Monday, March 4, 2013

Strengths, Knowledge, and the Application of Knowledge: Challenging Assumptions

We have been sorting through all the junk in our house, organizing and tossing things. Today my son stumbled upon a DVD that accompanied some dump truck toy he got the Christmas before he turned 2.

“Hey!” he exclaimed, his facing lighting up. “It’s my stinky movie.”

“Stinky movie??” I repeated, dubious. “What does it smell like?”

“No, Stinky is the dump truck! Remember?”

Barely. I certainly didn’t remember his name was Stinky, but sure enough, that is his name on the DVD. I was surprised my son could recall this fact. His dump truck is in a toy box somewhere—he still has it. But that DVD? We watched it once, when we opened the toy, over 2 years ago, and then promptly discarded it. My son wasn’t calling me “mommy” at this point. He had, like, a handful of words at the time. What the hell does he mean “Oh, mom, do you remember Stinky??” Ha. Ridiculous.

He sure is good with names, though…

He has met several of my friends and coworkers, and never forgets any of them. If he hears me mention them by name in a conversation, he chimes in. “Oh, Samuel! I LIKE Samuel! Is he coming over?”

No doubt he is the Ultimate Power Rangers Trivia Master, knowing every Ranger and every villain in every different Power Rangers show existing—and there are a lot of different ones, now. There are unicorns and dinosaurs and shit.

Typical autistic obsession? Potentially totally useless? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

He DOES read. He was playing this first grade level reading game on the computer, and flying through it with ease. “Well, I’ll be damned, you really can read, huh, Son,” I said.

“Yeah. Don’t say ‘damn.’” He didn’t even look away from his game. Cocky little bad-ass.

Parlor trick? I don’t know. What does it mean to be an early reader with no story telling skills and so far no real expression of reading comprehension? Does it have to mean something? Could it be a really cool thing just because it is indicative of the awesome complexities of the human brain?

I am not sure. I have strong feelings that are more instinctual than anything.

 It is still really hard to hold an actual conversation with my son. Our relationship doesn’t suffer for it, but I think his peer relationships do, and sometimes I just panic and start thinking he’s doomed if we don’t get him back into speech therapy.  Although I know that he is a smart kid, I worry that if he does not understand certain concepts verbally, he has no chance of understanding them in some other context. Then I see his natural ability to soak up facts, names, and information, and I am less worried about the verbal skills.

I think I’ve pictured this smart, yet ignorant child, who is “exposed” to less information than his peers because he can’t verbally keep up.  In reality, he is exposed to different things, as well as the same things through different avenues. In reality, his inability to express something in a way that I understand is just not related at all to his actual level of comprehension. I know that on paper it seems I’m talking about things I should have learned in Autism 101—common truths about differences in learning styles, communication abilities, and neurology. I think, however, that a deeper understanding of these simple truths is required in order to face our own biases when it comes to what constitutes as Application of Knowledge, and realize it is not to be confused with Expressions of Knowledge Communicated towards Others. One can apply knowledge without showing someone else how they are doing it. Just because my son didn’t call me “mommy” until he was almost 3 doesn’t mean he didn’t know I was “mommy.” I assumed he didn’t know. It’s possible he didn’t know. This whole Stinky the Dump Truck reminiscence has me reconsidering my assumptions.

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