It takes a lot to challenge Elliott academically. When he was newly 3 and learning how to write the alphabet, he would get upset if he couldn’t form his letters to his standards. His little body still needed to develop the strength and dexterity in his hands to draw all those connecting lines. He would get upset and start crying. His mind so badly knew what he wanted it to do, if he could just get his fingers to work right. We would say, “You need to have patience, Elliott. It will come.”. His idea of having patience in the heat of the moment was to yell, “PATIENCE!” repeatedly while still forcefully commanding his little body to catch up with his mind. (We tried hard not to giggle sometimes.)
Over the years, he has grown and has done an amazing job of regulating his emotions when he becomes frustrated. But he’s still a perfectionist. When he started college at 9, we talked to him about social norms. How to fit into his new schooling situation even though he sticks out like a sore thumb. The school doesn’t make accommodations for him, nor do we expect them to. If he gets stuck on a new math topic, he has learned the steps to be able to get over the hurdle without losing his cool. He’s grown and done such an amazing job in the last two years learning to regulate. He has a list of steps to follow when he’s stuck that he goes over in his head. First and foremost, on that list is to remember that if he gets stuck on a math problem when he’s 10, it’s not going to define the rest of his life. Then, breathe. Usually he just made a simple error that threw him off his game.
Recently in Multivariable Calculus, he got stuck on a problem during class time. We don’t attend classes with Elliott. We wait in a lobby or the coffee shop, so we don’t know first-hand what happens in class. One of Elliott’s friends from class let my husband know that he had become frustrated and she could see the tears well up in his eyes. She went over to comfort him and helped work though the issue. We processed that information and moved on. But it wasn’t until a few days later that she shared more. When she went to comfort him, another student told her to “stop coddling him!”. Geez, kick him when he’s down. Kid, thank your lucky stars I wasn’t there to hear that.
Mama Bear’s gut reaction is to protect her cub. Every day I see other students at school facing emotional trauma. Either it’s a fight with a friend, frustration with a professor, issues going on at home, worries about grades or any number of other things. We all have feelings and sometimes we let those feelings slip out. My iPhone X stopped working last week. I took it to the Apple store only to find out that I was 40 days outside of warranty and that it was now a brick. (Thanks for nothing Apple!) Well, guess what? Knowing I had $500 due on my Verizon account for that brick and I had to buy a new phone on top of that, it automatically made my face get hot and tears welled in my eyes. In public. I was a hot mess. When a 10-year-old who has limited life experience and working in an adult world day to day, there might be a time or two he gets overwhelmed.
Just like the rest of us.
A common question we get is how do the other students treat him at college? Up until now, my response has always been, “Awesome!”. They have taken him under their wings. They share snacks, text each other about classes, hang-out during passing time, help him remember the calculator/coat/gloves he left behind. They high five him in the halls and chat about classes. They even gab over Pokémon cards and Nintendo Switch games. Elliott says he feels like everyone else. That won’t change.
Everyone has opinions and ideas about everyone else’s lives. I get it. We judge, don’t take the time to listen or learn about each other. It seems to be a knee-jerk reaction when we encounter something that is different than our own way of life. I offer a challenge to you. Next time you see someone frustrated, in distress… have patience. “PATIENCE!” I need this reminder often! Give them a hug or a pat on the back. Let them know you care. We could all use a little more love and kindness to get though the day. Whether it’s a frustrated 10-year-old in a Calculus 3 class or a grown 42-year-old woman trying to hide her tears in the Apple store, we all have our moments.
Spread a little grace and compassion. I guarantee you’ll change someone’s day around!