Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Of winners and winning...

One of the traits most Asperger kids have in common is the rigidity with which they cling to the perspectives they form based on their unique way of looking at life. This often results in intensely frustrating stand-offs between an uncompromising little person and an exasperated parent. Not much of what Dr. Phil teaches about handling parent-child conflict helps either, because in this case it is not merely a difficult or headstrong child one is dealing with, or an ill mannered one. It is a child with a pathology that cannot be “fixed” with conventional discipline or even bribery. And trust me, I have tried the latter in sticky (read: public) situations on many occasions.

Aspergers are immune to bribery and compromise. They are so straight, in fact, that government should gather all the grown-up Aspergers they can lay their hands on, train them in public administration and let them run the machinations of state. I guarantee you: corruption, ineffectiveness, delays and lethargy will be eradicated from the officiosphere in its entirety, forever and with immediate effect. The administration of State will run smoothly, strictly by the book and on designated schedules as if our very lives depended on it. Service will be prompt and highly (sometimes even painfully) effective. Service delivery will not be restricted to the 40 hour working week, including lunch and extra long tea breaks, current officials insist on. No sir, we will enjoy the benefit of an officialdom consisting of individuals who obsess about completing any task they start without interruption or delay.

But, oh, beware those times when a little oversight on our own side may require a tad of flexibility from our friendly state administrators. A little wink, or a little nudge at most. Certainly not bribery or corruption on the scale of our current President’s friends and acquaintances or even that which we anticipate from those associated with our anticipated new commander in chief. You know, just those little times when one is a little late with some licence renewal, or when some “triviality” occurs and the official we deal with has the authority to act on his own discretion. Little things, really, you know...

Beware! When the Aspergers take over, we may enjoy smooth administration for the first time ever in the world wide history of the organised state, but forget allowance for our humanness, our little “situations”. There will be no compromises. A winning smile, a bottle of good scotch, or even the best cleavage on both sides of the equator will get you absolutely nowhere.

But here I am getting carried away by the state of the State again, while I really meant to write about the medal Leigh won at the inter schools athletics meet.

Because of her substantial electronic game playing abilities, Leigh has become accustomed to always winning irrespective of whether it is a race or some other skills game. Electronically, once she’s had an opportunity to look over a game, she is virtually unbeatable amongst the crowd in her immediate world. This led her to believe that it is a primary rule of any competitive game that Leigh wins it. She literally does not have any concept of the best participant winning a competition, no matter how we try to illustrate or explain the concept of merit to her – it is like trying to convince a rocket scientist that the workings of his devices is really the result of interference by ghosts from other dimensions.

While this is all fair and well in cyber space and in the gaming world where the competition is between electronic images of fairies, dragons and little men running on a flat screen, Leigh transported this perception into real space. We were unaware of this problem until the first time she did not win. During athletics practise in her school she always won, so it never came up. This is probably what prompted her to blur the lines between cyber reality and actual reality in the first place, but imagine the havoc when she qualified to participate in the inter schools athletics meet, an event athletes from five different spes ed schools participate in, and did not win.

The pavilion was full of parents from all over the peninsula. Leigh came in third and freaked. The game is not working right, it is broken. Teacher Nansia and I and both explained: no, this just means two of the other girls can run a little faster than you, dear, it is nothing, really. Look, you are the third fastest out of more than twenty participants which means you are still pretty fast. But she would have absolutely none of it: either this game is not working right, or they cheated. No amount of coaxing was going to cut it. This, right in front of the stands, right in front of hundreds of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings waiting for the post race medal giving to proceed: the shrieking, shrill devastated little voice of an irremediable and heartbreaking lack of understanding and a mother-teacher partnership trying to contain the damage. The scene was classic.

It was a scene that every parent in that stadium was in one or other form painfully familiar with and understood. And that is probably the single most comforting benefit parents of special needs kids find in the spes ed environment: the comprehension and the reciprocal forbearance amongst parents in situations that in the mainstream would have caused severe embarrassment or even an unpleasant situation of some kind.

In the end, to not hold up proceedings any more than we already had, Nansia and I abandoned all efforts to explain the phenomenon of merit, as well as our lesson on the significance of the difference between the real world and the one contained between the four sides of a flat screen, agreeing that those two issues would have to be included in our longer term socialization strategy, and fortunately managed to sell the idea that it simply was somebody else’s turn to win this time. I know it was a short cut and that these often defeat the objectives of socialization, but we were really in the hot water at that moment and we were not going to convince that little girl on the spot there in front of a waiting crowd that her perspective was skew. That is one of the things I love about Nansia: she does not dogmatically cling to prescription when practicality begs a temporary departure.

So, fortunately, even though Leigh remained extremely sceptical about the idea of giving someone else a “turn” at something that has nothing to do with turn taking because one is by the very nature of things always the sole claimant to it, her generous nature took over and she graciously agreed to go with the flow. She was still wearing her bronze when she went to bed that night. I sat next to her for almost two hours after she fell asleep before taking it off and hanging it over the pillar of the bed.


Ed said...

You have great insight and understanding. You sound like a great Mom with a great daughter.
Grace and Peace,

Anonymous said...

Dr.Phil has nothing on you. He should take lessons. Love this post.
Very interesting.

Webster Twelb said...

Dr. Phil?

Never listen to that guy.

I love Leigh's picture here. She looks like there's nothing wrong with her. She looks like any other kid..

owengray said...

Your daughter has given you insight and sympathy which is far beyond what most of us possess. This is an important post which needs to be read by many people.

krokodil said...

Thanks for your kind comments, guys. I had severe technical breakdowns which left me excluded from the internet for most of December, but I am back once again and you will all be hearing from me soon!