don’t know you our your son and I may be dead wrong.  But on the off-chance that sharing some insight into my mind can help your family than I have no regrets.

Very last thought:  no matter what the diagnosis or prognosis, every brain works differently and there are generally two options: we can try to train ourselves to think like ‘everyone else’, or we can embrace the differences and find what works for ourselves.  I chose option B and I couldn’t be happier.  I don’t see myself as smarter or dumber than anyone else, but I know that I have a very unique way of seeing and processing the world and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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