Almost everyone in my family is a quick talker and quick answer-er. In fact, we hardly ever have a family discussion where people can complete more than three sentences without being interrupted by someone else. Our "normal family conversations" are all of us talking over one another.
But when I talk to my younger daughter, I often think she is not listening or paying attention to what I am talking about. She doesn't make eye contact, she doesn't ask a lot of questions, and usually, she is doing something else, like playing a video game or playing with her toys.
However, I've learned that my daughter IS listening and processing differently. And, honestly, each time she talks to me about something, it is a magical display of the diversity of how brains work!
For example, I have been talking to her about Black history and culture for her whole life. If I were asked if she is interested in any of the Black stuff I talk about, I would say no. Because unlike me, and other folks in my family, when I am talking she is quiet and she doesn’t appear to be engaged. A lot of times, she doesn't say anything about the discussions I am having with her. She often gets up and leaves when she decides she has heard enough, not when I think the conversation is over.
But, without fail, randomly, she will blow my mind, with her insightful thoughts about something we discussed months ago!
Here’s one example of how she blew my mind recently.
She came into my room and said,
I think God made Sundiata [Mali Empire founder] look weak and different to other people so that people will know strength looks a lot of different ways. And, just because he couldn't walk, that doesn't mean he could not be king.
Then she blew my mind even more, with an idea for a lesson for the Black School summer school I am working on. She’ll be part of the “Lion King” group—the class for children ages 8 and under. She told me,
I think we should talk to the Lion King group about how no matter what people think about you, you can still be a mighty leader. Like, some White people look at Black people and think we are weak, like Sundiata, but they don't know we might be the leaders of a great kingdom like the Mali Empire!
What kid takes a story she heard over the summer, waits six months, and comes in for Black History Month with a whole lesson for our Black school?!?
Understanding and Appreciating the Uniqueness of Each Child
What if we, as a people, really took the time to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of autistic people? What if we allowed people to process information in whatever way they best do it?
Can you imagine if we let all children learn instead of “teaching” them how we teach now?
What brilliant new ideas and projects are missing from our world because we haven't learned how to deal with neurodiversity?
Her lesson is brilliant and is better than the activity I had planned.
I am so grateful that she is teaching me to be intentional about not labeling people too quickly, especially if they don't present as "smart" in the way that I define it.
I truly believe we have a wealth of knowledge that is untapped because we identify "disabled" as "slow and stupid." My daughter processes things more slowly, but there is nothing stupid about her. She is processing knowledge on a level I can't even comprehend! My brain is a typewriter and hers is a computer.
In our overly complicated world, we need neurodiverse thinkers. We have to figure out how to encourage, support and develop neurodiversity in our children and schools. Slow thinkers aren't stupid; slow thinkers are spectacular. We just have to learn to wait until they are ready to share their knowledge.
ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now.