Sunday, July 08, 2007


I so get it now.

I first noticed the phenomenon many years ago when doing a consultation for a family who had a young boy with Down Syndrome. They wanted a consultation not because he was a behaviour problem but because they weren't sure how much to 'push' and how much just to let him 'be'. In meeting him I was quite captured by his disarming smile and his cleverness. He was in many ways a typical kid, and in many ways a kid with Down Syndrome - both those things can be true and both often are - it took him a little longer to learn things, intellectually but man that kid was gifted at learning things emotionally.

But in watching, a pattern really emerged. If the parents were wanting to engage him in an activity that he enjoyed, he was a bright eyed child, fully of laughter and enthusiasm. When they were wanting him to do things that didn't capture him he had developed an interesting strategy. Unlike other kids, typical kids, who might whine, or fuss, or tantrum, or sulk - he used a very different and much more effective ploy.

He became disabled. It was like his IQ dropped and he did everything but drool. I'm overstating it here to make a point - he wasn't that obvious. His transformation from a bright boy into a disabled boy was much more subtle, he was brilliant in his performance.

After an hour or so of observation, I sat with the parents. They were very, very nice people. The sat at the table and held hands and looked at me with such concern. It was a look that said they were used to getting very bad news from professionals and were readying themselves to greet whatever I said together, as a united front. (What professionals have done to families!) So since they waited with gravity, I approached them with grave face.

"I think I see the problem here," I said. They nodded, both of them in unison. "Your son has figured out exactly when to have Down Syndrome."

They looked startled. I explained that I saw a kid who knew he could duck or avoid things he didn't like because all he had to do was turn into a disabled kid and the parents would back off. They looked at each other in shock, then back at me. Then we all laughed.

"That little bugger is never going to pull that on me again," Mom said as she wiped tears away from her eyes. The three of us joked around a bit and then I got serious again, after all I'm a consultant, and I asked them if they wanted some ideas about how to deal with their son's avoidance of unwanted activities. They shook there head and said that now that they saw his ploy for what it was, they'd be ok. And I knew they would be.

"Gotcha," I thought to myself as I drove away.

Then, yesterday.

We'd driven into Belleville for our regular visit with Joseph, the 13 year old wonderkid. He's kind of like a foster grandchild to us and we try to see him every month. We'd missed a couple of months because of travel so we had his birthday presents with us as well as a few things picked up on the road. His dad, who comes with us each month, says we spoil him. We say that we see no evidence of that at all. He's a great kid.

After presents and movies and all sorts of other stuff we stopped at a mini-golf thing that they set up every summer in a parking lot in Belleville. The thing looks like it was made out of plywood and was made in a hapdash fashion on a table saw. But kids like that kind of thing. We pulled up and I really, really didn't want to do it. So as everyone got out of the car, I said, "You all go on without me, I can watch from here."

In unison they all encouraged me. I was firm, "No, it will be just too hard with the wheelchair, I think I'm going to have to give it a pass."

Even I was amazed at how quickly they all said, "Are you sure?" and gave in.

This being disabled gig has it's advantages.

I settled back in the car seat, pulled out a book I'm reading and spent a little over a half an hour in the peaceful quiet of the car. I soaked in the alone time. I kept glancing up and waving, trying hard not to over play my hand by waving like a feeble invalid, and smiling at them. I slipped my book away when they came back and listened to mini-golf stories.

Then we decided to go for something to eat.

I was definately up and out of the car for that.

Yep, I shouldn't have done it but I did. I used my disability to get out of something I didn't want to do.

And I'll admit it.

I'll likely do it again in the future.

That kid with Down Syndrome had it going on. I'm kind of sorry now, I gave away his secret.


Michelle said...

That reminds of the story in Expecting Adam. Adam would have evaluations at school and as the questions got harder and harder the sessions would end and he would get to have his sprite and go on the playground.

One day they were heading to an evaluation and passed a school bus which he pointed out. At the eval he was shown a picture card w/4 objects and asked which one was the bus. He pointed to the apple (I think). The mom was astounded. "Adam you know what a bus is." etc etc, trying to figure out what he was doing. He wouldn't answer any of the questions right...the mom finally realized that Adam realized, the sooner he pretended he didn't know the answers the sooner the session would end and he would get his sprite and go to the playground.

I loved that story; best part of the book. It had me laughing out loud and I had to read it to my husband.

I can see my daughter doing that one day too.

Jacqui said...

I hope Joe isn't reading this otherwise your secret is out ; )

Tamara said...

It's amazing the things one can learn from people with Down syndrome, isn't it? My son is a master of this one -- Many times I'll hear from his teachers about something he can't do, and sometimes it's hard to convince them that he can.

I think it would be helpful to include this blog entry in our annual packet of information for teachers.

The third grade teacher thought I was totally delusional that he should learn multiplication when he hadn't even learned to subtract. I guess no one looked at his second grade work where he was subtracting and doing beginning multiplication. argh.

Thanks for this one!

Unknown said...

Both of my sons do this sort of thing--my older boy with Asperger's syndrome who claims not to know how to operate the microwave one minute, then cooks us all a delicious gourmet meal the next, and my younger lad, who relishes his role as the baby of the family, and doesn't plan to give it up lightly.