It is a common pitfall for adults to think they are teaching children. Most often, it is the reverse. Children teach adults. How? Very simply: they teach us to remember what we forgot. A child has the innate ability to see the authentic. For children with neurodiverse features, authenticity can be a driving force.
Every summer, I spend time with my niece who has been diagnosed with dyslexia. She is the type of child who does not let outside influences define her identity. She is very expressive, letting others know her likes and dislikes, fairly. When we talk about life, I remind her that she has super powers many do not have. She has a gift of seeing intricate patterns. She can distinguish the richness of sound that I sometimes miss. Most importantly, she is very empathetic.
As a sailing instructor who works with neurodiverse children, aka differently abled, my niece reminds me how some children are naturally gifted sailors, like her. Sailing is about feeling the wind, reading the water and currents, hearing changes in sounds like a sail luffing, feeling the boat accelerate in a gust, and being receptive to another who might be in discomfort. These are skills that cannot be taught. They are learned experiences.
Each lesson, I have a choice how I approach a student who wants to sail. I can try to fix the student’s mistakes and make constant corrections when I feel the student is not meeting my expectations. Or I can meet the student and try to understand their gifts, allowing them to flourish while we both remain open to learning something unexpected. To be honest, I do both but always strive to be present and be curious about the student’s gifts.
I have mild dyslexia but never received a diagnosis. My niece’s experience is different from mine but I continue to learn from her. “Play is serious learning,” wrote Mr. Rogers. This summer my niece taught me how to make a friendship bracelet. Weaving a bracelet is very similar to splicing a line on a boat. When we play, we find skills that can last a lifetime.
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