Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Hopeful Parents : Talking about Splinter Skills

Last month on Hopeful Parents I had talked about how much I dislike the term “Splinter Skill”

Subsequently, a few of my good friends and I had a thoughtful discussion about the term

What If the “skill” was surrounded by problem?

Example, a child had musical ability – however his sensory system was so oversensitive that he is unable to play on demand

In cases such as this, would we still consider the term to be demeaning ?

Second, what if the skill was a useless one?

I see the points

But I disagreed

My objections are many and I talk about them on Hopeful parents here today if you  have a minute, do visit the website

If you dont here is why I don't use the term

First, we never use the term for anyone but children with special needs.

Only in Auties, do we calculate the net present value of a skill .

Never in typically developing children

Consider the ability to spell.

In the days of computers and spell checks – an unusual ability to spell can be seen as having limited value


But we deify this ability.

An entire cloud of popular culture exists around the spelling bee.

It makes no sense that watching a child spell a word can actually be a spectator sport.

But it is and we do.

However when an autistic child has a special ability such as guessing the day of any date, a photographic memory etc – we shrug our shoulders and call it a useless “party trick” - a splinter skill

Consider sports.

Parents of neurotypical kids do not sigh and say “ she/he will probably have a desk job someday? Why bother?”


Instead, they call themselves soccer moms and dads. They complain about their busy schedules ( but you know they are actually feeling proud )

These parents see something instinctively, that eludes us parents of special needs kids.

They see that just the act of winning at something- anything , being in the limelight for even a little while , being praised and feeling competent.

These things are supremely nourishing

These act lead to a blossoming  of your child’s spirit .

Second – when we don’t allow auties to have this feeling of competence, we are depriving those children that need this nourishment most .

While all children need self esteem, kids with special needs have a much harder road in some ways and so need it most .

When our children face the obstacles that life brings then , when they see themselves through the eyes of others as weird, when the world seems cruel and uncaring – then the voice that comes from inside that tells them that they are good, competent, successful, smart and beautiful may be the only butress they have

The third reason I get on my soapbox about this term, is because it is part of the emotional  climate of raising kids of special needs.

Everything is seen in the light of deficiency, part of a syndrome.

Fourth, this attitude if is part of our parenting perspective, will inevitably compromise our joy .

For isn’t taking pride in your child, one of the primary rewards of child rearing

And so when DH and I notice that R is saying the numbers – backwards and in different foreign languages – we exchange glances of pride

( No we are not moving to these foreign countries and its certainly doubtful whether our ability to count in their language would prove to be of any use if we did go there !)

We beam with pleasure and sashay it as our status on Facebook.

We accept with alacrity all the lovely compliments that our good friends give us and think about the wonderful treasure we have

And we are a little more happier than we were a while ago

We cannot control much in our lives

But we can control the words we use and the way we see things

And so, this is why I will never use the word splinter skill

I will see it as a gift and I will be thankful for it

1 comment:

Li said...

*standing ovation*

You are so right on every point. Do you ever read a site called Disability is Natural? The author discusses many of the issues you raise here. You can check them out at

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