Years ago when my eldest son (mildly Aspie, no dx) was in early primary school he developed a fear of going to school because he couldn’t handle the reactions of other kids and some of the teachers when he didn’t know the answer to a question or how to do some of the work. Being of above average intelligence and classed as “gifted and talented” the teachers in more than one of his classes from Kindergarten onward would get him to help the other kids with some of their work, which obviously set him apart from the others on a social level as well. Using him as a ‘teachers-aide’ was totally unfair to him and unprofessional on the part of the teachers and put unnecessary stress on a small child, setting him up for long term problems.
When he didn’t know how to do something the kids would ridicule him and generally laugh and carry on as if it was some sort of victory for them to see him fail at something. Apparently even a teacher or two expressed surprise that he couldn’t do the required task in some instances, assuming that because he was so good at some things that of course he could do all the others as well. I wasn’t aware of this until he had a big tearful meltdown one morning in Year 2 (at age 7) and was too afraid to go into the classroom, which of course led to discussions between me and him and with his teacher to eventually uncover the reason behind it. Even after further discussions with the school to help him it was obvious the damage was done. His way of coping after that was to underachieve for the rest of primary school and high school and thereby be ‘safe’ by not standing out, though he did go to ‘Opportunity Class’ for gifted and talented kids in years 5 and 6, and then onto a Selective High School where ‘standing out’ wasn’t so much of an issue as they were all brilliant kids. He survived the school system and went on to uni where he did manage to finally stand tall and later go on to successful employment in his chosen field of Computer Science and Software Engineering.
So, why am I writing about this some 24 years later? Well, I had an unpleasant experience last week at a weekend retreat I went to with friends which made me think of this. We were doing some craft activities over the weekend and I was having trouble with one of the crafts which involved looping some thread around a ring to make a dream-catcher. I did ok on the first row of loops but had trouble with the second row, plus my knot at the very beginning came undone, which meant I had to start again. I was annoyed, but joking about it and certainly not seriously upset or angry.
Then the friend instructing us said they were very surprised that I was having trouble with it — implying that because I was good at other arts and crafts I should automatically be good at this too. I felt a bit annoyed/upset at their presumption and at being singled out like that but I just laughed it off. Next another friend laughed and almost gleefully said something like, “Now you know what it’s like for other people when they can’t do something.” Their tone of voice was slightly mocking, like maybe it was meant as a joke but it struck me as quite hurtful and uncalled for. A couple of others said something like, “Whoa, that’s not….” and I didn’t really hear the rest as I was silently processing the mental shock wave of the, “Now you know…” words and had retreated into myself. WHY would someone say that to me, and while laughing, smiling, sounding happy about the fact I was having trouble with this craft activity??? It sounded like a thinly veiled accusation implying I deserved this ‘punishment’ and ridicule for some reason. I’ve never been rude to anybody else when they couldn’t do something, I’ve never made fun of anyone’s artwork. I’ve always been polite, supportive and never arrogant about my own gifts and talents, yet for some reason this person felt the need to bring me down. Was it a reflection of their own jealousy or insecurity? Who knows? All I know is it had a surprisingly BIG adverse effect on me and made me wonder if I could really trust this person fully ever again.
Mind you, all of this took place in less than a minute and with my lack of outward reaction to it nobody would have a clue about how I felt. I don’t do well with confrontation, nor with ridicule — so instead of calling them out on what they said I just remained silent. I can also take some solace in the fact that I think the others saying, “Whoa, that’s not….” meant that other people thought the “Now you know…” comment was inappropriate too. I would like to believe that no harm was really meant by the person who said it, and that it was just blurted out without them thinking about the deeper implications, but the belittling tone and the ‘bright-eyed’ enthusiastic expression on their face as it was being said makes it difficult.
This brief incident made me think of my son and the way the kids treated him all those years ago and how hurtful and damaging that was to him as a small child at the time. As for me and my feelings, well, the phrase, “suck it up princess”, comes to mind. Venting on this blog is the most I’m going to do — anything else would be pointless and I’d probably get laughed at even more for being ‘too sensitive’.