Friday, July 26, 2013

Maturity: Part II

Okay, it was more than a week you had to wait for the new post, but here it is!:

In the summer of '09 I was working at an overnight camp in Pennsylvania. During a woodworking activity, a little girl came to me asked me how to make a birdhouse and showed me the model we had on display. I was about to open my mouth to explain to her how we could do it, but immediately she said, "Never mind. It's too hard." It's a shame. At age ten I made a twelve-room birdhouse. The model the camp had was a much simpler version, and one that many kids her age could make given enough patience and helpful instruction.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times, at camps and other similar situations, I have encouraged kids I worked with to take on projects more complex than what they're used to-- even only slightly more so-- only to hear them lament that they don't even want to try because it's too hard. Most adults wouldn't give this attitude a second thought (unless it was something they were expected to learn, like reading or math). After all, they're just kids and shouldn't be expected to dive headfirst into an ambitious project until they're at least college age. Adults certainly wouldn't call them immature.

How about a twelve-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome who is able to fully engage herself in and complete an ambitious woodworking project (which I did every summer at day camp) but has difficulty making eye contact, misses social cues about when a joke is over, or gets incredibly frustrated when the project she is working on isn't going the way she hoped? She is called immature because she has difficulty navigating social situations and also because she has a "meltdown" when a project frustrates her. These same adults wouldn't think to use the word "mature" in response to her trying an adult-level creative project. 

This is really absurd when you think about it. Many kids-- hell, probably even most kids-- would simply abandon the project when they realize it's too hard for them. That way, there are no meltdowns or frustrations of any sorts. Somehow, this child is deemed more mature than a child who attempts a difficult project while KNOWING (as I did) that an emotional meltdown would happen at some point during the process of the project. It was a risk I was willing to take. 

There is too much emphasis on social maturity and absolutely zero on intellectual maturity. What a revolting double standard, one with potentially serious emotional costs to kids with AS! Personally, I find it disheartening and frustrating that the average, socially "mature" kid can't finish what he or she started while most people don't give it a second thought. We need to start praising kids with AS for their intellectual maturity and single-minded focus that enables them to finish what they have started, even if it means a meltdown-- or several-- along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with you. There seems to be a lowest-common-denominator attitude when it comes to skills, one that relegates people on the spectrum, who have uneven skill development, to be labeled by their weakest skills. And the famous Homer Simpson quote, "If it's hard to do, then it's not worth doing," seems to be the operative line in the case of this girl.

    By the way, I'm taking on the "too much emphasis on social maturity and absolutely zero on intellectual maturity" theme in a novel I just started today. Wish me luck!