Finding Joy in…being “outside the box”

Hello. My name is Leanne and I am the parent of an “outside the box” kid. I mean, I think if we have kids, we all are, to a certain degree. Whatever “the box” is, I guarantee that there is some way that each of us does not fit entirely inside it.

I read a book awhile back by Sally Clarkson and her son Nathan called “Different: The Story of an Outside the Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him.” Now. A caveat about Clarkson. I know that a lot of women (specifically inside homeschool circles) really love her writing, but I honestly feel like she repeats herself a lot. And a lot of her advice is very “privileged” advice, and does not really apply to parents who both work. Or who do not homeschool. Or who simply do not have a strong appreciation for all things classical (literature, music, etc). She honestly does better writing when she co-authors with one of her grown children or her husband.

Like this one.

She wrote it with her son, who, as a child was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and ODD. It is the story of how he grew up, learned and became successful in spite of his challenges, and how his parents supported him and helped him through it.

My “outside the box” kid has yet to receive an official diagnosis. But he does have an IEP and some delays. His educational goals look very different than his neurotypical brother’s goals, even though they are in the same class.

Kid A will introduce himself to strangers and follow up with, “I can count to 100!” He is constantly pointing out signs outside businesses, wanting to know what the letters spell. He was already dressing himself at around age 3, and is generally pretty independent (Although a bit spacey – we joke that he is very book smart, but not really street smart!). He can write his name – which makes it pretty inconvenient for him when we see it written on the wall and he tries to blame his brother for it!

Kid B just started showing interest in dressing himself a few months ago at age 6. He was proud of himself the other night for counting all the way to 11 without skipping any numbers. He has just started wanting to work on tracing his letters – which is how we know it is NOT him when we see names scribbled on the wall or other places markers and crayons do not belong.

In her book, “The Eight Great Smarts” (Which I highly recommend to ANY parent), Dr. Kathy Koch starts with the premise that all kids are smart. Your average public or private school system is set up for the book and word smart kids, but there are so many different ways that a child shows intelligence. This is not about “learning styles,” for anyone who is familiar with that. Your type of intelligence is literally the vantage point from where you see everything, and how you approach your learning.

Kid A, as I have mentioned, is very book smart and word smart. He wants to learn to read, and wants to work on his numbers. He is a little sponge who absorbs everything he sees and hears, and he can (or tries to, at least!) argue his way out of every situation.

Kid B is behind in his speech and fine motor skills, and is working hard at getting caught up to where he needs to be. But give him a set of blocks or Magna Tiles, and he can build anything. A scale model of the library or our church. A new building that, in his words, has “a jumping park, a hot tub, a coffee shop, and a restaurant that serves nuggets, cheeseburgers and fries.” In other words, something for everyone in the family to enjoy! His use of color and spatial relationship impressed all the teachers and staff who did his IEP evaluation.

Picture smart. Outside the box.

I read an analogy of parenting a neurodivergent child (and I am just paraphrasing it) that says parenting a child with special needs – whatever that entails – is like planning to move to France. You read up on the culture. The food. You study the language. You learn everything you need to know about France, but while you are in the air, the pilot says, “We’ve made a mistake. We are not going to France. We are going to Japan.”

You have two choices: you can whine and moan that you’re not in France and that all your plans were wasted, or you can embrace Japan and start learning about that country, culture, language, etc. Neither country is a “bad” country. They are just very different from each other.

With an “outside the box” child, we can whine and moan that they are not like the other kids (and who really cares?) and worry about the challenges they face, or we can embrace who our child actually is and learn about how to best parent the amazing little person we have standing in front of us.

I am not an expert on “different” or “outside the box.” Not by a long shot. We don’t even know what kind of “different” he is yet, but ultimately, my son is not a label or a statistic. He is a human being. And like all of us, he is different from every other human being. As his wise former speech therapist reminded us, “Diagnosis is just data collection. And you, as the parent, are in charge of using that data in a way that will benefit your child.”

Whether our child is inside or outside the proverbial box, we are the ones who know our kids best. And we are the ones who get to choose to joyfully celebrate who that person is.

If you are a parent, share something extraordinary about your kids below!

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