Nothing ‘abnormal’ about being different

I would like to enquire if you know of any support groups for my 16-year-old daughter. An educational psychologist diagnosed that her practical side is above average for her age group and that her comprehension and information processing is like that of an 11 year old, below average for her age range. She is struggling with spelling and comprehending things. It makes her frustrated. Can you help?

We are all very different and we all have different minds. The brain of each individual is unique with some being wired to create music and poetry, while others are more wired to build bridges and buildings, highways or computers, to drive trucks or teach, nurse and heal. The growth of our society and the progress of the world are dependent on our commitment to fostering our children’s individual minds, and among ourselves, the coexistence and mutual respect of these very different kinds of minds.

Parents have a special responsibility and joy as they get to know well and to cultivate their children’s individual minds.

Tragic results are seen when we misconstrue and possibly even misuse each child’s different kind of mind. Children who can’t seem to operate their minds to meet mainstream educational expectations feel terrible about themselves, while their perplexed parents understandably worry over their child who reads with little understanding or has trouble making friends or is out of focus at school. However, I am pleased that you are supportive and interested in getting help for your child. Encourage her strengths, which are more practically inclined, find out what interests her and start to encourage her to take up part-time classes in practical and creative hobbies she enjoys. More than likely her strengths and interests will develop into her “profession” when she is older. She will also benefit from some extra support as this will reduce her sense of frustration with spelling and comprehension.

I am not sure of study support groups in Cape Town but you could contact the Tertiary School in Business Administration (TSIBA) College in Pinelands for information on studying now and for her future career development. Contact their Ignition Centre manager on abraham@tsiba.org.za or for study methods contact Elevate Education on 021 403 6511 or info.za@elevateeducation.com

A final word a growing awareness of neurodevelopmental variation leads us to ask how much right do we have to change the way somebody’s mind is wired or to stand in judgement of that wiring. We should question what we are saying when we call an individual “abnormal”, in view of our respect for variation and for the differences among the minds of members of a society.

In truth, its normal to be different. Recognising this, we must make a firm social and political commitment to neurodevelopmental pluralism.

Your column about shame ruling your life (“Don’t allow sense of shame to control you”, October 19 2016), struck a chord with me. I am a woman in my mid-40s who was sexually abused as a little girl by older male family members for years. What makes it difficult for me to get help is the shame and guilt that accompanies me every day, and the fact that I was born with a disability. Please can you give me some tips on how to rebuild trust and family relationships that were broken as a result of the sexual abuse by family members. I have serious trust issues and it is affecting all my family relationships. Please help.

It is a common response for survivors of incest or sexual abuse to experience feelings of deep shame.

This weighs heavily on them psychologically and restricts their experiences and enjoyment of their lives. Often survivors blame themselves for what happened.

Do remind yourself that the abuse was never your fault. You were an innocent child and it is unfair to expect children to be able to protect themselves. It is always the responsibility of the adults to behave with respect towards children. Even if a 15-year-old girl walks into the lounge naked and throws herself on her father, he is still not justified in touching her sexually. A responsible father (or family member or adult) would tell her that it’s inappropriate and tell her to dress herself and discuss her behaviour with her.

Regardless of age or circumstance, there is never an excuse to sexually abuse a child. It is absolutely the responsibility of the adult to not be sexual with children. If you resisted or tried to protect yourself in word or deed, more than likely you were coerced even more by the perpetrators.

To be able to overcome shame as a survivor of abuse you need to speak about what happened to you. Whether to a trusted friend or therapist, speaking about it helps to diminish shame.

To be able to say to them this is what happened to me without feeling that you are a creep but that you are strong for having survived such a terrifying and horrific experience. The most powerful way to overcome shame is talking about what happened. Shame exists and thrives in an environment of secrecy. When you begin to openly speak the truth about your life, your sense of shame diminishes.

Survivors of abuse often say that once they have broken the secret, they feel liberated from their past.

They no longer live in fear that someone will find out and that they are the wretched of the earth but, in fact, once they speak out, this significantly liberates them from their abusers.

Another way to overcome shame is to join an incest survivors group.

Being in a group with other survivors can be powerful in vanquishing shame. When you hear other women talk about their abuse and are not disgusted, and when you see those same women listen to your story with respect, you begin to perceive yourself as a proud survivor rather than a conspiring victim.

First get help and support for yourself before you start to mend familyrelationships.Healing yourself will automatically lead to improved family relationships and will help you in learning to trust others again. Contact Survivors of Incest Anonymous in Somerset West on help@crisiscentre.org.za or call Reinette on 083 484 9409.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist in private practice. While she cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers, she will try to answer as many queries as possible through this column or refer you to organisations that can assist. You can write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za

Send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774. Ensure you provide sufficient information about your difficulty as this will help Carin to give you a more considered reponse.