Sunday, July 14, 2013

Camouflaging the "kick me" sign to emerge from the Uncanny Valley

However much more accepting we as a society have become towards people who have obvious special needs and obvious differences--at least in our superficial behavior towards them--we continue to shun and bully those who are "merely" odd looking or oddly behaved. This comparative aversion to the "almost normal," this Uncanny Valley of ours, seems to reflect something deep about human psychology.

I think of this often as J begins to approach "almost normal," and as his remaining oddities in carriage and comportment, paradoxically, become increasingly egregious. His shoulders, often hunched over; his arms, often bent up; his hands, often scratching his privates; his mouth, often slack-jawed. His excessively loud speaking voice. And the more these signs strike me as potentially saying "kick me", the more I feel that, politically incorrect though this might seem, it's my job to help him take them down:

"Stop talking so loudly."
"Stand up straight."
"Keep your arms down while you're walking."
"Get your hands off your crotch."
"Breathe with your mouth closed."

It's easy to remind him that the dentist has said that nose-breathing will improve dental hygiene (he's had a number of cavities). But as to the rest, the best way to get a child who pays so little attention to how others carry themselves, and who cares so little about what they think of him, to alter his comportment is to be extremely direct.

And here's where I'm surely not only "politically incorrect," but "psychologically incorrect" as well:

"Look around at how other people are walking. They all have their arms down."
"If you scratch your crotch in public, people will think you're really weird and won't answer your fan questions."
And, of course, "Stop talking so loudly. Look at all those people staring at you because of how loud you were."

With a more sensitive child, all this would be trickier. But J's self-esteem, healthy and impervious to the world around him, isn't at stake. What's at stake, rather, is personal safety, social acceptance, and, down the line, or so we all hope, employability and self-sufficiency.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's important to find the niche that will work for children like this when they are adults. Silicon Valley is supposed to be one of them. But whatever the niche (whether it involves paid employment or just living safely in the world) there are certain behaviors that have to be extinguished (in the technical sense of the term). You are absolutely right to push on these behaviors especially given that J is not sensitive about being corrected. Handling one's crotch and invading others' personal space are the biggest 2; repetitive questions is big too. I feel that these are on the same level as the ones that neurotypical children are taught by parents (no nose-picking; no eating with your hands; etc). Parents are not particularly subtle when they teach those ones.