Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Find The Good.

My son Mario, who has Asperger's Syndrome (along with ADHD and some other short odds lottery genetics) is mainstreamed in the local jr. high school system. As part of his IEP, Mario receives significant accommodations. With his accommodations and very little effort, Mario is a solid 'C' student. When Mario puts in effort he has been an honor roll student.  This wide swing always makes for some interesting parent-teachers conferences.
Mario and Little Susie
Mid-Term Reports.
When we received Mario's 1st quarter mid-term achievement report we were very excited; Mario was on track for honor roll. My wife and I are not that tied up in Mario's grades, but his sister Little Susie is at the honor roll equivalent for her age. Self esteem issues often accompany Asperger's and ADHD. My wife and I both thought it would be good for Mario's self esteem to have some acknowledgment for his scholastics, especially since his sister excels academically*. Needless to say all four of us (with some coaching) were amped up for 1st semester conferences.
 A Lesson From The Teacher.
The absolute highlight of the conference was meeting Mario's language arts teacher. We found out that Mario was one of only two students that would receive an 'A' for the quarter. Great news but this wasn't what thrilled my wife and I, though. Mario's language arts teacher was also his case manager (responsible for making sure all Mario's accommodations in Mario's IEP were being met). After we introduced ourselves, the language arts teacher/case manager asked "So, what's Mario's gift?" My wife and I didn't understand the question. I thought, We're not even to Thanksgiving and this guy is asking about holiday gifts?" The teacher saw our puzzled look and said, "I'm Mario's case manager so I know he has Asperger's and we all know the challenges someone with Asperger's faces. I'd like to know if you've found his gift**, the things that compensate for his challenges." I knew right then, that Mario was lucky to have this gentleman as a teacher and a case manager. This guy gets it.
In Real Life.
I recall that conversation with Mario's teacher often. I think it's human nature to dwell on what we aren't getting or what isn't happening. Similarly, I often evaluate people in terms of their specific weaknesses, in terms of who these people are not. But frankly, we all have things we wish we could be better at accomplishing. I find my days happier, more fulfilling and more successful when I look for the best in those around me and think of those I love (and even those I merely know) in terms of who they are and what they do best. I try and incorporate Mario's teacher's lesson as often as possible.

Do you find yourself gravitating towards the negative? How do you accentuate the positive in those around you? How do you feel when you are evaluated based on your weaknesses as opposed to your strengths? Do you do better when you are complimented on what you do best? Or do you respond better to negative criticism?

*By the end of the year Mario had enough of academic excellence and wound up with a solid 'C' average.
** Mario's primary gift is his  rote memory. He remember many facts after seeing them only once. In grammar school he never studied for spelling tests and usually received a perfect grade. To this day he remains a visual learner.


  1. I think one of the things that makes the most sense as a parent in the long-run is to parent your child with duality - that is to say that you've got to somehow not compare your kids to others, but take everyone into consideration. In your case - comparatively, Mario is getting a 'C' average. But he's got gifts, which it might seem sometimes you only see, but others, such as that teacher, will find and harvest. Anyway, point is - you've got to hold onto those gifts as if no other kid exists, but with the knowledge that somehow, they do, and Mario will be working around them his whole life. Good luck and thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow, I really loved this post.My son struggles with ADHD and learning disabilities. Unfortunately, 99% of the time his teachers are focused on his *negatives* and totally ignore his *gifts* We ALL have them. Too bad most people don't get that.

  3. Zach,
    My wife and are not concerned at all with the letter grade. We are concerned with 1. Mario's effort and 2. Mario learning how to learn. As he grows he needs to rely on his strengths to compensate for his weaknesses. As for effort, when he does a cursory on homework so he can play vid games because when he grows up he wants to work for Nintendo, I constantly remind him that game programmers know tons and tons of math. Time will tell.

    I can tell by your comment you chose your handle with a touch of irony. Irony helps when your kids have special needs. If your son has ADHD and other learning disabilities, have you checked into an IEP or other specialized learning program protected under law? Given what you have shared, the educators shouldn't be stuck on what your son can't do, some of those areas are already known.

    Thank you both for your compliments and your wonderful comments.

  4. we could all learn alot by the comment made by Mario's teacher...what is their gift? If we asked that about each person we met, life would be richer for all of us.........nice post..

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  6. (previous comment by me, removed by me for a typo).

    I agree with you. That's why I try to revisit that conversation with Mario's teacher regularly (daily?). Thank you for the compliment and feel free to stop by anytime.