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Tiger Mothers need not apply

Whenever I read about Amy Chua extolling her “superior” mothering techniques, it chills my blood. Since the publication of her book she has backpedaled and said, “It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else – more than they believe in themselves – and helping them realize their potential, whatever it may be.”. She points out that her youngest sister had Downs syndrome and her mother applied similar techniques to maximize her potential. I agree that we should all ensure for our children with disabilities can achieve independence and a grade level education. I have done it every day of my life as a parent. However, the parenting style has to vastly different.

Amy’s younger sister had a visible disability. It was obvious that her potential was going to vastly different from Amy. Her Mother adjusted her parenting style accordingly.

Amy was enormously fortunate that her children were born with neurotypical brains.
What if they weren’t? Suppose they had invisible disabilities? What if they had attention or processing disorders? What if they had an Executive Functioning deficit?

If either of Amy’s children had an executive functioning disorder, she would not have been writing any book. She would have made her children’s life a living hell. They could end up in jail, or with a major depressive disorder, or an addiction to drug and/or alcohol; or dead by suicide.

Students with Executive Functioning disorder are often bullied by their teachers, peers and their parents. Teachers and parents do it under the guise of “tough love” not unlike Ms Chua. Executive Functioning disorder is the single most misunderstood disability. One cannot “see” it by looking at the person. These students have average to very high IQs. Instead, the average person sees it as laziness, lack of interest, lack of attention, not trying “hard enough”. They believe that failure will “teach”, “scare” or “cure” the student into becoming organized and attentive. Teaching by failure is akin to taking a wheel chair away from a quadriplegic and expecting him to “learn how to walk”. After all many have two legs right? Shouldn’t they learn how to use them?

We know that neurological injury can result in paralysis. However as a society we fail to understand executive functioning is the result of a neurological issue. Either the system has been damaged and/or the neural connections haven’t developed. Executive Function disorder is frequently co-morbid with dyslexia, ADHD, processing disorders and autism. There is really no standard medical “cure” or “fix”. It can only be accommodated and supported by teachers and families so the student can exhibit what they have learned. Assistive Technology can sometimes help. Executive Functioning is the CEO of your brain. It is instrumental in planning and organizing tasks, writing assignments, figuring out what to do first, basically what many people call “common sense”.

Ms Chua could have easily severely damaged her children with her Tiger Mother techniques. Suppose you had an IQ of 140 but you could not turn in your assignments on time or figure out how to start an essay? I know of one bright thirteen year old who got a lecture from his school counselor about how he needed to “try harder” and “get his work in on time”. He politely promised his counselor that he would try to do better. He then went home and attempted suicide. While he was unsuccessful that day, he was eventually successful a few days before his high school graduation. Instead of a joyful Graduation day, his parents were attending his funeral.

Coming next: Getting past the prejudice of Executive Functioning Disorder.

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