You could have knocked me over with a feather the day my nine year old son came home and told me he wanted to join his school’s ballroom dance team. I was gobsmacked. After a few speechless moments I recovered enough to ask, “What?”
Yep. I heard him right the first time. He did, indeed, say ballroom dance. So I insulted him by explaining what ballroom dance is….That was the wrong move. But in my defense, he had never in his EVER expressed or shown any interest in dancing of any kind. He doesn’t even like the dancing video games.
Needless to say, I had my doubts.
By the time the day of his first class rolled around he had also convinced his ten year old sister to join. And so it began. Two mornings a week I’d drop my tiny dancers off an hour early at the school and they would learn different dances. And they loved it. I remained pleasantly gobsmacked by the unexpected arrival of ballroom dance into my life.
Fast forward to the end of the school year. Ballroom dance is over for the season. My kids had fun. Their team even placed second in a regional competition. My tiny dancers can Tango, Cha Cha, Swing and Waltz. They had a good time and it was beyond fantastic to watch my kids dance together in the competition. Please, no one tell them how cute it was.
Life marched on and we found ourselves anxiously awaiting the start of another Pinewood Derby. If you are involved in the Cub Scouts, then you know. Derby Fever had swept the Pack. Boys were hyped up on the promise of competition. Dads were sweating and fervently praying their cars would perform well for their boys.
Over the speakers in the gym some classic rock was playing to further set the mood. It was during ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ that one of my boy’s buddies stopped in front of him and said, “Dance fight!” Then this kid busted out some seriously fun and funky dance moves. At the completion of his display he points at my son with both fingers, signaling that it’s his turn to dance.
Head held high, he shakes his head and says, “You shouldn’t have challenged me. I’ve had lessons.” What happened next will go down in family history as one of the most hysterical things any of our children has ever done. My son stood up straight, puffed out his chest, put up his arms and proceeded to do the male steps to the Tango. Without a partner. To classic rock.
I’ve got to hand to the kid. He went all in. His facial expressions. His body posture. It was competition quality Tango. The only things missing were his partner and appropriate music. And he didn’t break character. Not once. Not when the song changed to “Life is a Highway”. Not when his friend started looking at him like he had completely taken leave of his senses. And not when his own mother had to turn away to choke on her laughter.
Nope. He danced the Tango. The entire Tango. He danced it proudly. He danced it well. And when he had finished his dancing, he nodded decisively and claimed victory. He never gave the other kid a chance to challenge his win. He never considered, even for a moment, that he hadn’t won. And his friend was also so gobsmacked by the unexpected arrival of ballroom dance into his life, that he just stared with his mouth hanging open while my boy strutted away.
Yes, I get it that this was two little boys at Cub Scouts. However, it was also so much more.
Civilization works because people follow the rules and conform to the agreed upon norms of appropriate behavior. There are certain behaviors that, regardless of the individual or his or her particular challenges, are simply and permanently unacceptable. That being said, the value placed on individualism, creativity and innovation can often be compromised in the quest for the easiest path.
Parents, teachers, managers, those who are in authority over others may place a higher value on peace and quiet, predictability and the status quo than they do in helping the unusual thinker shine. Children with special needs also have special strengths. They can win. They can fight and win, but not if they are required to fight in the same way as neuro-typical children. Children with learning disabilities also have incredible learning strengths. They can shine in school when they are given the opportunity to display their knowledge in a way that works for them. Autistic children often have incredible talents. Maybe they can’t look you in the eye while talking, but what amazing stories they can tell!
Imagine the impact it would have on your unusual thinker to be given permission to shine not in spite of their challenges, but because of their strengths. Imagine the freedom that would come from knowing that their unique way of thinking, acting, believing and doing is valued, even treasured. Imagine the confidence that comes with the certain knowledge that it’s OK to do things your own way. Imagine the joy resulting from seeing your parents absolutely delighted because you did something different than everyone else, and that’s not just OK, it’s awesome!
Children with special needs, emotional or behavioral problems, learning or attention issues, or sensory disorders may not be able to cope with trying to force themselves into a mold they were never meant to fit. It is stressful and discouraging to try and try and try to be who you are not. These kids with their unique ways of thinking and acting can fight by their own rules and win. They can be taught how to politely live in a manner that is comfortable, authentic and successful.
Uniqueness is a strength. Creativity, imagination, innovation, social change, invention and reform; not one of these amazing things is the result of playing by the rules. Nor are they the product of conformity.
Consider this. My son would not have won the dance fight if he had tried to do so using the expected hip-hop style dance moves. He doesn’t know any hip-hop moves. He would have lost if he fought the battle in the manner expected of him.
Instead, he jumped into the fray and fought the battle he felt he could win. He fought with confidence and he didn’t care that he wasn’t doing it the way everyone else does, or did, or would. He was proudly himself, and in so being, he won a battle he wasn’t even expecting to fight.