Lately, my eldest son (8) has been showing signs of depression. It's nothing major yet but the problem seems to be that he now realises that he's behind the rest of the class in maths and english. In fact, he's starting to realise that the entire special education group is a bit behind.
There's no doubt about it, he is behind. He has ADHD (and possibly undiagnosed Learning Issues too). It's a lot for him to cope with but we're working on it with a weekend tutor for schoolwork and cub scouts for social.
A Cubs Flashback
A little over a week ago at scouts we were playing a game where a designated cub is "leader" and the other cubs have to follow their actions. A cub who was outside the room during selection gets three chances to identify the leader.
We had run the game several times before my son was given a chance to be the "secret leader".
Up until this point, the game had been quite dull with all of the leaders doing the same actions; clapping, nodding and then finally shaking their heads.
When our son took his turn, the game instantly changed. His first change was to flap and quack like a duck. The other kids were stunned but quickly started copying his actions. It was only pure luck which prevented him from being identified as the leader. The cub from outside made a wrong guess which also signalled time for a change of routine.
My son's next change, horned fingers and mooing like a cow went down well but his final change, waggling his hands while chanting "I'm a baby", left the others so gobsmacked that he was quickly discovered.
The next few rounds of the game with other cub scouts were interesting too. True, nobody was game enough to do "I'm a baby" but at least they did a few (albeit mostly the same) animal impressions. It was more interesting than it had been before my son's improvisation.
Building on Aspie Strengths
So, back to the problem at hand. My son was struggling with his own recognition of his academic status. I couldn't lie to him about aspergers and tell him that aspies are geniuses - they're not. In any case, he obviously wasn't fitting the description.
Instead I explained two things to him;
First of all, I explained that we all have a place in the world but that sometimes it takes us a while to find it. I cited one of the major tenants of scouting at this point; it says "I will do my best". It doesn't say that you will BE the best, simply that you will do YOUR best. It's one of the reasons why highly competitive parents don't always get on with the scouting movement and why it's particularly suitable for kids with difficulties.
The other thing I talked to my son about was "differences". Children with aspergers are often quite "different" from their peers. They see the world differently and apply a different and deeper kind of thinking to it.
These differences should be celebrated and encouraged rather than suppressed.
One of those Stories with a Moral
I'm not big on pointing out historical figures with suspected aspergers because they're only "suspected", not proven. These figures however, while not particularly suitable as role models for adults can play an important part in boosting the self esteem of primary school children.
In this case, I talked to my son about how important it was to be different and how having a unique perception is a skill of its own quite separate from learned knowledge. I selected Sir Isaac Newton and started to talk about how everybody takes it for granted that things fall down and that things generally don't float around in the air. I then told him a story about a man who asked why - making it up on the spot.
What my story lacked in historical, scientific and mathematical accuracy, it made up for in its message and I almost felt like crying when my eight year old excitedly yelled, "I know... Gravity!"
Suddenly it wasn't just ok to be different. It was cool!
I pointed out how he'd been able to make the scouting game more fun and talked about a few other obvious (though not necessarily useful) talents he has. A talent doesn't have to be obviously useful to be special and every parent should be able to find a few things that their child does well, even if it's only prowess in a videogame or something directly related to their special interest.
My son is still lagging behind in some areas but at the moment he's also tuned into the fact that he's way ahead in areas where many children haven't even started. The depression has abated - for a while at least.
...and we've hardly touched the giant stack of famous suspected aspies who achieved greatness by accepting and celebrating their differences.