There is an old saying, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. This is not always the case. Sometimes looks can be deceiving. In this case, the duck would be treated like a duck and expected to act just like any other duck. On the other hand, some ducks are not all they are quacked up to be. If that is the case, how do we know, what are the expectations, and how do we respond?
The duck analogy is one way I try to help people understand Kody’s disability. Sometimes disabilities are obvious which may help people with acceptance. Other times disabilities are shrouded by functional abilities that may just be awkward or difficult, abnormal social skills, or lower IQ’s, but are not so obvious to the naked eye. At this point, the duck analogy becomes a problem for the person with the disability. While they look like everyone else, are able to move like everyone else, and even sound like everyone else, they are operating from a completely different place. This requires a whole different level of understanding.
In Kody’s case, it is hard to tell that he has a disability at first because he does not look like he has one. His physical appearance mimics that of everyone else for the most part. There are no physical boundaries. Kody can walk, run, write, and gesture just like anyone else. He is verbal and communicative utilizing a large vocabulary to express himself so that he sounds like everyone else. Still, he is not quite a duck like everyone else. This is revealed in the way he sees the world around him, how he processes this information and what he does with it and it is shaped by his personality.
Kody is a fun loving kind of guy. He wants everyone to be happy but is most concerned with his own happiness. To him, his needs come first and are most important. The name of the game is instant gratification. He believes that if it is funny to him or if it is something that he likes then everyone else loves it too. His sense of humor is not everyone’s cup of tea but he does not know that. He is not the most reasonable person and once he decides how he feels about something or someone it is very difficult to change it. Now, this may sound like I have just described every teen ever but there is a difference. His thoughts and behaviors are extreme versions of all of these things.
To Kody, every moment of every day should be fun. He should not have to work at anything which means that work takes extreme effort for him as well as the delegator. Whether it is a chore or school work, 90% of the time it is a showdown or at the very least you have to stand over him until he finishes it. We utilize reward systems, if/ then scenarios, chore charts, behavior reports, behavior goals, and discuss responsibility often (like daily) to train this part of his thinking. He may or may not ever accept that work is good and necessary but it helps him understand that it is part of life and the only way to get things you want.
When it comes to his needs, they must be met before he can move on to anything else because it becomes an obsession. This is part of the mentality for instant gratification which means that he does not have a lot of patience. There is a lot of frustration that comes with this mindset. He confuses his wants for his needs. You become an obstacle between him and what he wants which means war. This child has stamina when it comes to stand offs. He is relentless and will try to whittle you down until you are a shell of a person at times. Does it work? Yep. I am only human. Does that help him? Nope. It infuses the behavior. For the most part I have grown stronger and more immune to his battle strategies but more often than I care to admit I cave from mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. I know there are a lot of parents that can relate.
Teaching him patience and the difference between a need and a desire has been difficult but I have seen him grow in this capacity and that has been rewarding for us both. The victories fuel me to continue pushing him to grow in these areas. It makes him more approachable and socially acceptable which is important especially down the road when he begins working and becoming more independent.
Kody’s sense of humor can be cute, clever, and funny, but it can also be embarrassing for others, immature, and sometimes rude. Unfortunately he misinterprets negative responses to his humor for acceptance. Any attention is viewed as approval. He is unable to read social cues accurately which can be hurtful or sometimes in the wrong crowd dangerous. There is no time like the present when it comes to putting on a show either. In other words, it does not matter whether it is in class, during church, a serious moment in private, or in public, he is on the moment he feels the urge to perform. Controlling when and what comes out of his mouth whether it is for fun or to express his discord can be difficult too. All of this works together to create a challenge in his behavior. He does filter his thoughts somewhat but more often than not he says what he thinks or states the obvious whether it is to be funny or honest.
My best tactic here is to explain how others receive him and to have him describe their reactions. By making him answer questions about whether his behavior was appropriate, or his timing was acceptable, or what other people did in response to his behavior, helps him figure it out for himself and it sticks better than when I just tell him what went wrong. My goal now is to train his social skills without losing who he is. I have seen a desire these last few months that I have never picked up on in him. It is his own desire to fit in and be accepted.
Kody is a duck just like you and I, and even though his feathers may be subtly different, he does not always sound like other ducks, and he does not always act like other ducks. Regardless he belongs with other ducks (as all people with disabilities) in the same pond in the same world. Changing his feathers to match every one else is never going to happen but teaching him how to swim next to the other ducks is possible. Educating others about different kinds of disabilities and encouraging acceptance can be life changing for these guys and gals.
There is room enough for all kinds of ducks in this big world. God made sure of it. I offer this perspective for your consideration. We all need patience, love, joy, and acceptance from one another. Do not be afraid to love someone who is different from you. Be willing to be uncomfortable and awkward embracing uniqueness. I hope this makes a difference and sheds a little light for all ducks everywhere. God bless and thanks for reading.