I was born with a thin skin. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor, rocking, trying to comfort myself because the noise of the television and people talking in the kitchen was overwhelming. My mother says I was eight before I stopped crying about getting dressed, “because the clothes touched me.” At school, the sound of pencils scratching against paper made me shiver and a sharp look from a teacher would reduce me to tears.
A few years ago, I read about something called sensory integration disorder. It was me all over. The experts describe it as having the knobs on your senses turned up at a constantly high volume.
Here’s the thing though. What I remember most about those early years of childhood is not tears, not trauma. I remember how lush the grass felt between my toes. I remember an orange harvest moon hanging so low in the sky I couldn’t believe it was out of reach. I remember crisp pages leafing between my eight-year old fingers, and the delight I felt as the voices at church flowed over me in song.
Is that a disorder?
And the words. Oh my goodness, the words. When I wrote, I could practically taste the words. I could feel their shape and rhythm. It’s as if I could take a word off my tongue and weigh it in my hand. I’m a writer because I have a sensory processing “disorder.”
We say someone has a “disability” or “disorder” – sensory issues or ADHD, Aspergers or dyslexia. but what we mean is “they don’t fit the mold.” You can’t have the light without the dark, or creativity without bursting the seams of what’s expected.
Successful people from Charles Schwab to Michael Phelps have been diagnosed with ADHD. Were they successful in spite of their condition or because of it? Einstein and Thomas Edison were irritations to their teacher because they were unable to do rote work, and Bill Gates dropped out of college. The fact is they were meant for something greater than the classroom. I’ve read that dyslexics tend to have strong spatial abilities. I know it was true of my dad. Writing a letter was painful for him, even as a grown man, but he was a skilled painter, photographer, athlete and gardener.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know disorders have a wide range of severity. And I know it can be frustrating to feel like your brain is on fire because there’s too much stimuli. It’s probably most frustrating of all to be the parent of a kid who struggles with school or the ability to carry on a normal conversation. But you can be sure that the God who brought giraffes and tigers and dolphins into being has more in store for us than simply living identical lives.
What we have to realize is that no gift is one dimensional. The same qualities that bring us joy will bring challenges.
So the one who is exploding with brilliant ideas will probably find a classroom stifling. The one who can memorize reams of data may find social skills a challenge. And the one who can paint masterpieces might be overwhelmed by a crowded party full of visual images.
Note: In my book, The Language of Sparrows, one of my characters finds it difficult to handle crowds or make eye contact. But it is the same quality that gives her an uncanny ability to pick up new languages and sends foreign phrases murmuring through her dreams at night.
The Language of Sparrows …
Brilliant and fluent in too many languages to count, 15-year-old Sierra Wright can't seem to communicate what is important to her in any language. Though April Wright stubbornly keeps an upbeat attitude about her daughter's future, she has let her own dreams slip away. Just across the bridge lives old Luca, scarred from his time in a Romanian gulag years before. Though he has seemingly given up on people, Sierra is drawn to him despite his prickly edges.
No one else is comfortable with the unpredictable old man spending time alone with Sierra, not even Luca's son. Yet it is this unconventional relationship that will bring two families together to form friendships and unearth their family stories, stories that just might give them all the courage to soar on wings toward a new future.
As the daughter of missionaries, Rachel Phifer grew up in Malawi, South Africa and Kenya, and managed to attend eleven schools by the time she graduated from high school. Books, empty notebooks and cool pens were her most reliable friends as she moved from one place to another. She holds a B.A. in English and psychology from Houston Baptist University, and lives in Houston with her family.
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