Default Setting: Love
This is my first blog post, and it’s by way of explaining why I felt strongly enough about the Speak Out with your Geek Out movement — all next week, anywhere and everywhere you want to talk about whatever floats your geeky little boat — that I stepped up to be an admin. I’m doing it because I’m a big geek, of course, but more importantly, I’m doing it for my kids. They’re going to be a frequent subject on my blog, and yes, I’m going to use their names.
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The first thing most people notice about Connor is how *big* everything is for him. His volume is permanently set to 11; every gesture and expression is oversized and repeated two or three times in case you missed it the first (you couldn’t possibly). Then the other extremes about him begin to emerge: the speed of his speech only hints at the speed of his thoughts, and words pop up in the rapid stream that you don’t expect in a fourth-grade vocabulary. All these things might give the impression of excitement by themselves, but there’s real enthusiasm for so many subjects, and genuine delight at the prospect of sharing the coolness with someone new.
This is my kid. He’s a geek. His default setting is love.
He was doomed to geekhood well before his conception, what with two parents of impressive geek credentials. And he showed his own talent for geekhood as well. He started calling his make-believe play “movies” between ages 2 and 3, around the same time he announced he wanted a Jon Stewart 3rd birthday party. His passion for superheroes exploded onto the scene, until we started telling people who asked about potential gifts for him, “Look, if it’s ‘super,’ it’s great.”
What we didn’t know until he turned six was that Connor has Asperger’s Syndrome. The school where he attended kindergarten failed him in every respect. Teachers missed the expanding intellect and hunger for social interaction, and labeled him a discipline problem, a threat to “normal” kids. His classmates saw a child who wanted friends a little too desperately, and probably left them behind when he tried to include them in his elaborate stories. And, at that critical age, when different is dangerous, those children made his life hell. They rejected his friendship. They rejected his enthusiasm. They hurt him on the playground, to the point of stitches one cold winter morning. They threatened his life on the bus after school. Kindergartners told my son they wanted to have a party at his house; he was overjoyed. They said they would have a party at his house, and he would be the pinata, and they would beat him until he broke open and died. He had nightmares. My six-year-old said he wanted to kill himself. He knew what he was saying.
Things got better. We switched schools for first grade, and within a month, they’d identified the Asperger’s. Instead of simply conceding to the previous reigning theory on his behavior issues (i.e., “we’re crap parents”), we built strategies for home and school to address the most serious problems and deal with them constructively and consistently. Connor’s teacher gave him challenging work that kept him from making trouble when he was bored. He made friends who valued his vast cache of knowledge about Star Wars and superheroes.
Connor’s experiences made him a better person too. His fixation on superheroes had taught him the philosophical concept of justice, but now he understood what prejudice and oppression felt like, and why it was important to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. His skill as a storyteller was growing apace, but now he was sensitive to allowing his friends agency in their own stories, and supplied them with information so they could “make cool movies” too.
It’s not for nothing that jaded adults are advised to view the world through the perspective of a child, if they can. Everything is new and amazing to children, and they’re predisposed to love it, to find it literally wonder-full. I heard a parent of an autistic child in a radio interview say that people with autism are “more human than human;” natural human tendencies are amplified to extremes. Geekhood is, I believe, a natural human tendency. We get enthusiastic about things we enjoy; we want to know more, and we want to share them with others. We start with it when we’re children, when we’re geeks about the whole wide world–our default setting is love. And for some lucky people, like Connor, that setting never changes.
That was very touching. Thanks for sharing.
In case you didn’t know, your husband and I tentatively scheduled a double-date for our respective children (I have two girls) in about 15 years.
That seems perfectly reasonable — they’re going to be funny and adorable, and I’ll personally kick their butts if they don’t respect women. I’ll reserve two day passes from juvie for a chance at your lovely daughters. 🙂
Beautifully written. My heart just aches at your kindergarten experience; I can’t imagine that hurt as a parent and wonder if you ever fully heal from something like that. Connor sounds like a remarkable boy who is incredibly fortunate to have the “crap parents” he does.
Thanks so much for that, Michelle. That especially means a lot coming from a teacher who knows exactly how disconnected you’d have to be to just write off a smart, funny, eager-to-please kid for an entire year. We’re lucky that he just doesn’t think back to it much, but when he’s feeling under attack by the world, he still enumerates the assault on the playground when he earned those stitches among Things That People Have Done to Him. What a difference loving teachers, supportive admin, and some consistency make!
I just loved this. I love reading about the celebration of a child’s unique and incredible perspective they bring to our world. It can disappear all too soon – and often does.
I am glad you have found support at Connor’s school. I am lucky to have had that from the start and feel intense relief that my son’s teachers love him for who he is. We don’t know what it is yet (he is only 4) and it is mild whatever it may end up being but the journey has started and so far has been very positive.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks so much for your kind words. You learn at least as much about yourself in a journey like this as you do about your kid, and I’m so very glad to hear that your family has had the good fortune to find teachers who love your child for himself and all the wonderful things that go with that, and don’t just focus on the challenges. If I can answer questions or give support in any way as you go forward, please don’t hesitate for a second — it can be unexpectedly helpful to have someone as a resource who’s even just a year ahead of you in the process, and can give you a heads-up for what may be coming down the pike soon.
Very nice, i suggest Admin can set up a forum, so that we can talk and communicate.
It’s just little old me here, so I’m happy enough with comments for now. If I should be so lucky as to have so many readers and so many comments that I need to re-examine this, well, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it! 🙂
a Jon Stewart 3rd birthday party! haha
I am angry at the first school for so thoroughly dropping the ball.
Connor and all y’all rock.
Apparently, one of the dads of the kids who were invited to the party had a friend on the writing staff at The Daily Show, and he got a copy of the invitation to Jon Stewart. I heard it hung on his office wall for a while. 🙂
And I think the first school was just a hard-won lesson in believing our kid, and advocating for him. Any damage that was done has been more than repaired by the phenomenal teachers and admins we’ve had everywhere since.