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I Wish School Was Geared Towards Building on My Son's Unique Abilities

On Christmas, I watched in amazement as my 12-year-old son with autism disassembled his PC and put it back together again. He asked for just two things: an “EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB graphics card” and an “EVGA 750W power supply.” I was like, “Huh? What the heck are those. What happened to light sabers and Legos?” I had no idea what any of that was. After he explained to me what those items were, he assured me if I got them for him, he would know what to do with them. Especially after I saw what they cost.

That’s the thing about Thomas, when he tells you, even at 12, he knows how to do something, you just believe him. He has taught himself everything he knows about computers from trial and error and from watching YouTube videos. So I believed him. He only needed help with a couple of screws because they were tight, but beyond that, he did everything himself. I watched him as he took the entire PC apart, removing the “inferior” graphics card and power supply and replacing them with the new ones, I assume. Again, I just watched, in wide-eyed amazement as he disassembled his computer piece by piece, knowing exactly which plug goes where and what plug powers what.

When it didn’t boot up the first time, he looked at me and said, “Do you think it’s a hardware problem or a software problem?” I said, “Dollface, that’s like me asking you to help me cook the turkey downstairs. I’ve got no clue.” Turned out, one of the plugs to the power supply wasn’t pushed in all the way. Beginners mistake. After re-inspection, he tried again, turned it on and it worked.

I am astonished. He’s only in seventh grade.

This is the same child who struggles in school to write a paragraph and get C’s in Language Arts. We’ve had multiple meetings at the school this year alone. He can barely write a topic sentence, let alone five paragraphs (as required in seventh grade) and given a blank piece of paper to draw a picture, write a poem or “be creative” and have the free will to write on any topic he will practically start sweating with anxiety.

But at 12, he knows more about computers and coding than some adults. And that’s just what he’s taught himself. Wait until he takes his first computer class or engineering class. The sky’s the limit.

Watching him with his computer over the past few days and realizing all he’s taught himself just reminds me how his mind really works. Unlike when he’s in school, when everyone is trying to get it to focus in ways and on things it doesn’t do well. I know he has to do it, learn those things like how to write a paragraph. We all do. But what a relief and a reward it must be for him to get to spend this holiday break doing the things he’s truly good at and the things he loves.

This made me remember the phrase: “Different ability, is not always disability.” My son’s mind is truly exceptional, even if the traditional school grades don’t always reflect that. No worries there. He will find his own way — I imagine his way will be computerized, probably without five paragraphs and a topic sentence — yet absolutely amazing.

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Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

Getty image by gorodenkoff