differently wired

Kids will do well…

“Kids will do well, if they can.”  This is a quote from Dr. Ross Greene, an American psychologist.  He believes that “Kids will do well if they want to” is a philosophy that is held by many, but he says it is wrong.  Dead wrong.  Think about it.  He’s right.  It makes so much sense.   He talks about rewarding kids for desired behaviour, and punishing undesired behaviour and how that method is based on the assumption that kids don’t want to do well, so therefore we need to make them want to by motivating them with positive and negative reinforcements.  When you consider that kids do well if they can, you then realize you need only to figure out what is getting in their way and work to remove those ba.

Obviously it’s not simple.  But it IS sensible.  At least from my perspective.  And we are living it.  Berrik struggled in a system that seems to be set up with the philosophy that kids will do well if they want to.  He was absolutely rewarded for desired behaviour (the very few times he exhibited the desired behaviour) and was regularly punished for undesirable behaviour.  There was many a conversation between myself and his teachers about medication – because medication would help him fit the system, ultimately.  (EDIT: Please note that I am not anti-medication to treat symptoms of ADHD (or anything else for that matter).  In our situation at that time, I didn’t feel like it was the best solution for Berrik and I was concerned that it was viewed as the ‘only solution’.  We each are living our experiences and those who have used medication as one of the strategies to help their child do well are doing what we are all doing – trying to allow our children to do well.) There were just as many conversations about reward systems, and removing of privileges. And I say this with no negative feelings towards the teachers. With the exception of one, Berrik’s teachers truly seemed to want to help Berrik achieve success. But with many many kids per class and extremely limited resources, it seemed the only way was to make the kids fit the system rather than have the system fit the kids.

Enter private school designed for kids who do not fit the system.  A school designed to allow the system to fit the kids.  A school where every single person from the Board to the school admin believe that the system should fit the kid, and that kids will do well if they can.  In Berrik’s case, he needs a little extra support to keep him on task.  He was speech delayed as a toddler and this still impacts him as well.  His developmental coordination disorder makes things like writing more challenging.  So, he works with the speech language pathologist weekly.  He works with the OT twice per week.  And his teachers are making accommodations that make it easier for him to do well.  Not surprisingly he is doing exceptionally well.  Because kids will do well if they can.

 

I was at the school’s annual AGM listening to one of the OTs and the family counsellor present about a new program that is being piloted this year.  They referenced Dr. Greene’s quote.  And they talked about developmental age vs. chronological age.  It really resonated with me and if I needed one more reason to know that I have my boy in the correct school for him, this was it.  Think about it.  Chronological age is a pretty arbitrary thing to use to determine things like school grade, ability to drive, ability to drink or smoke marijuana, etc. etc.   Think about the kids you know and all the different phases and stages of development.  Even amoung my own three kids, their developmental ages vs. chronological ages have varied by quite a bit.  My kids’ friends vary dramatically as well.  Take any handful of 12 year olds (or 15 year olds, or 3 year olds) and compare their developmental age.  Some are incredibly mature in some areas of their lives, and some are developmentally younger. McKenna didn’t walk until 19 months.  She never crawled. Her physical development was on the edge of what would be considered ‘normal’ and she was way behind her peers.  Wasn’t much we could do about it, so we just let it be. She’s a strong runner and a competitive dancer now.  Development happens when it happens and while it should progress, the rate at which it progresses varies and shouldn’t be labelled or used as a predictor of future ability.  What is important to note as well, is that kids may be developmentally more mature in one area of development and not in others.  Dr. Greene talks about this as well. If we pay attention to developmental age and give kids what they can handle based where they are developmentally, they will do well.  It’s not unlike giving a first year resident surgeon an incredibly complex surgery on her first case.  The outcome likely won’t be all that good.  Why are we surprised when we ask kids to perform tasks beyond their developmental ability and it doesn’t go well?  It often results in behaviors that we see as negative.  But actually it’s quite normal and the kid is not the problem.

So the next time you see a kid (or your own kid) behaving in a way that isn’t meeting your expectations, think about your expectations. Are they developmentally appropriate?  Stop comparing your kids to their peers.  Its not helpful or useful.  Meet kids where they are at, and they will do well. Because kids will do well if they can.

That’s SO weird!

Justin Timberlake.jpeg

This guy.  Undeniably talented.  Clearly intelligent.  When I heard him make this speech I felt a bunch of emotions bubble to the surface.  The most prominent was gratefulness. Grateful that this guy with a voice and a huge audience of young people uses that voice to say things like he said.   Grateful for the acknowledgement that different is a good thing and that it can preclude greatness that is measured in your impact on people and the world.  Berrik has been called many things in his short life by people who are lacking in humanity and kids who learned this behavior from the world we all live in.  I’m sure he will be called things that cannot be said on TV also at some point (although to be fair, most of us will be!).

Ultimately though, the thing I am most grateful for is that Berrik is in a school where being ‘weird’ is the norm, and is celebrated as part of each kids’ individuality.  In a world where kids are all trying to fit in and be the same, it feels like an alternate universe to enter Berrik’s school and classroom.  No one asks him to be like anyone else.  The school team seeks to figure out who Berrik is and then celebrates his strengths AND his weaknesses.  Because when you step back for a moment and consider my sweet boy as a whole human being, he’s pretty darned amazing.  So if all the parts of him make up the fabulous sum of who he is, then can any of those parts be seen as negative?  Nope.  At least not at school.  It’s quite fascinating to be in the classroom with Berrik and his classmates.  It’s difficult to explain but you can feel it when you’re there.  So completely different than in his former school classroom.  Or the classrooms of my daughters over the years.  The best way I can think of to describe it is that the typical tensions related to who are the ‘smart’ kids and the ‘jocks’ and who fits into all the other ‘labels’ or ‘categories’ that are common in a regular public school, doesn’t seem to exist.  As his mom, it’s most noticeable to me in my own child.  Berrik is fully, authentically, unapologetically himself in this classroom.  He is free to be.  It doesn’t occur to him to worry about what people think because there seems to be so little judgement.  And when you don’t feel judged, I think it makes you less likely to judge others, so all the kids seem to be authentically themselves. Like I said, hard to describe.

Back in the days where Berrik was undergoing some assessments related to ADHD, the psychologist asked how we were managing at home.  I recall being a bit confused by the question.  While I recognize that many kids who are differently wired can have symptoms that result in or appear to be behavioural issues, this had never been an issue for Berrik.  And even though we have two neurotypical kids, it never really occurred to me to consider the impact of Berrik’s differently wired brain as something needing to be managed in a special way within the context of home.  Did he act the same as the girls? No.  But the girls act differently than each other also.  Berrik is just Berrik, just as Avi and McKenna are also their own people with sometimes surprisingly different ways of being from each other and from Berrik. We are just 5 people who are each very different from each other, but the sum of those parts is a pretty great little family.

How fortunate we are that our little ‘weirdo’ can live his life in this way.  It’s not that he gets to be unaware that he’s different from some of his peers, it’s that he has learned that different isn’t something negative, and in fact just might be the coolest thing about him.