Two very different young men came into my office yesterday.  One, S.,  had come directly from an assembly on “backpack safety” run by the OTs.  I tried to stimulate discussion encourage him to tell me about the presentation, and work on his speech and language goals in the context of a school activity, but he demurred.  “I don’t remember,” he insisted immediately after arriving from the assembly.  He told me there had been a quiz, and that he had gotten every question wrong, but he’d known all the answers, really; he just didn’t care.  I asked if he’d learned anything, trying to assess his recall.  He denied learning anything; he’d known it all before, but only offered one thing (which, of course, he’d known before) – that a backpack should not be more than 15 lbs, and his was grossly overweight. 

S. seemed not to mind not having The Answer to anything I asked.  He has dreadful word recall, and used words like “the thing” to refer to the assembly, and “they” to refer to his teachers.  Pretending that he was okay with not getting answers right, pretending he didn’t learn anything, pretending he was, essentially, too cool to care about being right or knowledgeable, seemed to be his defense mechanism. 

A., on the other hand, has a different strategy.  What looks like a kid avoiding hard work and trying to get by with the minimum effort results in a sixth grader writing “I like to dig” when asked to write a letter introducing himself, telling important things about him.  Teachers theorized that maybe “dig” was a word he knew how to spell.  A.’s receptive language and vocabulary are pretty decent.  Here is a kid who can give me synonyms for “tot” and “timber” without batting an eyelash.  His writing, his speech, and his reading are all train wrecks.  His reports show he’s a neurological curiosity, and has apraxia of speech to top it off.  I know he’s a bright kid who has complex ideas, and it pains me to see him reduce himself to “I like to dig.”  His sense of humor also seems to help.  When asked to list 3 reasons someone might want to immigrate to the USA, A. responded “jobs” and wrote simply “jobs,” though he had been given 3 lines to write on.  I pointed this out, and he pointed the prompt out to me, saying, “It says list.”  When I showed him the 3 lines, he said, “I write big.” 

A.’s sense of humor and his “avoidance” of challenging work may keep him from becoming embarrassed.  He is a kid who has been in speech therapy most of his life.  He knows he’s different; he knows his speech, reading, and writing are slow.  He may not have an aversion to hard work so much as an aversion to making himself uncomfortable among peers and adults.  

A naïve teacher or therapist might look at both S. and A. and label them “lazy” or “unmotivated”.  Their deficits have made them aware they are different, and as many times as we use the euphemisms “learning differently” or “differently abled,” these kids know what’s going on.  No one likes to be different; no one likes to be the kid who takes too long, or asks dumb questions, or gets the answers wrong.

Neither do I.