David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

The Other Side of the Street

As a baby, Nero was easy to soothe. Within a few weeks of coming home from the hospital, he slept through the night. All his developmental milestones were within normal limits–talking, walking, potty training. Nero learned to dress himself, ride a bike, read a book, and make a sandwich just when he was supposed to. His parents could not have been more pleased. Mr. and Mrs. Typicale felt that their responsibilities as parents were modest. “The child practically raises himself,” they were fond of saying. “We feel like we’re just along for the ride.”

Now in high school, Nero seldom studies more than two hours a day; he doesn’t have to. He takes sparse notes, writing down only the few concepts which he doesn’t understand. These ideas, which are almost always the very ones he needs to know for the test, he quickly absorbs and remembers using his aptitude and good memory. His junior year courses–Advanced Placement English; Advanced Placement History; Advanced Placement Calculus; Advanced Placement Chemistry; Spanish IV; and Ceramics (there is a fine arts requirement at his private school)–come easily to him. Although he is well liked and respected by his classmates, he has a few close friends with whom he plays sports on the weekends.

Which is not to say that Nero hasn’t had a few bumps along the way. After working at a camp last summer, he attended a party. One of the older kids offered Nero a cup of beer which he drank. Of course, the adults found out and Nero got in trouble. He was ordered to do community service hours–which he performed cheerfully–and he will not be allowed to work at the camp ever again.

In the year since “the incident,” Nero hasn’t gone near alcohol again. Indeed, he frequently declines invitations to social gatherings: “You know what goes on there,” he explains. Instead, he gets together with “the boring kids” as he calls them. “You know,” he goes on, “the ones who have a future.”

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Difficult from the day he was born, Dane was colicky, a poor sleeper, hard to soothe, and harder to parent. Neither the pediatrician, the pre-school teacher, nor the school psychologist could quite explain why Dane behaved the way he did or what his parents should do about it. “He picks up on your nervousness; that’s why he doesn’t sleep,” a helpful neighbor explained. “If we could get any sleep, we wouldn’t be so nervous,” Dane’s mother rejoined.

As the years went on, Mrs. Bramage’s troubles only increased: Dane had poor grades, a poor attitude toward school, learning differences, attentional issues, poor social skills, and low self esteem. Dane’s parents took him to every specialist. Some were more sensitive than others; none was helpful.

As a high school student, Dane doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. He got caught for underage drinking, but within a month, was drinking again. He doesn’t study for an exam, does poorly, but doesn’t study for the next test either. “He just doesn’t get it,” his parents lament. “We don’t know what to do.”

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Imagine what it’s like to be Nero. Everything comes easily–academics, athletics, social interactions. Sure, he works hard; but he gets the job done. When he studies, he gets an A. When he asks out a girl, she usually says ‘OK.’ And when a girl turns him down or he gets a C on a calculus test, or he loses a close game, the message he hears in his head is “I’ll work a little harder next time and do a little better.” Because he has the skills, ability, and background to do so.

Now imagine what it’s like to be Dane. It doesn’t seem to matter how much he studies, his results are always similar. He doesn’t see the relationship between hard work and success because, for him, there is no relationship between hard work and success. He memorizes the locations and spellings of the countries in Africa and the next morning he has little recognition. He reads The Great Gatsby, but doesn’t understand or remember what he has read.

The social piece is worse than the academic: In the rare instance when he does get up the courage to ask a girl on a date, she turns him down and he doesn’t even understand exactly what she has said. “I’d love to but I have plans that night.” What does that mean? Would she love to? Does she have plans? Or are those statements polite likes? How is he supposed to know?

Dane’s teachers yell at him or, at best, ignore him. The disappointment of his parents is palpable. He has few friends.

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Next time you’re feeling smug about what wonderful children you have, about how they’re doing well, achieving their goals, succeeding and making you proud, take a moment to reflect on how much of their ability is attributable to you and how much to blind chance. You took your daughter to the library when she was little? Good for you.

But so did Dane’s parents.

Not all of how great your kids are can be traced back to your patience, guidance, insight, and brilliance. Some of it was dumb luck.

Reflect on King Lear–homeless in the storm–thinking about how he might have been more sympathetic to those who weren’t born in a palace:

Poor naked wretches, wheresoever you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

You looped and windowed raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? O, I have taken

Too little care of this!

Lastly, and as always, I exhort you to love the kids you have and you’ll get the kids you’ll love. I can’t help but wonder: If Lear had loved Cordelia for who she was rather than for what she said, maybe a great tragedy could have been averted.

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(Did anyone notice that Nero Typicale is as close as I could come to “Neurotypical” and Dane Bramage was my approximation of “Brain Damaged”?)



Copyright © David Altshuler 1980 – 2022    |    Miami, FL • Charlotte, NC     |    (305) 978-8917    |    [email protected]