I recorded 30 seconds video of my son’s hands while he built in Minecraft the other day.
As you do.
The pace of movement was incredible. His fingers darted across the keyboard, choosing objects from the inventory, placing them, choosing other objects, building upwards, adding a sign and typing – near touch-typing, instinctively self-taught.
This isn’t to boast. I don’t expect him to become the new Mavis Beacon.
(as an aside, if you watched the video and are observant, you’ll notice hood on backwards – all the better for chewing, the paper stuck over that distracting monitor light and also the usb keyboard – the laptop keyboard ‘feels annoying’. It’s all about the environment…)
Anyway. What I wanted was to study just how exceptional he is when his passion leads to many hours spent immersed in a topic. I wanted this as a contrast to the work that sometimes gets produced on demand.
Despite being at a great school, one with superb teaching and specialist provision, my son would not produce work to the expected level of an eight-year-old in many subjects, especially numeracy.
The concepts do not come easily to him, we have tried many, many approaches but still little seems to stick.
I worry that he will join the vast majority of autistic adults in not finding paid employment, I worry not because I think of his future bank balance but because I know he has talents, I know it would be a waste for those not to be used and for him to not find fulfilling work.
Then I watch him play Minecraft, I see not just the hand speed but also what it represents.
The hands only need to move so fast because he has so clear an idea of what he is creating. He built a lift out of redstone, slime, pistons and blocks in two minutes and I swear his fingers didn’t stop for a moment.
Watching, I was lost as his character darted around, adding here, cutting there, dropping redstone dust, hiding things, finishing off with buttons, lights, pictures and even lift music.
He didn’t test anything once, just suddenly stopped, asked if I wanted to see it, and it worked. First time.
There was a clarity of thought, visual image of what the end product would be, sense of where his character was in relation to the overall build and finger dexterity that I could never match.
There was the planning, all instant. If I had asked him at the start what his process would be, I’m not sure he would have been able to quickly list all the steps. Left to it, it just happens. No mistakes, no re-takes, just bang, bang, bang. DONE!
What I see are skills and ability not just to get a job, but to get a job he can excel in, a job he can do as well as anyone and a job that he loves.
Education often seems to be aimed at creating allrounders. Nothing wrong with that, everyone should leave school having enjoyed a broad and varied curriculum and with skills in all areas.
What I wonder is whether we need to be a bit better at accepting that some children will have a more jagged profile and as a society to focus in on the strengths and worry less about the weaknesses.
Any would-be employer who looked past my son and the many thousands of children like him, choosing instead a safer allrounder would be missing out.
Unless they want an accountant, that is.