Monday, February 6, 2012

Failure Is Not A Four Letter Word

This has been a challenging school year for Mister Man. I've discussed before the fact that he's high functioning autistic, which has its blessings and curses. Social interactions is his biggest challenge because he just doesn't get why so many things matter - and he frequently doesn't read the clues. As he's getting older in school, it's beginning to set him apart more, and he's no longer so oblivious enough that he doesn't notice that he's being treated differently.

We've been having a lot of discussions about what he needs to do differently - waiting for the teachers to give directions on the work because it isn't always what he thinks it will be or making sure he's using his best handwriting and not making it silly writing. I've learned to be careful in those conversations because he so easily shuts down.

I've been hearing from his teacher that he's rushing through his work so he can read and that when he has to redo his work because it's sloppy or wrong or didn't follow directions, he resists and the work comes back still not where it should be. When I talked to him about it the other night, I was able to get him to open up a little about it. He told me that when that happens, it makes him feel lonely in his heart.

"Lonely in my heart" - that's a phrase to break a mother's heart. As I hugged him and talked about what it really means to redo your work and why his teacher asks him to do it, I searched my brain to understand where this came from. I explained that he's a smart kiddo and that means his teacher expects a lot from him. When he doesn't meet expectations, she will ask him to do what she knows he can easily do. When he's rushing, he's showing a lack of pride in his work, and he isn't showing her that he knows the material. If he doesn't learn the basics to create a strong foundation, then he can't move forward to learn the more complicated - and often more fun - things that he wants to learn.

It seemed to sink in a little bit because he does want to learn and he does want to please. It slowly dawned on me that the things he rushes through and the things he claims he "hates" in school (ahem, writing) are the ones that are the biggest challenge to him. They're the things that don't come easily to him. As I pointed that out, he nodded slowly.

But Mom, when I do those things, I fail lots of times, he explained.



Ahhh, failure, my friend. I lived a lot of my life not wanting to fail. It kept me from things I wish I had tried or done. I don't want the wee ones to live that way.

I took a deep breath and looked at him. What does failure mean to you? I asked him. What does it mean to fail? Why do you not want to fail?

And we had a most awesome conversation after that. We talked about how what's important in life isn't doing things perfectly. It isn't about getting 100% on every test. It isn't about being the fastest and the smartest and the "best" at everything. Failure is what happens when we try and things don't work out the way we want them to, but there's no shame in that. Instead, we need to take pride in our effort, knowing that we did the best we can, regardless of the results. And if those results weren't quite what we wish they'd been? Well, we have a great opportunity to take a look at what we did and analyze it to see how we can improve upon it.

We walked through some of the great figures in history and mistakes they made - though still they are so highly regarded and had so much of what so many people consider to be success. Thomas Edison. Albert Einstein. Marilyn Monroe. Vince Lombardi. There are so many examples out there. And he started to get it. I think.

We talked through how he doesn't like the things that are difficult for him and how that's been a trend for much of his life. My child who I cannot get to put down a book used to hate reading. My free-wheeling child used to hate bike riding. And on and on. Once he practiced and gained some expertise, many of these things because his favorite activities. The light bulb grew a little brighter.

And then I went to the gym where Pandora played Pink's "Less Than Perfect" as I was running. With little else do to, I listened to the lyrics, really listened. And I almost started crying in the middle of the gym. This is the song that explains it all. No matter what, you're perfect to me. Through all the wrong turns and bad decisions and and mistaken by others, you're perfect to me.

I found a clean version of the song and played it for him last night. I made him listen to the lyrics - especially the ones discussing the negative self-talk and not looking for critics - and we talked about how everyone often feels this way. We reiterated that there is no perfect, but that instead we do what we can - and that no matter what, he will always, always be perfect to me.

Because failure is not a four letter word. If we don't fail, we aren't trying. This conversation isn't over with him. What we've talked about doesn't fix everything, but it's a start. I had no idea he felt so strongly about failure already at eight years old. How does your child feel about failure?

PS I'd link to the video, but a) explicit lyrics and b) some disturbing imagery. But if you haven't listened - really listened - to Pink's "Less Than Perfect" I strongly suggest you do.

Also, I'm giving away a $25 American Express gift card. By entering, you're helping me out, too. So... would you? Who can't use an extra $25?


Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog February 6, 2012 at 3:49 PM  

Writing is really tough for most boys and for boys with spectrum stuff, it's REALLY rough. Might I suggest a few things that may work?

If he has to do homework with writing work, he could:

a. dictate to you as fast as his brain work which is probably WAY faster than his hands can keep up. He can then copy the proper spelling of the words the first time instead of feeling that his WRITING ability is lacking. This won't last forever, trust me. But it WILL give him confidence that his ABILITY to think of the good answers isn't where his problems are.

b. use a recording device and dictate to himself. He could then do a stop and replay of what his thoughts were and write the words down himself. This may only work after he really gets a hold on the whole process.

c. see if the teacher is able to immediately check his work (at least a quick once over) before he is allowed to read. That was Justin's big problem: he would RUSH through to read in class and feel that he was "done." When he was told to fix something, it never got fixed. He wasn't able to see what NEEDED fixing. It didn't matter to him!

d. a checklist of things on his desktop to be sure are done before passing the paper in. Maybe even a photo copied sticky note that he can attach to each paper. At least in the beginning. Like: 1. Is your name on the paper? 2. Does every sentence have a capital letter at the beginning? 3. Does every sentence have proper punctuation? Etc.

Now, not all of these worked for Justin and Evan is still a work in process, but they DID help for both kids at different periods in their school careers and homeschool.

He's a good kid. Being different is only rough when you're little. Being different is more universal than we realize until we are adults and understand that NOBODY is NORMAL.

Sandra February 6, 2012 at 5:11 PM  

This post brought tears to my eyes. Yes, our children are always perfect in our eyes, no matter what their achievement or how they are judged. I actually looked up the lyrics after your tweet, and I truly feel like I heard the song for the first time. I'm so glad you found a clean version for Mister Man to hear. I think I'm gonna go search for that and play it for my eight-year-old, too. Thank you!

Pat February 6, 2012 at 7:28 PM  

Catching up on your blog--wonderful posts about Little Miss' notes, unknowns about your parents' dating, yummy pumpkin brownies, socks pulled up over pj bottoms (my fave comfy clothes are yoga pants, socks, t-shirt and sweatshirt), charging for picking up kids' messes (we did that with toys left out- a nickle or a dime to redeem each item that Daddy had confiscated), and finally, this wonderful article about helping your son deal with failure or lack of perfection. It sounds like you did a great job talking to him about it and looking for ways to do his best even on those things he doesn't like. I'm sure he will overcome these hurdles as he did reading and bike-riding. Keep up the excellent work!

Tami February 7, 2012 at 8:24 AM  

Some of the things you describe that your son is going through in school sound very similar to my son (who had ADHD) when he was in elementary school. Most of the teachers were understanding. There were a few who weren't. One of the teachers made his 6th grade experience a living hell. After that year he shut down when it came to school. The rest of his school years were a huge struggle.
You are doing a spectacular job keeping him focused on the positive. Its good for him to know that you will always be in his corner.
I know the song you are talking about. It is a good song, minus the swearing.

Tami February 7, 2012 at 8:26 AM  

ps. how do you enter the contest for the gift card?

Michelle February 7, 2012 at 8:43 PM  

Tracey - We do something similar to a lot of what you mentioned - practicing on the whiteboard before on the homework, etc. We talked about a checklist at school, but they're resisting right now. We'll see in a month. As for the work - he doesn't care to some degree, so he doesn't WANT the teacher to check it, but ... it's getting better.

Sandra - They always are. And out of curiosity, do you ever go to the author talks? So many of them have discussed similar topics. I know I'm not alone!

Pat - You've been busy. I love the all comments in one ;)

Tami - Oh that's rough with your son. Here's hoping we don't ever have that experience in a teacher. And entering is easy - click on the hyperlink in my post to find the giveaway post and then follow the directions. You have to leave comments based on the question I've asked.

Sandra February 8, 2012 at 8:43 AM  

Michelle, which author talks are you referring to? Ones at school district or at the library? Well, I haven't gone to any, but I would love to know details if they pertain to our issues...

tiarastantrums February 10, 2012 at 8:25 PM  

with children with SPD, Autism, there is always the control issue - these children need to be able to control "something" b/c everything else is so wonky!

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