Friday, June 4, 2010

I'm With The Shniggler

It can be very interesting having a son with educational challenges.

Our German is ingeniously clever. He can build complex, moving structures with Legos and K'Nex having nothing but a photograph on a box to go by. Giving him the directions to read might actually slow him down. Reading at night with him requires patience and understanding. He can immediately recognize and fluently read words such as "complicated," or "exciting," or "incredible," but he struggles with "and" and "the." If a word starts with "h" then he will likely need help sounding it out. "H" is a huge obstacle for the German.

We walk a fine line in our home. We work hard to never make him feel stupid because he struggles to read simple words or find the right words to use in conversation. Unlike one of his school teachers from a few years ago, we don't chide him for needing help, or label him lazy because he doesn't finish a task on time. We know he frequently works twice as hard than his fellow students to accomplish less. Our goal is to ensure he doesn't get so frustrated that he gives up trying.

But that doesn't mean we won't laugh when a laugh is called for. Taking his condition seriously does not mean taking him seriously eight days a week, thirty hours a day. In my opinion, the best coping technique we can give him is the ability to recognize when he should let down his guard and allow himself, and others, the chance to laugh at something that is genuinely, even if unexpectedly, funny.

My mother's favorite example of this came one day when the German asked her about my brother, his uncle. The German could not remember his name and didn't bother trying. "Where is your other son?" he asked his grandmother. To this day, Mom enjoys refering to my brother as her "other son."

On another occasion, the German was asking my lovely wife something about her sister, who is a dental hygienist. Again, he could not remember the name of his relative, so he said: "Do you know that lady who's related to us that works on teeth?" A little longer than "your other son" but yet again a new title was created.

Sometimes, the German will just plain make up words, quite unintentionally, often without realizing he has done it.

A few months back, we were picking up one of our daughter's friends and we had our whole clan in the van. I stepped out to knock on the door and when the friend and I returned to the vehicle, everyone was laughing hard. It seems the German was explaining how his brother, the Italian, woke him up that morning. He meant to say that his brother had "jiggled" him awake but instead stated that the Italian had "shniggled" him.

I'm sorry. You have to laugh at "shniggle." To me, it sounds like a ride at an amusement park, like a really wild roller coaster that swoops through inverted loops and under walkways and into corkscrews, leaving your pants intact but magically making your underwear tear clean away. We came up with t-shirt slogans like "I'm With the Shniggler" and "I Survived the Shniggler." We laughed ourselves silly, the German just as much as the rest of us.

I am hopeful that, as he grows and matures, he does not lose his sense of humor and the understanding that the best laughs are caused unintentionally. Somehow I don't think the rest of us will let that happen.

ⓒ 2010 Mark Feggeler

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