Friday, September 09, 2005

Men: Disabled by Definition?

Was listening to the Diane Rehm show on the radio driving back after doing errands. Guest was Michael Gurian, author of "The Minds of Boys." They're discussing how the male and female brains work differently, and how many boys are trailing in the educational process, especially in elementary school because of teaching strategies that favor the development of girls. Perhaps they also discussed the way in which that paradigm reverses itself by highschool, or perhaps they didn't as that issue has received a lot of air time recently.

Apparently, male brains, both boys and men, need 'down time' to recharge on a periodic basis throughout the day. This means that every so often boys (and men) are just not paying attention, which lends credence to my observation that there are periods during the morning and evening when my husband does not listen to me. Not that I expect or demand complete auditory devotion from my domestic partner, yet there are times when he indicates that he needs or wants instructions on what precisely to do with a small child or a red pepper, I tell him what he should do, and then he does something quite different or the opposite from what I said. And then I notice, and then he says, 'oh, I didn't hear you.' No, gentle reader, he does not get so confused that he dices the small child and combs the red pepper--I would have divorced him long ago during the midst of his lengthy prison sentence. But he asks for instruction--he asks, mind you, I am not the household's four-star general just barking orders all evening. And then he does something quite different.

Is this a disability? Michael Gurian seemed to think that these learning differences should be accommodated--and why not? But it does lead one to ask the question: are men simply disabled as a group? Because apparently, women's brains do not just shut down like that on a periodic basis--we just keep thinking all day long. Does that mean anything? Does the fact that I keep typing rhetorical questions definitely indicate my gender? Because I prefer to hold conferences all day long and come to consensus about everything? Perhaps. Is my brain (gasp!) innately superior because it just keeps clicking along, firing its neurons, going over and over things, endlessly . . . .

I think it makes some rational evolutionary sense to have your brain just periodically switch off from time to time. I think I would prefer that to my endless internal stream of consciousness: must pay the electric bill, must wipe the shelf, must buy elbow macaroni, must answer small child, must put dish in dishwasher. I mean, that's really annoying crap & I wish like hell that I could simply turn it off. It would be so nice to turn to my husband and say, 'what was that? I don't remember you saying that.'

All this brain research is giving so many a platform to try to repackage us and repackage 'normal'. Obviously, I've given up on the idea of 'normal.' As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist. Yet people are obsessed with defining its boundaries, as though those boundaries could be defined. Is perception of the abnormal or not-normal a civilizing factor? a socializing factor? what?

Now that Robert, my son, is in a wheelchair rather than a regular stroller (and has been for several years), people often feel more comfortable with him--he's been defined 'not normal' as opposed to questionably normal. Liminal states create anxiety in others, or just those who live within them?

Dr. (Mr.?) Gurian, also spoke of typical cognitive development, and how from the age of 0-5, the brain is equipped to develop via physical exploration--movement, hands, touching, grasping, etc. If that doesn't happen . . . and boys need more of this than girls, for some reason that had been explained before I tuned in.

If that doesn't happen . . . well, it didn't happen with Robert. His ability to move and grasp and really throughly manipulate objects was wrested from him at the age of 1. And yet he develops. And he's doing third grade math in third grade. Is that a testament to him, to me, to our socio-economic status? People are so invested in defining the parameters of normalcy, yet the patterns of atypical development are much more mysterious, much more interesting--and unexplored. Uniqueness is not a good thing if you are a disabled child--without a cohort of others who share your disability, it is unlikely that medicine is going to develop any interest or real methodology for helping you. In the medical world, uniqueness is only interesting insofar as one can establish the boundaries that it shares with other more inclusive states of atypicalness or normalcy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As her husband I was going to comment, but I can't remember what I was going to say. My brain must have switched off.