The Science Channel has launched a new series that began last week, that offers a peak into the minds of various savants around the world. While I was watching it on my DVR last night I realized (again) how little we really understand the human brain and how amazingly plastic it is.
The first savant, George Widener, explains both his aspergers and his savant mind, and explains how it is both a blessing and a curse to him. His artwork is phenomenal but at one time he was diagnosed with a “schizoid” personality disorder and became homeless. George turned his life around, partly after meeting Kim Peak.
An amazing story of resilience and perseverance on George’s part.
My own thinking over the past 12 months has led me to question how we actually ‘label’ these children. Yes he is a savant with some significant social issues but there is so much more to George Widener, things that could have been cultivated in him from an early age. His brain scan shows how his own brain circumvents the normal avenues for processing and makes it’s own connection previously unseen by neurologists. Who says our kids are not just evolving to new heights, utilizing hidden parts of their brains or processing faster as they are inundated with multi media 24/7? Do we really know enough to label these kids with “disorder or deficit”? Worse yet should we focus on these behaviors as deficits? Does it then become a self fulfilling prophecy?
I think I am guilty of this labeling for sure. My son acts out and I find myself silently cursing his ADD/or PDD or RAD. Watching him as he rages on, or pounds his sister, or fails to complete his homework. Now, (and obviously not because of this one video or tv show) I am becoming more interested in his brilliance (he is not a savant I might add) and the times where he is engaged in an acitivity he enjoys. It is truly amazing to watch how focused he can become while he is building Lego towers and towns, or constructing Radiator Springs with his CARs characters. I have been very guilty of managing trouble or holding my breath waiting for negative behavior instead of trying to find other outlets for the energy as I see it begin to emerge.
Of course it isn’t as simple as just not labeling. That would be very naive on my part because his behaviors certainly exist and completely limit our family activities, but I have been making a more conscious effort to engage that creative ability in him. The older he gets the easier it is to manage – for those just starting down this path – take hope it can and very likely will be better as your child matures.
When he was a preschooler his behavior was limited by his lack of verbalization and ability to understand what we were trying to say/do with him. Now he has that understanding and maturity and it is easier to focus on the positives as they are now evident for longer periods of time. The more I engage the positive the less negative I tend to see in him; however, once again the disclaimer being I cannot engage with him 24/7, I have another child and things that I must do, so we work with what we have. Is it enough? Is it ever enough? Who knows. I do know that now I am not so focused on the homework, on the manners, on the behavior control. We limit our playdates to an activity outside, we limit his dining skills to the house whenever possible, we supervise playtimes and we work within the parameters of his capabilities. We play a game and work on his spelling, is he writing it out? No, but he is still learning and I know he can do it. I split his homework into workable chunks which means sometimes it doesn’t all get done. It isn’t the worst thing in the world. He is only 7, he is also extremely bright, I know in the long run he will be ok. On so many levels he isn’t as mature as his peer group, and that’s ok. I truly believe that he will catch up and be fine. At this point I need to create less tension in my house so for now this is the way we are working it. We are not permissive allowing him to run riot over the house, but we do allow more things to slide in the immediate to benefit in the long-term. It’s working.
I have begun to ask myself if maybe I am also at fault sometimes. My mind is constantly whirling and wondering about this whole thing. I certainly don’t think anyone should throw out IEPs, take away medications or give up on the intervention strategies but I do find myself flip flopping in my desire to A: Eradicate the negative behavior and have a ‘typical’ child to B: Enjoying my son’s creative and funny personality. I wonder, “if he didn’t have the yin would he still have the yang” and would I really be ok with that? He is truly a dichotomy!
Anyway I got totally off track! If you have any interest in the amazing plasticity of the human brain watch Ingenious Minds on Science Channel – for us EST it plays at 10:00pm on Thursday nights.
About Ingenious Minds
Enter the lives of savants: individuals who possess an extraordinary ability in areas such as art, music and mathematics, while also suffering from intellectual and developmental disabilities.