Updated: Dec 26, 2022
The Bane of Man is Thinking Small When it comes you Harlen, his biggest obstacle is low standards. Some kids are truly messed up and have extremely limited abilities. Not Harlen, there is nothing wrong with him, he is just delayed.
The way I understand autism, it is a break from reality. Some are looking at the real world through a keyhole. Others through a window. Harlen is a smart kid, clinging to his fun world but he is very much aware of the real world. For him, his world is more analogous to the shade of a tree. He can run in and out of it at will. His place on “the spectrum” is nowhere near the edge.
We know this for many reasons, but he makes it obvious when he is pretending to be in Toon Town, or wherever, and he does so quietly so as not to be corrected. Or he will run a little subroutine silently. There is no question that such is indicative of a kid that is very aware of the real world…he just enjoys “his” world. People want to protect him, coddle him, and give him praise for virtually nothing. Well meaning, yes, but destructive. One example is a waitress at a restaurant that we frequent. She is blonde, which is his preference, and she gives him a lot of interaction. She leads him through his order, but she shouldn’t. He knows what he wants, and it would be beneficial if he were to have to rifle through the memory files, find the words and tell them to her. Not only that, but his order has evolved, something that his mom and I encourage. Trying new things and changing your tastes is something every 15-year-old should do. Leading him does not help him in any way whatsoever.
Harlen is pretty good at math, and he knows his times tables. Sometimes he just doesn’t want to do it. Thank God his mother is teaching him because she doesn’t let him get away with being lazy. In the government schools he could just repeat the problem over and over and get a pat on the head. Answers were optional. Once Harlen made the mistake of testing his will against Sandra’s. Bad move. It was a simple math problem, one that he knows by heart. Even if he didn’t remember he knows how to figure it out. He dug his heels but his mom was having none of it. Almost four hours later, he accepted the fact that she has the superior resolve, which is something that I tried to tell him.
In the end he answered the problem, and I poured his mother a well-deserved glass of wine. While Applied Behavior Analysis may be good for some kids, it has been nothing less than devastating for Harlen. ABA is all about compliance and checking off meaningless goals. Ask Harlen a question and the answer is always “yes.” It is an automatic response that we have, so far, been unable to break. In addition, ABA has made him scared to fail. Failure is part of life and an important step towards success. We never fuss at for trying and failing…only for not trying.
ABA has encouraged him to do nothing rather than try and fail. He will stand there and point aimlessly and/or mumble gibberish rather than answer a question that he might get wrong. Removing him from ABA was one of our best decisions but we are still battling the effects. In addition to handicapping him with low standards, some take it to the next level and actually try to “protect him” from expectations. I believe it was Kahil Gibran who said, “accept your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.” One example of this was when we were travelling, five hours from home, checking into a hotel. He was with his grandfather who didn’t keep an eye on him. As you might imagine, after being in a car for hours, he had a lot of pent-up energy he took off. It was a large, busy hotel with two wings, eight floors and multiple exits. With my heart in my throat, I went looking for him. Bathrooms, ballrooms, restaurant, bar, pool, he was nowhere to be found. Eventually, nearly frantic, I came across him running up and down a hallway, happy, skipping, and joyful. He got yelled at and the looks I received were lethal. Were they well-meaning? Probably, but to allow this behavior is dangerous, compromising his safety. Sometimes he needs to be yelled at, chastised, and admonished harshly. The coddling doesn’t end at standards for learning and behavior, it is also with regards to
stress. Some want to make sure that he is never unhappy, stressed or under pressure. Where does that come from? Stress is part of life and now is when he needs to learn to deal with it. No, he shouldn’t be given a live bomb to dismantle while instructions are relayed with a megaphone. Life is not analogous to a box of chocolates...stress happens. The bottom line is simple. Harlen is a strong, healthy fifteen-year-old boy with a good brain and a kind heart. That is a great launching pad for a wonderful, successful, fulfilling life.
He is only disabled if we let him…and that isn’t going to happen.