September 2, 2011


I've always wanted to be really talented at something. Outside of the stick figures required for a good game of Pictionary, I am a terrible artist. I am a very bad singer, never had much skill at dancing, and quit playing the flute as soon as I could. I am good at things like interior design and am improving as a writer, but am I truly talented? I don't think so.

Many people on the autism spectrum have amazing talents. These are sometimes referred to as "splinter skills," but this is a term many people, including me, are uncomfortable with. It puts a true skill into a negative light. If someone is unable to dress himself but he can hear any piece of music and sit down and play it, why does the first trait take anything away from the second? In fact, these talents are often a pathway to learning other skills.

I think I have finally learned (mostly) to stop comparing Moe to other typical kids. I don't constantly think how things would be different "if." But I am by nature a competitive person, so I've (unwillingly) started comparing Moe to other autistic kids. That kid can play guitar at age 5! That kid has a photographic memory! This two year old can read!

But Moe doesn't seem to have any extraordinary talents yet. He is a very musically-inclined kid. He loves to hum and sing melodies, and he is in tune, but I attribute that more to the early music classes I did with Moe, starting when he was just a baby. Their philosophy is that all children are inherently musical and can learn basic music competence (singing in tune and keeping a rhythm). We're always singing in our house.

I find myself getting jealous of other kids who have these outstanding talents. How wonderful for their parents, who can say, "he can't talk, but just look at these paintings he created. He's so talented!" You don't have to tell me I'm being ridiculous. I know this is, in part, just parental competitiveness. We all want our kids to shine, and we have to check our own motivations (toddler beauty pageants, anyone?).

But I'm also always looking for a way in with Moe, a path to connection and shared experience. I don't care what it is. If he loves snakes, or rats, or bugs, I'll learn everything I can about them. Of course, a love of mid-century modern design would be preferable. And later, fine food and wine would be perfect.

I have to be careful with Jelly too. As my typical child, I need to be sure not to put too many expectations on her just to fulfill my need to see her in a dance recital. Though that would be really cute.

I hope to encourage both of my kids to try many different things. Because although some talents seem to be inherent, others can be developed with hard work over time.

Jenny Matlock


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