I had never heard of Williams Syndrome until I read an article about that shooting tragedy on April 10, 2017 at an elementary school in San Bernardino, California. The one where the shooting took place in a special needs classroom and a student who had Williams Syndrome was killed along with his teacher. It’s a terribly painful story, but one that educated me some about a genetic disorder I had not discovered before reading the story.
According to the Williams Syndrome Association website, the disorder usually causes medical problems and some developmental delays, but these issues “often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music.” That’s interesting to consider; how is it that people with this particular genetic disorder consistently demonstrate traits often attributed to being “gifted?”
Similarly, there is a raft of research into genetic links between autism spectrum disorder and genius. I haven’t followed this carefully enough to know if there’s a scientifically supported link there, or how unusual it may be, but there’s a good deal of literature about people with autism having exceptional abilities in academics and music. It is intriguing how some disorders or special needs challenges can also unveil extraordinary possibilities.
I have been thinking about this also in the context of my last post about resetting expectations when your child is diagnosed with a special need, disorder, or disability. While our previously held expectations for our kids—say, for sports achievements—may need a massive reset if our child cannot run well, or at all, there’s a world of other possibilities out there. If your daughter is on the autism spectrum, maybe public speaking isn’t going to be her greatest strength but she might be an incredible software coder and go work successfully for Microsoft one day.
Maybe I should frame this in terms of being open to new and different possibilities, rather than having specific expectations, whether reset ones or otherwise. I know that my son will never be the fastest runner due to his CP, but he could be excellent at golf, or another sport where precision and focus are more essential than speed and agility. Maybe he’ll be a more kind-hearted kid who has more empathy for other kids overcoming challenges than I likely ever did at his young age. Who knows.
There’s nothing wrong with a typical view of the world, but sometimes it takes an atypical view of the world, or a personal challenge from a diagnosis, to open our eyes up to different possibilities. This reminds me of that scene from the movie Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams’s character—as the teacher—implores his students to “look at things in a different way.” When it comes to special needs, some children were born looking at things in a different way, and as parents we go along for the ride and hopefully open up to a world of different possibilities.
– CP Dad
Read the next post in this series here!