Pushing Back and Moving On
I'm currently reading a book about helping adults with learning disabilities achieve independence. I'm not sure if I like it or not, so I'll withhold the title, for fear of inadvertently driving up readership of a book that is bunk. It may not be bunk, but I'll err on the side of caution. I've been struck by a few things in the early chapters of this book. First of all, the author goes to great pains to identify LD as a separate and completely different disability from autism or mental retardation. But as you read on, the picture of LD becomes a broad spectrum that I couldn't help feeling empathetic to as a parent of an ASD young adult. I'm still a fairly newcomer to the autism party, and vividly remember feeling almost relieved to belong to a more concrete diagnosis group. But now as I step out of the ASD circle and look back at LD, I realize we parents are all fighting the same battle. And as the author points out, we often feel very alone on the battlefield, but needlessly so.
The second thing that struck me in my early reading was not a new concept, but it triggered something new within me. The author was describing the mislabeling of LD students of being "lazy" or "not trying hard enough," and how detrimental these labels are to the students. Yes, I'm nodding my head, it's awful for someone to be told they're not trying when there is a limit to what they're capable of ... But ... Wait just a minute ... I know for a fact that there have been times Cameron could have in fact done better. Just because Cameron has LD, ASD, ADHD, or any other acronym should not absolve him from having to try! I worry that a certain diagnosis becomes a trigger for individuals to just opt out and play the disability card. Or, even worse, parents, teachers, and even society in general allows and even expects these individuals to opt out with little pushback.
I gave Cameron a large helping of pushback just the other day. (If you ask Cameron, he'd probably tell you he gets a daily dose of pushback, thank you very much.) One of Cameron's regular duties in the house is taking the garbage out. The night before trash day, he collects the garbage from all the bins in the house and rolls the recycling and garbage to the curb. I've tried to improve his productivity in this task by suggesting he take replacement bags with him from the start, as opposed to revisiting each bin twice—once to empty and once to replace bag. I think Cameron finally came around to seeing the sense of my suggestion, but it wasn't immediate. I wrote off his reluctance to change as a stereotypical autism trait. Based on that trait, I failed to address the fact that Cameron would take the plastic bag out of a bin and replace it with a new bag even if the old bag had two tissues in it and an empty toilet paper roll. The other day, my husband observed this trash collecting habit, and suggested a better approach. I was in a different part of the house, but I only needed to hear part of my husband's comments to understand what Cameron's reaction must've been. "If I'm you're manager at work, and I tell you to do something differently …"
Aha! Allowing Cameron to do things his way just because he's reluctant to change is not helping him prepare for the workplace. Why didn't I think of this before? When I then gave further instructions to Cameron about not leaving the lid to the trash bin on my bathroom countertop, he grunted and stomped his foot. In my mind I'm thinking, "You're fired!" I launched into a rather heated lecture about taking instruction. (Armed with my angry eyes, just like Mr. Potato Head in “Toy Story.”) Cameron got the message. And I reiterated the message in a much more conciliatory tone 20 minutes later. I'm sure Cameron will "try harder" next week. Because he can.