Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Asperger's and unique gifts

USA Today ran a feature piece recently on professional surfer Clay Marzo, who has Asperger's syndrome. It's a fascinating profile of an incredibly physically and artistically gifted young man. While having difficulty with social interactions, media interviews and the like, he can be incredibly focused in the water, logging more hours surfing than many of his competitors, getting better -- rather than more tired -- as the day goes on. He scores fabulously in competitions when he wants to, but sometimes doesn't because he doesn't particularly want to play by the same rules as his competitors. Rather than waiting for waves that make it easy to show off certain skills, as the article notes, Marzo believes "there's merit in every wave." And so, like a sculptor seeing what the block of marble wants to be, Marzo rides the wave for what it is.

Reading the article, it becomes clear that this young man's brain is just wired differently -- but fortunately, there seems to be a place in this world for such a different brain. As Jamie Tierney, who directed a film about Marzo called Just Add Water, says, "Let's talk about Asperger's but not as disease or a disability. Clay is so good because he has Asperger's, not in spite of it. His level of focus in the wave is incredible, he makes instant natural connections with the water, something very few people have."


Melanie M said...

Love it...a beautiful example of us being given what we need to be the person we are meant to be.
Thanks for posting.

Katharine Beals said...

"but fortunately, there seems to be a place in this world for such a different brain." In the world, maybe, but not in most public school classrooms. Here, current practices strongly disfavor those who don't work well in groups, and those whose analytical strengths and narrow focus clash with Reform Math and large, interdisciplinary projects. (I discuss this at length in a book about Aspie and other "left-brain" students, "Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World," which has just come out).

Anonymous said...

I agree with Katharine. Although it is great that he has found his place, some of the article worried this mom of a 2e child. It said he didn't read and dropped out. Can he read? What happens if injury makes him stop his surfing? He's not even a high school graduate. Yes most schools are not good for kids like him. But yes these kids truly see the world differently. My adhd boy can regularly find 4 leaf clovers (I never knew there were so many), find any golf ball in a field or woods and is an expert at finding that toad along a path at sunset (That's when I think these minds really were the hunters of ancient times)

Anonymous said...

Wow - great story - thanks for sharing that. It is a better world when we can honor the diverse ways of thinking and being.

To anon: I don't think the article said he can't read but that he doesn't read, watch TV or use the computer. I don't think it said he can't just that he doesn't.

Becky said...

This post comes at an interesting time for me My son is 6, and is PG, ( and has ADHD, and sensory integration issues). His school (which is an amazing gifted charter school in our part of Canada) just let me know that they filled out an Aspergers assesment form for him, and he scores highly enough that they are encouraging me to seek coding for him. I'm not sure whether I believe my son really has Aspergers, or whether it's just a combination of being insanely brilliant in a few areas, coupled with ADHD and sensory stuff. I guess, whatever labels we accept for him, we will always work to help him find his niche in this life, and to help him learn to be happy and successful in his own terms.

J. said...

I'm not sure whether I believe my son really has Aspergers, or whether it's just a combination of being insanely brilliant in a few areas, coupled with ADHD and sensory stuff."

Becky, that was and is my daughter. Brilliant, PG, ADD, sensory issues. She is NOT Aspergers. Not all are. I agree. Labels aren't the important thing, helping him find his niche in life is.

But...an introverted bookish visual spatial kid who is light years ahead of her peers will appear Aspergers in elementary because she is so neuro-nontypical as compared to either happily average or the a scattering of vanilla gifted in her classroom. The chances of finding another PG kid in her tiny private school (there were a few more) are exceedingly small. When these kids are paired with their intellectual peers, they really thrive. I would tell teachers, flip it. Imagine if your average kid had no one like him to identify with. He wouldn't be very average now, would he?

For a while, there was under-diagnosis of gifted kids who had hidden Aspergers but masked it well. Now I see the opposite. I fear it's become a trendy diagnosis. My daughter has two friends, quirky and brilliant like her, who have Aspie diagnoses. A third argued with me passionately why she should get it too.

That third one, so cute, so animated, so spirited. Stuck in too easy classes in her high school. I told her, honey, I am not a diagnostician but I don't think you have Aspergers! Because her classes are too easy and she's getting nothing out of school, her sympathetic history teacher allows her to go the library, where this child accesses as much as she can lay her hands on and diagnoses herself!

We know my daughter does not present with Aspergers, we've always known it and she just underwent long overdue updated psycho-educational testing which among other things, confirms that. But especially early on, when she did not fit into someone's neat tidy definition of "normal," I am sure some teachers thought she was. She isn't.

Anonymous said...

stop the world. it isnt about you as parents and YOUR need to feel special by having a special child. all bright kids are aspies now. it is normal for kids to stim! adults do it constantly when bored and all kids are still in neurological development. most stimming kids do NOT stim as adults and even if they do, its almost always not in any way impairing! maybe we need an ugliness spectrum or an athletic capability spectrum. maybe you should realize if a kid wants to be an aspie, he isnt. if he has that self awareness, he just wants an excuse for his social difficulties or lack of engagement. how are the lives of these kids made any better by labels? its just greedy parents trying to get more services and free babysitting in a sick competitive effort to advance their child with no regard for te kids happiness. and fyi, if your kid is so damn brilliant, what contribution are they making now?

Becky said...

I feel that last comment by "Annonymous" is really unfortunate. To scoff at anothers concerns, to ridicule a parent's efforts to sort out what is best for their child-it's so unkind. My life's experiences have taught be that there is a great deal that is real, that we may not understand. It seems that "Anonymous" greatly misunderstands the complexity of parenting complicated children, and the need to be glad about a child's strengths- be they intellectual brilliance, or something else.

Aspergers or just Intelligent? said...

I think the aspergers label is a very dangerous one. If your child is years ahead in their intellectual development, or if they have a different approach to learning, those positive things are sufficient explanation for them not fitting in socially.

Read the aspergers literature, especially the theory of mind stuff and think about how it can be used against people before you dump it on your child.