Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Life Without Osmosis Learning and Which One is a Dog?

How many things have you learned through osmosis? Learning through osmosis is an ability to learn and understand things gradually without much effort or the gradual absorption of information without being taught.

For me that’s a majority of things. Every day I would come home from school and follow my mother around the kitchen while she cooked dinner, and I’d tell her about my day. Voila! I learned how to cook. I helped her wash clothes in an old ringer washer and hang them on the clothesline outside, but when I moved out into the big city, I had still learned how to sort, wash, dry and fold clothes even though I had to use a fansy-smansy washer and dryer.

Another way people learn is by hearing what happened to someone in a particular situation and then applying it their lives. For example watching TV, movies or the news. Ever listen to a situation where someone got into a dangerous situation by doing something stupid? Well, our brains can naturally take that information and apply it to situations in our own life even though they might not be identical.

I think Temple Grandin, Inspiring Autism Speaker, says it best in one of her videos when she tells about her struggles with identifying a dog. What makes a dog?  Hair, ears, tail, nose, four-legs… Right. Well, that also describes a cat, a horse, a cow… You get the picture. So she looks at a photo of a Golden Retriever and identifies that as a dog and then someone shows her a photo of a Chihuahua. It looks nothing like the Retriever. It’s small. It must be a cat.

Just stop for a moment and imagine what it would be like. The concept of not knowing what a dog is is mind-blowing. Wow, we take our learning for granted.

This kind of difficulty is the case for my oldest son, Sparky. It began with a diagnosis of ADHD and advanced to Autism and other comorbid conditions. When he entered kindergarten, his idea of greeting other children was to bump into them with his body. No, he was not trying to do the manly chest bump. (Yeah, not invented back then.) How many times had he seen mommy and daddy greet people with a friendly hello and handshake? Hadn’t picked up on that at all.

The idea of having to be taught these simple concepts and actions is mind blowing! Doesn’t it just make your head spin and your chest tingle?

To add to the complication of this monumental task is that Sparky is Oppositional Defiant which means he will contradict the simplest of statements. And unlike those that can learn from other people’s mistakes, every situation is completely unique. Let’s use cutting up an onion as an example.

Has Sparky watched me cut up onions in the kitchen? You bet. Has he been taught how to cut up an onion? Of course. But at the age of twenty, he was asked on the job to cut up an onion and he told them he didn’t know how. The reason is because the environment changed. Where was the knife, cutting board and kitchen that he used before? And of course, cutting up an onion does not apply to cutting up a tomato. Yeah, very overwhelming.

I also taught him how to do his laundry, but when he gets new clothes, we have to go over which pile it should go into. I taught him how to fold white socks and then found his black socks not folded. When I asked why he responded that I hadn’t taught him how to fold black socks. I should have known.

It is estimated that children with ADHD work three times harder in school than the average student. Can you imagine what it must be like for children like Sparky and Temple Grandin? If you are not familiar with the accomplishments of Temple, you should take a look. As a child, she sat on the floor pulling fiber strands out of the carpet. The professionals thought she should be placed in a mental institution. Now she is an American doctor of animal science, a professor at Colorado State University, a best-selling author, an autistic activist and speaker, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, and an engineer. Her website is:

I have high-hopes for my son, but more importantly, he must have hope for himself. Temple is a wonderful example, even if Sparky doesn’t understand how her story applies to him.

The key here is not what you can’t do, but what you can do if you have the desire and will. As Confucius said, “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” Might I add, “…for everyone.”

Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense…and Dogs!
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