What I have witnessed over the years about humans' skills, talents and aptitudes, both as a teacher and mother of a son with autism, is nothing short of admirable. The organ called the brain is the body part which I admire. It can heal itself to compensate for traumatic injury and it makes new cells continually. It can motivate someone to read. It controls body movement to generate physical strength and prowess to accomplish the unimaginable. Most amazing of all? If one area is impaired, another can be trained to assume its role. And ESP and communication with the dead? Unimaginable to me, but real to my husband. He believes the brain exercises these powers as well.
Take Trevor, for instance. He has been my son's bowling partner for ten years or so. He frequently bowls over 200, meeting that milestone almost weekly. He is an expert at movie trivia; for years he left bowling each Saturday to go to a movie. He can tell us everything about the plot and stars of each film for years back. He has no diagnosis, could definitely be on the spectrum, but shows no other characteristics. All I know is that he's got some talents that cannot be explained since no one, not even the brain expert, can explain why some people are the way they are.
My son has autism. He is largely non-communicative, unable to carry on a conversation of more than:
"How are you?"
"How was work today?"
Yet, after my husband and I returned from Alaska, we asked him how many times Aunt Cathy and Uncle Bruce let him on the Go Kart at Adventure Sport and he replied,
"tw...., FOUR!" That was 100% accurate! Greg is now 28 years old, and his speech is improving. He could never have answered that question years ago, but we plugged away at speech therapy, and it got into his brain somehow so that he could retrieve answers now, years after graduation from high school.
As a reading teacher, I have tried to encourage my students to read for eight years. This year, I just had my biggest accomplishment. A young man of age fourteen picked up a book and read it! Called, "Taken", the book is about a group of soldiers, most injured, who came together for a cause. During their sail around the world to create interest in wounded vets, they were kidnapped. Mervin won our raffle to be the first reader, came up to me soon after and said, "I can't believe they chopped off her hand!" I was shocked! He read his first book! I never expected a non-reader to engage in reading at this late age. What gave him the motivation? I know it wasn't due to my encouragement because I'd tried ALL year.
I have looked into the eyes of autistic people who are 100% nonverbal. They look at me, dying to tell me what's on their minds. I know this as much as I know that my name is Martha. Years ago, a young man with autism recited all of my family's birth dates, anniversaries and other information that his computer-like brain had amassed over the years. We went from one summer to the next, met Mark at the pool each summer, and he proceeded to recite our personal data. While in Oregon, I heard a young man with an autism diagnosis sing pop music while playing the guitar. Mike brought his audience to tears. I just rolled my eyes, shook my head and said, "Wow!" Who does this? Mozart played the piano at age 2. Who gets these talents, skills and abilities?
We have a nonverbal bowler in our Saturday group. What a special guy he is! His father patiently says, "left" or "right" each week, indicating which lane Ryan should use to bowl, and Ryan looks back and smiles as he purposely goes to the wrong lane. How do I know he's teasing me? After I gently shoved him to his lane, he turned, looked right at me and smirked. I laughed out loud! It took me a year to teach my son left from right and he still gets it wrong on occasion. What makes Ryan trick us? It must be motivating for him to show us how smart he is.
Everyone has capabilities that cannot be explained. Everyone has skills that are untapped. Thankfully, we've got the human brain. We have big problems to solve in this world and we need everyone's input and effort and untapped knowledge.
We have to reach our children. We have to create an environment of acceptance and learn ways to make our children resilient. Through resilience, they learn to cope. Through acceptance, they learn to experiment with new concepts. Through modeling, we teach motivation. School work is essential, but the human brain needs to be encouraged to exert itself in new ways, to ush utself to new heights. In this way, we will continue to be astounded by our accomplishments. Everybody is special. Everybody contributes to our society.
In workshops at Milton Hershey School, where I teach, we learn that effort is much more important than IQ. I'd like to argue that both play a part in learning. My son was motivated to draw at age 4 and he produced amazing cartoon pictures of Sesame Street characters. What made him continue? An OCD-like desire to produce art? A way to communicate that was visual rather than auditory? Only his brain knows for sure. What I know is that the ability was in there. What I know is that he brought out a talent deeply imbedded inside his brain and shared it with us. Effort, motivation to communicate and talent combined to make him draw. We need all of these.
But he sure can drive Nascar and Fast and Furious! His brain does not allow him to adhere to STOP signs, and he loves to crash. On the other hand, he regularly beats "normal" youngsters at the arcade.
Greg uses the candy machine independently, but cannot decide which kind of chocolate to purchase! The brain....who truly comprehends this puzzling inability to make a choiice?