Thirteen years ago, my big brother and his wife were expecting a baby.
One day, I made a careless comment to them and I have regretted it ever since.
I joked about how brainy the two of them were and I suggested that their child would probably be an idiot savant.
I meant it as a sort of compliment I guess, but it didn’t come out that way and as I type it now, it seems even worse.
Neither of them said much in response, but instinct told me I had offended them with my ill planned, poorly chosen words.
More than a decade has passed and now I am raising an autistic child.
I sort of think God signed me up for the ultimate in peer sensitivity training.
The term “idiot savant” has become offensive to me, but it spins around in my head because of that comment I made.
My son’s I.Q. is lower than average, but I don’t believe it accurately reflects his capacity for learning.
He’s a bright seven-year-old who attacks a page of math problems with ease.
He’s creative and resourceful and he plays actual songs on the giant outdoor xylophone at the local park.
The other kids mostly just swing the big mallet to bonk the bars with no rhythm whatsoever.
Is my son a savant? I don’t know. Probably not. Time may tell us for sure. He is very good at a lot of different stuff, but I don’t see a virtuoso in anything (yet).
Is my son an idiot? No, absolutely not. That, I can say with unwavering conviction, backed by healthy skepticism of “standardized” testing.
My son is a bright little boy with amazing potential, but he doesn’t do well on those tests. (I don’t either for that matter.)
I don’t believe the term “idiot” is even widely used anymore, but there are dozens of other unpleasant terms used to describe kids like my son, kids our society doesn’t fully understand.
The fact of the matter is, we’re hellbent on labels and categories. Our fear of the unknown is palpable and crippling, so we have devised a bunch of subjective measures to help sift us into little boxes.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this.
My nephew is an amazing, bright, intellectually gifted kid and he has none of the neurological challenges that face my own little boy. I love them both with all my heart.
Maybe I just needed to say that today. And I needed to tell my nephew’s parents that I’m sorry for my comment. I really am.
I’ve been thinking about it for thirteen years and don’t know why I didn’t bring it up before.
I hope you both can forgive me.