When I was little, I truly believed I had the potential to draw pictures. I would look at something, desire to draw it, then run and get some paper. In my head I could see no obstacle, no practical reason that I would not be able to draw that tree, house, or dog….I felt pretty sure I could do it.
I couldn’t even draw a cube. Everyone could draw a cube! Sure, I could draw it if someone showed me how. Then I could duplicate it again and again. Once I was given stroke by stroke instruction, I could practice and get real good at it, even. And I did eventually learn to draw an excellent box. It’s been a few years, so I absolutely know that I could NOT draw a box right now.
My husband, Dave, doesn’t believe me. I told him that if I practiced for the rest of the day, I would not be able to draw a picture of my coffee cup (that was sitting on the table at the time). He says anyone can draw. Yes, that’s true- if he showed me how to draw that cup, I could draw it again and again all on my own. But I couldn’t figure it out the first time without help. I asked him, “Could you have drawn a picture of that cup, without help, when you were five years old?” He said yes.
This is just one of a million ways my husband’s brain is wired differently than mine. I accept it. He is a good artist. It’s easy for him, because he was born that way. I could be taught, but I would always be amazed at the better artists of the world, because the basic skills I would struggle to achieve would be effortless to them. Like breathing. My husband cannot even wrap his mind around the fact that someone couldn’t draw something as simple as a cup. I get it. When I was small, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it either. (Sometimes, for just a second, I still think I could draw it.)
This forces me to think more about what effect our brain wiring has on our lives, who we are, and who our children will be because of it. It also gives me a small clue about the challenges of being wired differently than others. But all of us already are. We just don’t notice until we are alone in a group of people who all share different wiring. Like hanging out with a bunch of mathematicians when you never could pass Algebra. There’s a lesson about autism here, but that’s not where I’m going.
If you are really good at something, odds are it was always just easier for you than for other people. You can’t explain it, and you can’t understand why other people can’t do it. Like spelling.
There are different degrees of this, of course. For example, you have a lot of very good singers out there. Then you have a much smaller group of exceptional singers who manage to amaze those other (just) very good singers. Like most people, I am good at a variety of things, but I am not exceptional at them. We have to find ways to be different from each other in order to stand out.
But my husband is not like most people. He will hate that I say this. While Dave is a good artist, he is an exceptional musician. And he is one of those rare people who are unable to turn off their creative switch, because there is no switch. He exists in that world, even when you don’t want him to be there. I know this is what made me fall in love with him years ago, and it is something I still love about him today- but this guy is not wired like anyone else I know. I envy him for it. He is not just an amazing husband and father, he is also the most creatively gifted person in my life. And that is saying a lot.
What I really want to know is how the way me and my husband are wired will affect Teghan. And how can I use it to reach her better? Dave and I come together on music. We have different talents in that area, but there is no question that both our brains are wired to understand and love it. We write music together, and we share a lot of the same interests in music. It is also clear that Teghan is drawn to music, and we could not be happier. The idea of her learning the language of music is just as thrilling as the hope of her acquiring verbal language. But who knows?
She is also gifted at finding things. She remembers where everything is, she never forgets. She might get this from me, but her version is way creepier. She can pick out a needle in a haystack. Like Wham! Make It Big. That’s right- I am talking about the record. Don’t wonder why we own it, we were both born in the seventies and Dave has a very large vinyl record collection. It had its place.
For some reason, the same child who will not hesitate to tear apart any shelf filled with books or DVDs will leave these rows of albums alone. But she liked that one record. Much like her current box of paper, she once had a pretty serious attachment to George and Andrew. She constantly pulled this record from the shelf.
Always that Wham! record. So we started sticking it in the wrong place, thinking she wouldn’t find it. Wrong. Then we would put it in backwards. But there it would be- Wham! Even after we decided to start hiding it in different parts of the house (because at this point it was like a party game to us) she would locate it. She was incredible at finding this thing. Who knows what attracted her to it, but she liked to carry it around and tap on their faces.
So how can we use what we know about these natural abilities? And what about the other ways she is wired? The autism parts are stranger to us, and harder for us to learn. I often find myself getting too caught up in understanding her language, social, and sensory wiring. I need to do that, because it is a huge part of understanding how she ticks. She teaches me about whole new types of wiring, and makes me think deeper about everything in human nature. But beyond that, she has some very typical wiring that I may or may not relate to, that she has inherited from us. It is clearly just as much a part of her personality, and factors into what things she may have great potential for.
And what about the things that will be all her own? Dave’s parents have no real musical ability. And yet, three out of four of their children went on to have exceptional musical talent. Teghan seems to have no limits on her physical activity. Would she be good at tumbling, swimming, climbing, bike riding….horseback riding? Why not? She never stops surprising us.
Like other parents, we can truly try out a wide range of activities until we find the one that fits. This is important for those of us with children lower on the spectrum. Our kids still have things they will be good at. They may even be exceptionally gifted at something simple or unexpected. Helping Teghan find her passion in life is part of what I always looked forward to about being a parent. I love to think that she will still have that chance, and to know that she will have it in spite of autism.