Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Student Profile: Travis

Travis is a weird kid. He's also incredibly smart. He is one of my favorites among the younger set that I teach, but some days he really breaks my heart.

It's clear that Travis is not developmentally normal. I think he's a pretty good candidate for Asperger's Syndrome/high-functioning autism, but that's only my armchair opinion. Whatever it is, my coworkers have assured me that his mother insists that her son does not need therapy or anything of that kind—even though his outbursts could potentially hurt other children and already mark him as a weirdo to be preyed upon.* It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that South Korea does not handle mental health issues all that well.

NOW THAT I'VE SUFFICIENTLY DEPRESSED YOU, let's get back to the happy bits. Because these are supposed to be happy entries for me.

I cannot overstate how smart he is. He is also, despite the meltdowns that will strike at random, very self-possessed and mature. Yes, he's obviously still an elementary-school aged child, but there are aspects of his mannerisms that are much more like an adult.

One of the public school districts had an English speech contest last month, and part of my job was to help them train: correcting pronunciation and intonation errors, helping them memorize, and so forth. Travis participated and gave a wonderfully non-sequitor speech on pollution, and saving the environment from pollution, because pollution caused his neighbor's leukemia. I don't know how he performed (he didn't get first, but he rated pretty high), but while he rehearsed with me, Travis performed with aplomb. He was impassioned and serious as you don't normally see children get, both in his performance and in his practice. After he handed me the paper with his speech on it, he said to me (in Korean, my boss translated it for me): "Please listen carefully and correct my mistakes, every little thing." I'm pretty much convinced that the only reason he didn't nab first place was because his speech wasn't "rah-rah Korea!" like everyone else's.

Also, he has these awesome pastel plaid pants that just melt my heart every time he wears them. And a perm.

On good days he is sweet and affectionate to boot. None of my kids now are as huggy as my last group (tears and lamentations!) but sometimes Travis will play with the ends of my bolo tie, stroke my hand, or rub my back. The downside is that if he's angry, he will be just as apt to try to hurt me.

Since his mother seems hell-bent on insisting that her son's "special"ness does not require assistance or input from a trained mental health professional, I can only hope he figures out a way to deal with his issues on his own. I love him to death and I don't doubt he has the potential to go far in life. It's just a question of whether or not he self-destructs.

*There's no way to read that sentence without it sounding like victim-blaming. What I mean to say is this: in class, the students are tolerant of Travis up until he has an outburst of some kind that actually interrupts whatever it is we're doing. They're still too young (and, perhaps, too Korean?) to understand that Travis is processing a world that is a lot different from and a lot more intense than theirs; instead they read it as him being selfish or spoiled and react with disdain accordingly. If Travis had help in dealing with his frustrations in a more productive way than shrieking (full-on shrieking) or hitting students, he would get less negative feedback and more POSITIVE feedback from his peers. That's what I mean by that.

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