When my son was in third grade, he came home saying that every kid in his class thought he was the devil.
When he told me, his face resembled someone who had been fighting a war in a foreign country. In his little 8 year old mind, he was a goner. Useless. Unwanted by peers at school. We were both heartbroken.
The problem with my baby was that he was different. His thoughts were deeper than a typical child yet when surrounded by his peers those deep thoughts would mix with child-like behavior and create all kinds of confusing messages for other children. He was overly sensitive to sound so that when the noise level got too much for him to manage, his reaction would be to make even louder noises. His personal bubble of safety was extremely close to his body thus any fast movements near him would result in his retaliation. This landed him in the time-out chair, on the sidelines at recess and in the principal’s office further perpetuating the idea that he is incapable of success.
Academically, he wasn’t succeeding according to school standards. Since he never crawled as a baby, his left and right brain had trouble communicating which created a much longer time frame for him to pick up learning how to read.
The adults in charge of helping him to succeed, believed he was a failure. Put all of these things together and you get a little boy who is deemed to be the devil by other children.
Isn’t that preposterous? No one in all of their academic brilliance knew how to help him learn. Moment after moment, year after year, a multitude of incidents led up to him finally getting a title that everyone felt suited him yet drained him down to his core. At merely 8 years old he was given his destiny by others and I refused to accept it.
Yet— those words changed his life completely.
That same fateful day when I saw his tearful realization of his little life, a life-changing event happened. Thank goodness I wasn’t too pre-occupied with my household and professional duties to recognize it.
I had received a blender with all the bells and whistles for my birthday. Upon putting it together, we decided to give it a whirl. Unbeknownst to me, I had forgone a step and soon enough there was smoothie all over the kitchen. My boy with his super-power hearing came charging into the kitchen and without a pause said, “let me see the blender. I can fix it”. I tried to shoo him away with my left foot while I was pushing both slurping dogs away with my right. But something inside of me said, let him do it. After a brief peering at it while turning it side-to side—he knew exactly what I had done wrong.
Just like that, I retrieved two other items that I were on my to do list: the food processor and bike lock. Within secondss, both were fixed and I was taught how to use all three properly.
Wait…this is the boy who can’t read, has been labeled a nuisance, has inappropriate behavior according to teachers, isn’t motivated by classwork—but wait, he can fix multiple everyday items?
This was a telling situation. We jumped for joy. We discussed this incredible magic that his mind can do when seeing how to mechanical operate something so that it works. I was amazed at the depth in which he could describe how things worked and why they needed the parts that they do. We daydreamed about the things he could do with this incredible ability. Begin a business helping people to fix things around their house (my idea), work on airplanes (his idea), design and build cars (our idea). He had HOPE!
For some reason, adults in society give children only three ways to measure their success: popularity (if they have friends), behavior (following rules and instruction) and academics (getting good grades, being on grade level). I, too had fallen into that trap by asking only simple questions: how was your day, what did you learn, what color smiley face did you get, do you have homework? What I should have been asking is what do you love? What do you think you are great at? How can I help you discover your talents?
Children have an abundance of skills and talents. At some point we need to reframe the academic dialogue to assist children with uncovering exactly what those talents are. By all accounts my child was a failure. At 8 years old he was deemed an academic disaster. Yet he can fix just about anything. How many of the “brightest and the best” can fix anything? How many of us wish we could? Fast forward almost 6 years later and this “devil” and “failure” is operating two profitable entrepreneurial businesses: he details cars in our neighborhood and works at a horse farm doing odd jobs for the wheel-chaired bound owner. He has money in his pocket, a sense of self-worth and is simultaneously doing a good deed. It would have been a real blessing if he could have gotten to this point without all of the heartache caused by the fact that he is still a low reader and has difficulty in groups of children.
It should be a requirement of every adult whose job is to bring out the best in children to understand that talent may sometimes lie deep within. While with some children it may take longer to spot, but we (parents and educators) took on this job so stick with the process for however long it takes. Writing a kid off because they don’t fit your schema is antiquated and cruel. As Rick Miller so brilliantly states in his Kids at Hope Initiative, All children are capable of success, no exceptions! It is our one job as adults to help each and every child in our care figure out what those gifts are and how to use them. It simply goes beyond teaching kids to read and write.
It just has to.