He told his teacher that he did not want to do the Geography homework and therefore had nothing to submit. This sounded strange to me, because my oldest son was not a defiant child.
“But mum, they will never believe me if I told them I forgot to bring my work again. It is just easier to tell them I don’t want to do it, save the explanations, and we can close the case from here.”
I was told my son suffers from executive function disorder, the frontal lobe that controls the ability to manage time, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details and do things based on experience, was underdeveloped.
He would study for an examination that he had already taken, lose his belongings often, and miss most deadlines as he wouldn’t remember any of them.
Every Friday, I used to go to the school’s lost and found to retrieve his water bottles, lunch box, shirts and sometimes, his shoes. He lost so many sides of his shoes, he ended up wearing unmatching pairs sometimes.
When he was serving his National Service, he would lose the keys entrusted to him. In fact, he pretty much lost almost everything that was given to him, so you can imagine the kind of punishment he got.
Most people do not understand and therefore, people who suffer from executive function disorder do not do well in schools, or life. But I kept believing things will change one day. I know, because I too had exactly the same problems.
When I was a kid, I lost my bus pass almost every week, and my wallet almost every month. I drove my mum to tears. Coming from a poor family, I would feel the pain whenever I lost my wallet, but no matter what measures I took, I would lose my wallet the next month, anyway.
But something magical happened when I turned 22. I suddenly became super organized, my boss commented that I had the neatest table in the office, and as an administrator, I organized the ordering and delivery of my customers’ computers so well, I won a few company awards.
Not only that, I could bring up five children, remember all their schedules and CCA, plan their education and careers, work out complicated plans for them, and work full-time without a domestic helper.
You see, despite growing up in a system that told me that I was stupid because I kept forgetting my homework and handed up half done projects, I overcame.
Because of my own experiences, I knew I had to stick around him due to the delayed development of certain parts of his brain: whenever he traveled overseas to represent the state for sports, I would make sure I tagged along, in case he could not find his gears.
Deep within me, I also knew that there are other parts of his brains that are superior. He has an excellent Mathematical memory, English knowledge and great at Art. So I knew it was important to make sure we work on his strengths. We sent him to the university when he was 14. To help him cope and organize, I drew up his time-table for him to study and pasted it across his bedroom windows.
When he was finally done with National Service, he went back to postgraduate studies. That’s when that magic I’ve been waiting for happened.
Once the postgraduate studies started when he was 20, he suddenly grew out of this executive function problem. He no longer needed me to wake him up in the morning, could plan his work and remember the details of all his courses. At home, he is able to plan and buy ingredients to cook for the family.
He, like me, suddenly grew out of this disorder.
This calls for a celebration for the family. Less for the academic achievement (he scored straight high distinctions so far in all his postgraduate courses) but more for his ability to finally overcome the disorder that plagued and threatened to destroy him all his life.
I felt liberated from being his diary keeper and organizer, at last!
Does your child also suffer from something that nobody seems to understand, and that weakness is hampering his academic studies or other areas of his life? Then, take heart and work hard.
If we refuse to give up and work harder than anyone else on that weakness, then it will one day become a strength. Additionally, people do outgrow most developmental problems, so keep looking forward to that.
If we also consistently look out for and work on the gifts bestowed upon each child to maximize his potential, not only will he grow out of his handicap, he WILL excel in his area of expertise.
The above article was first published on Pamela Lim’s Facebook page.
Ms Lim is the CEO of All-Gifted Inc.